Early one morning, just as the sun was rising, my alarm clock began beeping, and Wilmington’s WKFI radio station played a tractor commercial. Willard and Rafert, sounding like country hayseeds, were on the air.
“Willard, I heard something in town. Are you sitting down? Here, swallow your heart medicine. Mabel sold the diner. She’s going into the grain business. She just bought a Massey Ferguson combine.”
The next morning, just like in the Groundhog Day movie, the radio alarm beeped again.
Willard: “Mabel’s back in town.”
Rafert: “I bet Mabel looks good in her snowmobile suit.”
Willard: “She does. She does. Unfortunately, her sister looks like a 400-pound burnt marshmallow. They said they’re coming out later to go snowmobiling with us. Only one catch. You’re riding with her sister.”
Rafert: “Well, she’ll be a good windbreaker, anyway.”
A rich and youthful voice soon announced, “Today’s local news is brought to you by Mack and the boys at Central Implement Company, 1086 Wayne Road, your Massey Ferguson dealership.”
The voice belonged to Bill Liermann, a former but recent employee at Jerry Haag Motors in Hillsboro.
Our paths first crossed when I was serving as a deputy sheriff for the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, and Bill was program director for WKFI. Bill appeared at the old jail every morning to shuffle through the crime reports from the previous evening.
When I think of Bill, I remember Humphrey Bogart’s remark to Claude Rains in “Casablanca” as they walked through the drizzle toward the departing airplane, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Bill had another friend. A comely woman by the name of Deanna Pierce Liermann. She became the love of his life. When he and Deanna walked down the aisle, I was there as part of their wedding party.
Later, Bill received the Sacrament of Confirmation into the Catholic Church. He honored me by choosing the Confirmation name of Melvin William Patrick Liermann.
The political bug bit Bill early. He was loyal when I first ran for sheriff, and I appreciated his support and endorsement.
When the time came to run for public office himself, Bill wasn’t, shall we say, schooled in the finer points of politics. Someone once said when walking door-to-door and talking with potential voters, you need three things: a way to be memorable, campaign materials to hand out, and a short speech that tells everything you need to say about yourself, your views, and your experience.
My brother, Jack, and I walked with Bill door-to-door during his initial campaign for the Clinton County Republican Central Committee. We were on South South Street and Bill was in front of us passing out literature. Bill passed an elderly gentleman on the sidewalk and gingerly handed him his card.
“What are you running for, son?” the man asked.
“I’m running for the Clinton County Republican Central Committee. I’m going to beat the old geezer who’s in there now. What’s your name?”
“I’m the old geezer. I didn’t know I had competition,” the man said. In the end, the old geezer garnered a few more votes than Bill, but at least Bill was memorable and had campaign literature to pass out. Two out of three political points isn’t bad, I guess.
Bill has always been a friend to the Haley family. During Jack’s last days on earth, Bill gave him a book on Major League Baseball ballparks. Jack loved it! He kept the book at his bedside in the hospital.
My sister, Rita Butcher, has also been part of Bill’s family since he arrived in Wilmington. Rita, and her late husband, Dick, served as godparents for Bill’s oldest son, Steve.
As Bill so kindly said recently, he is more than a friend. He and Deanna have become part of the extended Haley and Butcher families.
One of Bill’s mentors from afar was UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Your reputation is what others may think about you, but your character is what you really are.” Bill lives by those words.
Bill recently wrote about his philosophy on life. “I’m a Christian. I do my best to follow the 10 Commandments and the Golden Rule.” He said he tries to be the best he can be because others are counting on him.
Bill continued his journey into politics with heightened discretion. He served on the Wilmington Board of Education for 12 years and the Wilmington City Council for 23 years. He has made a difference in our community.
The years have passed, and Bill says now it’s time to retire. He plans to embark on a coaching career and hopes to bring his experience and wisdom to the game of basketball.
He told me, “I’m an old man who loves basketball.”
I have a hunch the next chapter in his life might be one of his most rewarding.
Now, 44 years later, we know Humphrey Bogart’s words were true. It was, and continues to be, a beautiful friendship.
And it becomes more meaningful as time goes by.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County native and former county commissioner and sheriff. His recently published book, “Around the Fire: Stories from Here and There” — comprised of his nonfiction stories through the years — is available through the Clinton County History Center in Wilmington, or you can reach Pat directly at 937-205-7844 or via email at [email protected] to purchase a copy.