ADMINISTRATOR, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER, USAF (RET.)
Perhaps the best compliment that can be given by family is that William (Billy) certainly honored his mother and father by joining with his wife Betty in generating offspring for the 66th generation in Christ to love God, and honor their mothers and fathers by seeking to know them all and help tell their stories, for Christ's sake about labor and learning in Goodness. A reality in his life's endeavors has been keeping hope alive from previous generation ancestors that they would be honored by new generations.
Picture on left below confirms that Billy was born and raised in a two story four room house with basement that was owned by the Pittsburgh Coal Company during heights of the great depression that lasted from year 1929 to 1941. Being outside in his high chair at less than a year's age each day of sitting and wondering: opened his eyes and mind to a wider world of people and property in need of a helping hand and repair.
During those depression years, his father William had the good fortune to be a coal miner with a company house to live in, cash money earnings, company store credit and even a company supplied medical doctor available for him and his relatives. But, the plight of his friends and relatives in Salem, Virginia called for a heavy sacrifice and inspiration to be helpful and useful to them.
Bottom line is that in course of those awful years, there were 16 family members and friends living with the Bill and Cora Atkins to help feed and clothe plus aid them in education. Two siblings from Salem completed high school before the war started, and one even attended Duquesne University. His father's sister came with her son, and the two of them added to the given responsibilities for Billy to see and hear what makes up a family. Needs that bring people into relationships that allow for the building of community in Christ.
Looking at the non-existent sidewalk was soon self-evident, and when the war ended in 1945 and his father and mother purchased and converted their house into a residence of eight rooms and bath; it was soon time for him to begin helping his father build that fabled cement sidewalk. At eight years of age, Bill was big and strong with abilities to be useful to family and friends, including schools. He was a good athlete; and all schools benefit from boys and young like him who team up to join in helping inspire and motivate others.
He played on all the sports teams in his small high school and mastered the games of soccer and football for which he received a college scholarship to Virginia State College and was a four year conference 191 pound wrestling champion. However, the real benefits accrued many years later as he coached and counseled his offspring to love the games in contributing to the groupings joined. And, they attended colleges: with his spirit of caring.
He would later appreciate that his labors in learning to dig the walkway path and watching his father mix and pour cement was less about personal comfort; but more so to be helpful and useful to men and women traveling to and from the church. It was apparent to Billy at an early age the church mattered; so much so that by the time he was able to do more like being the church janitor (including firing the coal furnace and ringing the church bell) there was no refusal to take the honor along with his brother.
The greatest honor perhaps about that church was the great joy found in preparing the baptismal pool under the pulpit for periodic baptisms that always followed the annual revival week. Year in and year out until he went off to college at 18 years age, the church mattered in building community.
An amazing story about Bill is that of the family dog Laddie that was forever there during the years working outdoors on many projects assigned by his father; and watching Billy work made them long-lasting friends.
The picture on left was taken on side of the house that was walk-way his parents provided and insisted be kept clear for visitors and worshippers to the Mount Zion Baptist Church.
The other pictures above reflect his growing up to know and care about his relatives down in his parents beloved Virginia. And their great passion for visiting sister churches and even the cemeteries with past friends in the functional faith in pursuit of goodness.
Bill's family friend Reginald Byars would later become pastor of the Saint Clairsville Church and raise his son Keith Byars therein with the spirit of caring.
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