Mistress of the Mix: Where’s Willy?

Willy #2
I’ve been in Redding for almost 15 years. When I arrived, it was to become a partner in one of the coolest, feel-good projects around, helping bring downtown back from the dead with Jefferson Public Radio’s restoration of the Cascade Theatre.

Because I spent so much time waving the flag for downtown revitalization, giving interviews about our fundraising projects and progress, I jokingly called myself ‘the Mayor of Downtown’ a couple of times. And then someone set me straight. Somebody else already held that title.

Willy.

Everybody knows Willy. He’s the guy that sat on the bench at the corner of Market & Placer for years upon years, with a greeting for anyone who waved, and a joke for anyone who got within earshot. He was easily recognized by his Gandalf beard and wide brimmed hat, long coat (even in the summer) and tobacco pipe.

We’ve known each other casually for years. I get to work, and there he was, sitting and smiling, waving and chatting with anyone who was interested in engaging him. Every time I ever spoke to him he was intelligent, pleasant and full of humor. He would tell me that he was listening to NPR on his headphones, and never never let me walk away without telling me a joke.

People call him Homeless Willy. And he was – homeless – for awhile. Well for a good long while. But how he got that way is quite the story (which I’ll tell). Doni Chamberlain – back when she worked in newsprint – wrote a great article about him when he was going in-between sleeping at the mission and in an old car in the backyard of a generous friend. But several years ago, he got some help and was able to get into a low-income apartment nearby. So he wasn’t technically homeless anymore. I gave him a ride once from Safeway to his apartment, which was just a few blocks up the hill. And I want to stress that Willy didn’t ask me for the ride. I offered. Because I like him. Willy has never asked me for anything. He’s not a panhandler. A friend slipped him a $20 once at Marketfest and told him to buy himself dinner. Willy brought him back the change. He’s that kind of guy.

Then Willy disappeared.

I don’t know when he stopped coming around.  But I first realized that he was missing when I went over to talk to the man sitting on the bench out at the end of the street, thinking it was Willy, and it wasn’t him. It was another guy. Gray hair like Willy, but a much shorter beard. And different hat. At first I thought Willy had gotten a haircut and a beard trim. But no. I asked him if he knew where Willy was, and he said he’d never heard of him, but that his name was also Will. Not Willy.

I really don’t know why curiosity didn’t get to this pussycat until just recently, but a good long time went by before I finally started asking around about Willy. And I’m a little embarrassed about that. But once I started asking around, I couldn’t stop, and it became kind of an obsession.

I started with the mailman. I knew he delivered to the apartment complex Willy lived in. He told me that he wasn’t there any longer. And hadn’t been for awhile. I started asking friends. I posted a photo on Facebook from the story Doni had written 8 or 9 years ago and asked if anyone had seen him. Nobody had, but everybody knew who I was talking about.

I went on the internet, and plugged in his name. I knew his full name, I knew the year of his birth. And because I knew that, I was able – in pretty short order – to find out that he has a lot of relatives.  On Facebook, I connected first with a niece he’d never met back in Illinois, who connected me with a sister and finally his brother.

His brother told me some fascinating things. Willy (his family members call him Bill) was a DJ at a public radio station back in the days when public radio was just getting going. Maybe that’s why I like him so much. He was also a brilliant electrical engineer, who joined the Navy during the Vietnam era. When he returned he married, had a daughter, married again, had two sons, and ended up in Sacramento, as an Engineering professor at Cal State.

Then his world, his head and his motorcycle were shattered in a hit & run accident that left him in a coma for over a year. The driver, says his brother, fled the country to avoid prosecution. When he awoke, he had no job, no more insurance, and brain damage. According to his brother, it was “years before he was able to walk, talk, read, write, eat or take care of himself.”

Willy ended up in Shasta County, where his parents had relocated. He lived with his sister, who was raising her own children, but at some point there was a falling out. His parents also passed within a few years of each other, and eventually Willy was out on his own. His choice. He was able to find a place to lie his head because of the generosity of people who gave him a spare space, whether it was the mission, a garage, a sofa or a car in the backyard. But that was how he existed for many years. Everyone knew where he could be found during daylight hours, and that’s where his family would find him.

But suddenly, I couldn’t find him anymore. And my search to find Willy led me on an interesting path. I brought up the subject at dinner parties and book club. I need to be careful about how I frame some of this because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but let me just say that I used every resource I had to try to dig up some information on him. I’d heard a rumor that he’d passed away. So I worked hard to dispel that one. I pulled some strings with funeral homes. Police officers. Firemen. Government agencies. The VA. The Mission. There were lots of people who couldn’t “confirm or deny” anything, but basically let me know that they hadn’t seen him, and he wasn’t in their system. But that was also good news, because no death certificate had been generated either. But where was he?

Finally, after two weeks, I posted a Facebook query on the Redding Crime 2.0 page. Within a few hours, of posting to a site with more than 17,000 followers, I had the answer. Somebody said they saw him by a Chevron. Someone else said he was still on the bench where he’s always been. Somebody else said he’d been spotted on Lake Boulevard. And then somebody said that they knew somebody who had been visiting a relative in a nursing home, and had been surprised to see him there.

AHA!

It took all day to get the name of the facility, but I was finally able to, and within a half hour I was at the front desk of a nursing home just a few blocks from my house, having a laugh with Willy once again. He says he’s been there for a year and a half (I think it’s been 7 months, but I’m not dickering with him over it).

I’m just happy that he’s alive and doing well.
Willy & Val
He was surprised to see me, but we sat down in the lobby and chatted and laughed for an hour and a half. He is as eloquent and sharp as ever. I didn’t press him for the details about why he went to the hospital, but he tells me that’s where his coat and pipe disappeared. In a way, that’s probably good news because he no longer smells to high heaven of pipe smoke. His beard is so long that it has reached Dumbledore status. He no longer wears a leg brace, but he does have a walker. He’s bright eyed, cheerful as ever, and regaled me with ridiculous jokes the whole time. He wasn’t wearing the leather hat with the braid around the rim that was his trademark for so many years. Because he’s not, its easy to see the palm sized chunk of skull that’s missing under his scalp from the accident so many years ago.

He told me about the accomplishments of his children, and the meaning of the number 22 in his life, and how his father was a bus driver and learned most of his jokes from his passengers. I told him about the meaning of 21 in my family, and how my great great grandfather was the superintendent of the Austin horse-drawn street car system.

I don’t how Willy could possibly be any more humble than he already is, but when I started reading the posts from people on Facebook expressing concern for his well-being and his whereabouts, he was deeply moved. “To hear how much they love and care about me makes all the difference in the world,” he said. And he meant it. He also wants everyone to know that he plans to return to that bench when he’s feeling better. So keep a look out for him.

On a sad note, he did tell me that things are strained enough with his family that although he appreciates their concern, he’s not interested in them currently knowing his whereabouts. And I promised that I wouldn’t divulge his location publicly, but I did tell him that they might be able to figure it out on their own. And I’ll let them know that he is alive and doing as well as a brilliant man with brain damage and a sense of humor could be doing.

Today is the only day that Willy Armes has ever asked me for anything, in the 15 years I’ve known him. After we took a selfie, and hugged, he thanked me for visiting him, and asked me, “When are you going to come and visit me again?”

This has been one whirlwind of a day, but somehow a playlist with some appropriate songs came to mind (but feel free to suggest some more). And thanks to everyone who helped me figure out where Willy went.

Valerie Ing
Valerie Ing-Miller has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for 14 years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She and her husband are parents to a couple of college students and a pair of West Highland Terriers, and Valerie can’t imagine life without them or music. The Mistress of the Mix wakes up every day with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.
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84 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    You are my favorite super sleuth! And, not only that, but you are one helluva kind, funny, spirited and awesome individual. Thank you for caring about others in the authentic and beautiful way that only You can. I am humbled by your kindness.

  2. Michael Karas says:

    Very nice…

  3. Beverly Stafford says:

    Mistress Sherlock!  A couple of songs come to mind:  Where Have You Gone, Billy Boy, Billy Boy and Searchin’.

  4. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    I’m just going to admit it: My reaction to this story was to feel a bit guilty.  I don’t think I need to explain why—it’s probably obvious enough.

    A couple of songs that came immediately to mind:

    Help Me Run — Jonathan Foster (Local musician [and work compadre], this song is based on a true event.)

    Underneath the Stars — Peter Case

    In spirit, Willy reminds of “Mr. Bojangles” by Jerry Jeff Walker.

  5. Oh, Val, this story moved me to tears. Not only did you put a face on homelessness, but you showed compassion and tenacity to track down Willy and make sure he’s OK.

    I remember when I did the story about Willy more than a decade ago, and how afraid I was to approach this guy who was bundled up in layers of coats even in the hottest weather (he explained that the sweat kept him cool). He taught me so much about the danger of judging someone by their looks. I discovered a man of depth and humor, a kind soul who was a positive downtown character, a veteran with brain damage who’d dropped out of society, and made a life across from your office on Market Street.

    I know I’ve said this before about your columns, but I change my mind. This is my favorite. Thank you, Val.

  6. Matt Grigsby says:

    This brought me to tears too.  Thank you for telling his story.  I too had seen him for many years on that corner and when he wasn’t, I was afraid he had gone where so many of our downtown characters go: into the ether, never to be heard of again.  He has a story, as they all do, and now we know it.

    Bless him and bless you.

    PS.  If I ever go missing, please head up the search group.

  7. Richard DuPertuis says:

    Good work, Valerie, for you trackdown and resulting story.

    I’ve been in town only a few years, but I recognize Willy. Might check in with him, as I never have before, next time I see him. Maybe with others of his appearance in that region as well.

    Thank you.

  8. Sue Lang says:

    What a great story, Val.

  9. Carrie says:

    Thank you for this story!

  10. Derral Campbell says:

    Proud of you Val, as always.

  11. A. Jacoby says:

    “Where have all our ‘Willys’ gone,

    Long time passing?”

    I know “Blowin’ in the Wind’ doesn’t fit your theme  .  . . exactly . .. but that first line kept running through my head as I read your column. Thank you over and over for putting a face on and giving us the back-story on one of our downtown characters. We are all so long on judgement and so short on understanding. And yes, should I ever go missing, will you please head up the search team?

  12. Janis Logan says:

    Smiles and tears as I read this.  Thank you for finding Willy.  The last time I saw him downtown was over a year ago and he was not doing well.  This article brings me joy today!   Happy Friday!!!

  13. Jon Lewis says:

    Thanks for making the effort and keeping us apprised of Willy’s whereabouts. His is quite the tale. I had no idea he taught at my alma mater (Sac State)–us Hornets need to stick together!

  14. Amy Alford says:

    Val-I applaud you for being so steadfast in your endeavor to find Willy. This story warmed my heart. I’m a sucker for a happy ending so this article didn’t disappoint. (misty-eyed) Thank you for sharing your special journey.

  15. rebecca osvold says:

    best story i’ve read in a COONS AGE… and i am a reader!  of REAL books!  however, you really had me as i scrolled down and suddenly came upon the selfie pix…… i burst into TEARS!  Awesome story of simple love and caring in community!

    PS what will this country be if  ALL the human services shut down….. and where would be w/out the joy and meaning of PUBLIC RADIO ????

  16. Ashley says:

    Thank you so much for finding Willy and telling us he is okay. My children and I would wave hello everyday to him sitting on the bench. We never knew his name so my children started calling him Sticky Joe ( because he was always on the bench). One day he just disappeared and my kids would ask where he went. I assumed he might have past away, but now I know he is safe and alive. I cannot wait to tell my kiddos Willy’s story!!!

  17. Rita Simpson says:

    I am so happy that you found Willy!!  I too have been wondering where he was.  Thank you for story!

  18. Karen C says:

    What a great story and what great sleuthing.  I recall seeing Willy down on that corner and how he scared me the first time I saw him.  I am not down town much anymore, so have not thought of him in a very long time.  I hope he is happy in his new place…at least he is warm/cool and has three meals a day.  Usually, those facilities have visits from pet therapy teams (used to be one and visited many of the local places) and lots of entertainment for the residents.

  19. R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

    Excellent story. I myself have been wondering about the homeless man we used to see everyday on Highway 44 between Millville and Palo Cedro. He rides a bicycle and is often loaded down with recycling he collects.

    • Valerie Ing says:

      Funny you should mention that. At book club a few years ago (so much gets brought up at book club) one of the girls brought him up, and someone said that he had been tragically murdered. Imagine my surprise when I saw him riding down Cypress avenue a few months later on his bicycle with the banana boxes strapped to the back. That’s the guy you mean, correct? He had gotten a haircut. I can’t recall his name right now (but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was also Willy). Anyway, I believe he has/had family out in Palo Cedro and would stay on their property. Perhaps someone reading will remember more about his story.

      • Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

        There is a man who has been riding his bicycle around Shasta county for decades.  He had long hair and a beard and bobbed when he rode is bike.  He has been interviewed and video taped by someone who has posted these videos on Youtube called MEET DUANE.  Does Duane get money for these interviews?  Who did the interviews?   I don’t know.

         

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      I recall seeing that guy regularly on his bike regularly on SR 44.  The stretch I frequent is between Palo Cedro and Redding, so that’s where I most often saw him.  Val mentioned a haircut—I remember the big hair and beard.  I believe he also favored wearing a suit coat, even in the hottest weather.  I’d sometimes see him beyond the Deschutes Road interchange, so I assumed his home or camp was somewhere east of PC.  I often wondered if he was homeless, or just extremely dedicated to the ethos of living lightly on the Earth.

      There was another gent in PC, an older guy who looked like he might or might not be sleeping rough (a look that I’m currently cultivating according to my wife).  He typically hung out on a bench in front of Holiday Market in the afternoons.  Someone once told me that they thought he lived in one of the more modest abodes in the village.  I often said “hi” and exchanged a few words with him. He never initiated conversation and never asked for anything, and was always cordial.  I haven’t seen him since moving back to PC.

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        Today I’m having trouble today proofreading my own stuff today.

      • cody says:

        The banana box bike guy’s name is Duane.  I have seen him riding from the south part of Silver Bridge Rd on to highway 44 (and he almost got nailed by heavy traffic).  I do not know him, or who he is.  But I did see him around 3 weeks ago heading into town on 44.  I think that he hits up all of the produce departments in stores around town and takes the older stuff they cannot sell.

        • Valerie Ing says:

          Yes, Duane. That’s the guy I was thinking of. So…just to make sure I got it right… Steve, the guy you were initially asking about is NOT Duane, but another fella?

           

          • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

            I’m sure the guy I initially described on 44 was Duane—the guy with the two wooden boxes attached to the rear fender of his bike.  Often seen carting some very large loads and working hard to climb the hills.

            The guy who hung out on the bench in front of Holiday Market was not the guy on the bike.  He was older, and had the look of someone who had worked as a lumberjack, or some similar trade, until he could work no longer.

      • Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

        That may be Duane.  I just mentioned him in a post before yours.

      • Mike Minor says:

        If it’s the guy with all the cardboard produce boxes stacked up on the back of his bike, I saw him yesterday near the Redding Walmart. I hadn’t seen him for a while.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I always imagined he lived under the Cow Creek bridge right before Palo Cedro.

      • Wendy says:

        Actually, I think he does live under one of the bridges in the PC area. I heard a story from a friend in LE that took place underneath a bridge in PC, but I can’t remember which one for sure.

  20. Guy Post says:

    I have never met Willy.  I would not even know him if I were to run into him the street.  HOWEVER….I have NO IDEA why…Thus article brought tears to my eyes.

    Thank you for the update, Valerie!

    • Anita Lynn Brady says:

      I have a feeling the tears come from knowing how close we all are to having such a thing happen to us and becoming “Willy.” I hope we all have a friend that would look for us and find us and promise to visit again, like Valerie.

  21. cody says:

    Great story!   Thank you for sharing this.  I also noticed that I had not seen him downtown for quite a while (although I never talked to him, or knew him like you did).

  22. Rick B. says:

    What a Great read, and nothing in your story surprises me. Reason being, I’ve lived in Redding 30+ yrs and I have known of ” Willy ” for I want to say better part of 20 years. How I came to know Willy, was a member of our church, many years ago, used to bring Willy to church with them, and back then, Willie would carry around some interesting ” treasures ” as he referred to, in his well worn jacket, and poor Willy did have his own aroma, poor guy, but you couldn’t help but like the guy !

    Anyway, like many other people, I too have missed seeing Willy holding court on his trademark corner bench in the downtown area. I haven’t ridden my motorcycle in awhile, but that was our conversation piece  on occasion when we use to chat. However, Thank You for caring about one of society’s  celebrities, Redding a very own,  ” Willy “. I do look forward to the day I see Willy holding court at his benchmark bench, enough room there for a couple of people to engage Willy in light, interesting, chat.

    Again, Thank You Valerie for your P.I. work, well done       🙂

  23. Michele says:

    I felt like I just watched a sad movie but then a happy ending! Well written! I love stories like this!

  24. Curtis Chipley says:

    I remember Willie sitting on that corner for years.  I am so glad that you found him.  Although I am not a supporter of the criminal types of homeless who are on every corner in this city.  I am a supporter of those people who are kind, and just make others days better by being themselves, and that is what Willie did on that corner.  So glad you found him and that he is doing well.  We have a plaque in our home that says ” Home is where your story begins”, and we all have a story…. so I pray that Willie’s story goes on for many more years.  Thank you Valerie for you awesome detective work!

  25. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    I loved this.

    Damn sinuses.

  26. LeeAnn Fulton says:

    I moved from Redding area several years ago and have not thought of Willie in years.  He was a real gentleman and for at least one painting class, honored a group of us by sitting for a portrait.  Thank you for your reminder of a treasured memory.

    • Valerie Ing says:

      Oh that’s a great idea LeeAnn! I happen to know a group of artists that gather for a life drawing group who might love the opportunity to bring him to life on paper….although usually their subject is sans clothing! There’s probably gonna have a compromise somewhere!

       

  27. Sally says:

    I am so HAPPY to learn of the whereabouts of Willy!!  For such a long time, I would stop and chat with him sitting on his bench and then…he was gone!  Just like you, I was afraid something terrible must have happened to him.  And then yes, there was a similar looking fellow at Willy’s place, but I knew it was not Willy.  I had never learned his life’s story, but knew he was definitely worth knowing and had value.  You have turned this day into a joyous one and am grateful that you took on such a worthwhile project!!!

  28. Kim Hanagan says:

    Great job Valerie! He would always wave at my son’s schoolbus as they drove by on Placer…oh about 10 yrs ago. The kids loved him and I think their little routine brightened the day for all involved. I’m so glad you found him and cheered him up.

  29. jackie says:

    Val, your stories always move me. It doesn’t surprise me that you put your compassionate investigator cap on  to solve the mystery of Willy’s whereabouts because that’s who you are. You are one special person and your community is lucky to have you. Willy sounds like a great man and I hope to hear more about your visits. ?

  30. cheyenne says:

    I never knew Willy but living many years in Anderson I knew Walking Jim.  Does anybody know what happened to Walking Jim?

  31. Barbara Lorentz says:

    I’m glad to hear that Willie is doing well.

    Your article brought to mind a couple of other guys who were always Downtown-although always on the move. I wonder what became of the older man who wore the clear plastic rain jacket. The other man who was a constant walking presence Downtown started out tall and strong looking. He had blond hair and a blonde mustache. As time went by he became a bit stooped over with grey hair and grey mustache.

    Isn’t it interesting that we had so few homeless people 10 or 20 years ago?

     

  32. Janet says:

    Good job, Valerie! We used to chat with Willy in Leatherby’s, then Wendy’s. I had heard he died, so glad that’s not true. I loved reading Doni’s interview and appreciate more of his story that Willy didn’t tell Doni.

     

  33. Frank Treadway says:

    Living in Anderson in the 1940s-early 90s, from age 5-60, I grew up with Jimmy Howe who walked all over Anderson and parts of the County on a daily basis.  His mother, Ella Howe,  was Anderson High School secretary for over 20 years, always helping us students regardless of what we needed. When she died sometime in the mid 60s, he continued living in the house on Mill St.  Then I saw his obituary in the Anderson paper in the late 60s. Hard to say how old he was, not many of us knew that.  I was never afraid of him like a lot of folks were.  He rarely spoke, when he did it was very soft. He was a gentle giant.

    • cheyenne says:

      That sounds like Walking Jim but are you sure on the obit.  I remember him being around in the 80s and 90s always in the food line at what ever celebration was going on at Anderson River Park.  He was always silent but I don’t think anyone was scared of him.  Rather he was treated like a favorite distant relative who had showed up.

  34. Dina says:

    I used to visit with Willy in the early morning (4am) at Safeway on Pine Street. I worked there and would see him daily. What a pleasure to talk to and listen to his stories. I also wondered where he disappeared to. Thank you so much for finding him and letting us know he is OK. He is truly a Redding fixture.

    Take care Willy

  35. Chris says:

    Hi ? Valerie,  I just read your message and was so blessed by it. I have to admit that I get nervous ? and restless ? when I see the homeless. I get very upset ? when I see the trash and filth that they leave behind but your story has me seeing a different side. My heart ?? goes out to homeless like Willy whose lives have changed because of a tragedy. I wish the city had the money ? to open up a mental health and drug rehab facility to help people that need and want it. I also want all these criminals that have been “dumped” in our community to leave. I loved your story and wish the best for Willy and you. God bless you Valerie. Bella and Teaka miss you and Eddie. LOVED visiting with you the other day. ?

  36. Ginny says:

    Sorry, Val.  I meant to write yesterday.  Such a hart warming written piece you wrote did about your ‘friend’, Willy.  A big thank you!

  37. diane lockwood says:

    Wow, just wow. You know everytime I pass that corner of Redding I have been looking for Willy! Thank you for letting me know he is safe and well. Years ago he was sitting at the Post Office downtown and complemented me for wearing a dress in “these days”. I never forgot the smile and kindness.

  38. Valerie Ing says:

    For those of you who checked the playlist yesterday, you may want to check it out again today…this is one of those times where the playlist was pretty light because I simply didn’t have the time. I found out where Willy was around 4pm…visited him as soon as I could leave work, and wasn’t home till 6…and started writing until late in the evening hours. Then, it was time to put together the playlist. This time getting the story out of my head through my fingers on the keyboard was so much more important that I almost didn’t bother with a playlist!

    But this time, it was you all, you amazing readers, who came through with the best song suggestions (some posted here, others private messaged to me and texted from friends far and wide). So there are a number of great songs that fit perfectly with this column that I added after the fact. Thank you to my friend Wil, for the most perfect song, to Jackson for reminding me of a favorite song that I’d totally forgotten, and thanks to Adrienne and Steve, and Beverly, and other contributors. You made it perfect!

  39. Beth Tappan says:

    Such a lovely piece! Glad to hear an update on Willy…..thanks, Val!

  40. Richard Bersbach says:

    Thanks for the Update

  41. Richard Christoph says:

     

    Great story, Valerie.  I too have wondered what happened to Willy, and your perseverance and tenacity in finding him is admirable. And his story is so very poignant….

    Thank you.

     

     

  42. Kathleen says:

    I’ve often wondered what happened to him. I’ve always said a prayer for him when I’d pass and have continued.   Thank you for the update!

  43. Vicki Gallagher says:

    Thank you so much for this story, Valerie! Willie used to live in the Hotel Redding before its renovation. I’ll never forget the time my client and I were discussing the renovation project the hotel was undergoing as we were leaving my studio that was located in the ground floor of the building. Willie overheard us talking and agreed that it was wonderful the hotel was being restored as it was “a fine example of Spanish revival architecture.” That interaction taught us both something that day–many homeless people are intelligent and talented people. You never know what has gone wrong in someone’s life to cause them to be homeless, and ALL people deserve respect.  I was also moved that he respected the preservation of the building even though it cost him his home. I miss seeing Willie. I’m so glad you were able to track him down.

  44. peggy says:

    I lived for 20 years just down the street from where Willy always sat on market and Placer.  I always waved Everytime I drove pass him.  What a shock I had after seeing this post.  I was just visiting a friend and while leaving, had a very friendly AND funny man walk with us to the door.  After visiting and laughing for 10-15 min. We left.  Didn’t realize that we had just enjoyed the company of Willy…Thank you for your post

     

  45. Andy says:

    Willy’s presence on that corner always reminded me of the older disabled gentleman who use to sell pencils in the same location (50 plus years ago). Good to know Willy is doing well.

    Great job and uplifting story Valerie!

  46. Jeff L Haynes says:

    Great story Val, there’s a lesson in there for all of us. A little here on Duane the guy often referred to s the Banana Man due to his collection of used banana boxes on his bike. Duane is, I believe, autistic. I have given him a ride home on a few occasions when I could see that his bicycle was broken. I say autistic due to some of our conversations and interactions. First time I picked him up, after some time passed with no conversation at all I finally asked what his name was; he answered with one word “Duane” and no more, so I told him my name, Jeff. He then went immediately to tell me he knew a Jeff in Bend Oregon, including his home address, his phone number, his birth date and the color of this Jeff’s house. Then there was the time I picked him up when he had a flat tire. I asked what happened to his tire, his response was that three men, with shaved heads had thrown 19 thumb tacks into the road in front of him. He then proceeded to show me the 19 tacks, and sure enough in the palm of his hand were 19 thumb tacks. The next time I picked him up, he asked me I I had a spare $1.67, because, he said with $1.67 at the Dollar store he could purchase a package of a certain brand of cookies and some Vienna sausages. I said sure $1.67 isn’t going to break me. All I had on me was a twenty dollar bill. so I asked him to bring me the change. He was in the store for nearly an hour when I started to question my decision. I could see that large bush of hair going back and fourth throughout the store. When he finally returned, he handed me the change, 37 cents. He had spent the hour in the store spending as close to the twenty as he could calculate. And, he then brought me the change as agreed.

  47. Wendi says:

    So happy that you found Willy!  He is such an interesting person to talk to.  I almost ran him over on a dark morning on my way to work. He was in the crosswalk on East street and not very visible. Since I didn’t run him over I got out of the car and told him how sorry I was. I asked him what I could do to make it up to him, the least I could do since I scared the “bejesus” out of him!  He told me he loved coffee and Tootsie Rolls. After work I made sure to take him a hot cup of coffee and HUGE bag of Tootsie Rolls.  Can’t wait to talk to him again. My heart is happy.

    Thank you Val!!

  48. Vernita Stokes says:

    Thank you so much Valerie you truly touched my heart and soul. With all the crappy stuff on Facebook this story was very uplifting and very touching. It reminded me of a very good lesson our parents taught us but we all seem to forget. Care about humanity. Especially those around us who are really not seen or paid attention to. Thank you.

  49. Elisa Benninghoff says:

    Thank you so much for information on Willy. We are really good friends, ever since he was at the Mission. I always stopped to talk to him, he had me go over to Damburger and get him coffee, he always got me one too. I would sit there for hours, we would laugh he would tell me jokes BV talk with people as they walk by. One time I got excepted to go to school, I needed folders pencils ECT he gave me money to buy my material s for school, he really made my day. One time a homeless lady came by were he was sitting and told him she was hungry he gave her some of the lunch someone dropped him off earlier. He nearly had anything but he always gave what he had. I really miss him, we became real close, in the few years we have known each other. It’s good to hear he’s ok. When you see him tell him Elisa said hi and love him.

     

  50. Valerie Ing says:

    I wanted to throw this out there, because his sister mentioned it to me in an email tonight: One of the things Willy didn’t lose when he suffered brain damage, was his musical ability. She says he’s a great guitarist and singer, and that if he had a guitar he’d most likely belt out a number of great songs. If anyone has an acoustic guitar that they’d be interested in sharing – an old one that you’re not using, or one that you’d like to loan out for awhile, please let me know. I’ll take it with me next time I visit him, and promise, I’ll get video!

  51. Teresa Norman says:

    Thank you Val, I too had noticed he was not at his usual post.

  52. Lance Boek says:

    Heartwarming to know “Willie” is still around and appears comfortable. Having been raised in Redding can anyone possibly recall an older gentleman Redding’s populace called Spinner? This poor man rumor had, suffered some type of equilibrium problem; would take a few steps and do a 360 o turn, then continue on only to repeat, repeat …..I believe this was in late 60’s/early 70’s and he was around town for a good 5+ years.

  53. Elizabeth says:

    I am very happy to know that Willy is alive and being cared for! I learned about who he was through Doni’s article and then had several encounters with him over the years through my line of work. I’ve wondered about him and his whereabouts, thank you for caring enough to sleuth it out and then write about it!

  54. Laurie says:

    Thank you!

  55. Barbara Long says:

    Thank you !!!!so much. I have been missing seeing Willie on the bench. I was afraid he had passed on. Years ago my grandkids want to do something for Willie and we did a few special things for him. They said he looked like Santa Claus, and they would pray for him. I would take them places during the week and he would always wave when the kids would wave. Those grandkids are grown now, but I am going to call them and let them know Willie that he is still walking the earth; it will make their day. He told them about listening to the song on the cables at the Sundial Bridge. We would go there and bang on the cables to here them sing and then do a letterbox search. These are good family memories from 2004 and Willie was part of them.

  56. Kathryn McDonald says:

    I am very moved by your kindness, Valerie.  I’m also glad to hear that Willie is ok.  I had wondered what happened to him.

  57. Kim Harmon says:

    I was Willy’s case manager for a time, when he was staying at the Mission.  Would you give him my phone number?  247-0435, Kim Harmon.  He might remember that I worked there and also am a member of the Redding chapter of the Christian Motorcyclist’s Association.  Thank you, if you would.  This story is very well written.  The best I’ve seen for quite some time.  You have a remarkable gift.

  58. Andrea Carsoner says:

    I have known Willie since i was 13 years old that’s 21 years and boy oh boy i did love our talks. I got to know him even better when i started working for Wendy’s in downtown redding when i was 16 worked there till i turned 21. he would come in every morning and grab a whole ton of napkins drove me crazy at first cause i had just stocked them lol. But as i took the time to get to know willie i soon realized he was so amazing inside and out. We would talk every chance and yes i remember his jokes such a good man. Love that he is still kicking stay strong old man Willie as we knew him

  59. ron wickershiem says:

    Great story Valerie.  I also spent a lot of time with Willie when I had Leatherbys  wonderful man.  So happy to hear he is still around.  Please tell him hello from me.

    • Beverly Stafford says:

      Oh how we miss Leatherby’s!  The caramel sauce was wonderful.  When the new owners took over – and disappeared rapidly – they dropped the great caramel sauce and substituted something that tasted like Smucker’s.  Fortunately, my sister-in-law lives in Bakersfield, and we can go to Rosemary’s which was once a Leatherby’s.  Rosemary’s still has the true caramel sauce.

  60. Denise O says:

    Thank you! Just thank you, I guess for allowing us to glimpse what life could be.

    The Parkview neighborhood was my ‘hood for 15 years and I got to know a few of the Guys Who Lived Down by the River. I wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t take the time to even ask about their lives. I gleaned enough to know that in most cases, they were happy enough, just the way it was, down by the river.

    I can say at times, I do the “stop and chat” with some Sundial Characters, even left them with a hug. And my heart does recognize that I need to leave room for trust and compassion when I just don’t understand folks who live outside.

    Thank you again.

     

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