Bill Buckner earned fame on the baseball diamond. But that’s not what made him shine

The text message was simple: “Did you see Bill Buckner died this morning?” Unable to speak, I just passed my mobile phone to Terri and his wife, Christine, the owners of Gallery 601, for them to read what I hoped and wished wasn’t what I had read.

Terri, also shocked, Googled to learn what had happened. Christine and my wife, Theresia, and I (we had all met for lunch) listened as Terri read to us the coverage of Bill’s passing. I didn’t even know they knew Bill. He was one of the most humble men I have ever met or known, and I appreciated the blessing of his presence. I am an emotional wreck as I write about Mr. Buckner, who never wanted me to thank him or acknowledge him for his benevolent acts.

In 2004, I served as a lay preacher for a church in Wilder, Idaho, for about seven months as the congregants searched for a real preacher. Within a short time, I had learned a brutal reality — that home-bound senior citizens in rural Idaho suffer from simple things like lack of adequate food, wheelchairs or transportation to a medical clinic.

We established a food pantry program with the help of the amazing people from the Idaho Food Bank, where people from several small towns like Homedale, Parma and Notus could get free food stuffs once a week. But there was a huge problem. We needed to transport the donated food from Boise to Wilder.

At the time, I served on the board of a charitable organization with Bill’s wife, Jodi. She heard me share what I was doing at Wilder and the challenges we faced. “Vincent, I will talk to Bill.” I don’t recall if I had met or known anything about Mr. Buckner at the time. But within a few days, I received a call. It was from Jodi. She instructed me where to get the van Bill had donated.

When I told people who had given me the van, they were surprised that I didn’t know who Bill was. I guess they forgot I grew up in Kangundo, Kenya, a place without baseball. That baseball aspect, however, was not what mattered for those who knew Bill. It was about how he touched their lives, something I would soon learn through another incident.

Five years later, the son of a friend of mine, a promising baseball player, had gone through stage one of growing pains — when someone makes a mistake that can easily ruin the rest of his or her life. He was just about to complete his freshman year in college but his mistake would put that on hold. He needed someone to intervene for him to get him back on course.

By that time, I had come to know Bill, a man of few words but monumental acts. When I talked about the lad’s situation, he acted and soon the young man was back in another college and playing baseball. That’s what Bill did. He made other people’s problems his own. It is only when other people’s burdens become our own that we intervene. That was Bill’s calling.

Scott Vanocker of Main Street Motors in Boise, who has been Bill’s neighbor for years, shared a story about the depth of Bill’s caring spirit, especially with coaches and athletes in this community. Massive rain prompted coaches to entertain the idea of canceling a baseball game at the Fort Boise field. Mr. Buckner, who had helped develop the field, walked there and showed them where to open the drainages, and the game was on.

“He knew the grass, the bats and the balls. He cared about people,” Scott said.

Oswald Chambers said, “If we are devoted to the cause of humanity, we shall soon be crushed and broken-hearted, for we shall often meet with more ingratitude from men …; but if our motive is love to God, no ingratitude can hinder us from serving our fellow men.” Mr. Buckner, a giant among men who touched lives, never let distractions hinder him from caring for his fellow human beings. His passing is more than a man’s death. A great man has left our hearts wounded, and the emptiness created by his absence will remain with us for years.

Vincent Muli Kituku is an author and speaker for business organizations, schools and Christian groups. He is the founder of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope, and Caring Hearts High School, a boarding school in Kenya. Contact him at (208) 376-8724 or
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.
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