The Rich Man and Walkin’ Willy…

They both lived in Southeastern Nebraska, but they didn’t know one another. Their lives were as opposite as can be! It was ironic that the two men died about the same time and shared the same date for a funeral.

Walkin’ Willy was a simple-minded man who wandered aimlessly through life. The other fellow was a man of affluence… A gentleman who had lived his life fully. He was considered successful in every way.

My parents knew both of them, so when the two men died, Mom and Dad had to choose which funeral to attend the Gentleman’s or the man-of-the-streets.

I myself didn’t know the Gentleman well, But I did  know Walkin’ Willy. He came to our church in Nebraska City.

Willy Perkins showed up Sunday after Sunday.

His clothes were a bit run-down, but they were always clean. He came carrying his box of day-old donuts to share with one and all. We tolerated Walkin’ Willy as best we could ignoring his uncouth ways. Trying not to notice the crumbs that spewed from his mouth when he talked and munched donuts, as was his custom.

He interrupted the church service countless times, inserting his opinion whenever he deemed it necessary. He carried a large Bible and shouted AMEN! louder than anyone else.

“I believe that Bible!” he’d say, thumping the big book with his hand.

Willy always requested prayer for his friends. He always paid his tithes, counting out the coins one by one. He always sold more fund-raising tickets than any other church member.

Willy pestered folks continually. He could be a real nuisance at times. He was the wandering waif of Nebraska City. An old relic of sorts who was all too visible. He attended every shindig in the City. To tell you the truth, Willy reallywasn’t homeles… he just seemed that way.

He had a room where he stayed, and he kept it very clean, but he was seldom there.

He spent his days wandering the earth and talking to people. In his lifetime, Walkin’ Willy covered 100’s maybe even 1000’s of miles.

He walked from Nebraska City to Hamburg, Iowa, more times than we could count. When someone stopped and asked the old man if he wanted a ride, Willy said: “Oh Lord no! I don’t want no ride.

I’m in a hurry!”

Good ol’ Willy. Hunch-backed Willy. About 80 years old, as far as anyone knew.

One day last fall, Walkin’ Willy got hit by a car. His life came to an end while he was doing the very thing that he loved best.

Walking…!

And that brings me to the point that I mentioned a moment ago.

Walkin’ Willy died and his funeral was at the same time as the influential Gentleman’s funeral albeit in different towns. I didn’t get to go to either funeral, but my parents had to choose which one to attend. I had no idea which funeral they chose.

Later, when we were discussing the men’s funerals, I became befuddled.

“So, the funeral you went to was a big one?” I said to my mother.

“Oh yes!” Mom said. “It was a huge! There were people from the City Council. Dignitaries. Doctors. The Mayor of the City. A lot of well-to-do folks. Some of them were honorary pall bearers. And when the funeral was over, there were hundreds of people who lined up to see the hearse go by. Maybe even thousands!”

“Wow!” I said. “I didn’t know that your friend was as well known as that! He must have been more influential than I realized! What was he… a millionaire or something?”

My mom just looked at me.

“No” she said. “You don’t understand, I’m not talking about the rich Guy’s funeral. I’m talking about the other funeral — Walkin’ Willy’s!”

“Willy’s funeral?” I said. “What…?!”

Mom nodded. “People lined up on the streets by the hundreds to pay their respects as the hearse went by. They did it in two towns at least….

In Nebraska City and in Hamburg, Iowa, too. ”

Oh. I see.

I felt stunned. I swallowed hard and thought about it a minute.

When I die, I’m sure there won’t be mayors and dignitaries at my funeral. There won’t be hundreds of people lining the streets to see my hearse go by like they did for Walkin’ Willy.

Maybe money and affluence don’t matter as much as folks think.

In order to be a ‘Successful and Influential person,’ Maybe you need to be a good friend instead of a lot of money.

Good ol’ Willy. Hunch-backed Willy. He had more going for him than anyone knew. Even himself!

Walkin Willy would’ve been surprised to see all those people lining the streets as the hearse carried his old body away.

I know if he could have, Willy would’ve sat straight up.

He  would’ve climbed out of that hearse and started walking toward his eternal destination.

“Lord no!” he would say.

“I don’t want no ride….! I’m in a hurry!”

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7 thoughts on “The Rich Man and Walkin’ Willy…

  1. Thanks so much, Patty and Karen and Diana. It was a startling lesson in “real life”.

    I’ve run into many readers locally who knew Walkin’ Willy and they miss the old guy…that’s for sure! 🙂 May he rest in peace!

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  2. Dec. 03, 2012 Lincoln Journal report about “Walkin’ Willy”…..
    “When people watched the annual Apple Jack Festival parade in Nebraska City, William Perkins usually was in the crowd lining Central Avenue.

    Perkins, known locally as Walkin’ Willie, loved parades.

    He got his own Friday afternoon, when more than 200 people walked out of stores and businesses to watch his funeral procession. Dozens more did the same in Hamburg, Iowa, his former hometown across the Missouri River.

    “When we turned from Sixth Street to Central Avenue, there were people everywhere; both sides of the street, similar to what you would see prior to one of the parades,” said Tom Gude, owner of Gude Funeral Homes.

    The turnout wasn’t spontaneous. The funeral home encouraged people to line Central Avenue in memory of Perkins, who made the street his life for the past 10 years, stopping in stores and coffee shops as part of a daily ritual.

    “Willie never took a day off. He had to be walking and seeing people,” said close friend John James. “Sometimes he would not even get home till 8:30 or 10 p.m.”

    Perkins, 79, got his nickname because he used to walk the 16 or so miles from Hamburg to Nebraska City to work or pick up his mail. Locals often saw him and gave him a lift.

    “He was just known as Willie,” Gude said. “He was a real honest guy. He always made sure he paid you back.”

    Perkins was injured in a pedestrian-car accident at the intersection of 11th Street and Central Avenue on Nov. 6. He died Nov. 27 at Bryan Health West in Lincoln.

    The driver, Larry Lawton, 64, of Nebraska City, was cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian, Nebraska City Police Capt. Lonnie Neeman said.

    Otoe County Attorney David Partsch is reviewing the case.

    Perkins was born April 9, 1933, in Riverton, Iowa, where he was to be buried.

    He had worked at Otoe Concrete, Morton House Kitchens and Ocoma Foods, all in Nebraska City, and the former Interstate Nurseries in Hamburg, according to his obituary.

    “He was kind of an all-by-himself kind of guy,” Gude said. “The people of Central Avenue, where he spent most of his day, they kind of looked after him.”

    James and Perkins became friends after he helped Perkins, who had a speech impediment, move out of his unlivable Hamburg home to Nebraska City about 10 years ago.

    “Ever since I was a kid, I knew who he was,” James said.

    The large turnout for the funeral procession was a nice surprise, he said.

    “It just said a lot about Nebraska City and Hamburg, too. It was quite the send-off.”

    Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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  3. Thanks for another story that speaks volumes. We just don’t know whose life or how many are being touched by our life! I can picture Walkin’ Willy, & can almost hear him! I love this & you!

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  4. So good to hear from you Sis. Ruby. Hope you are doing all right. I’m glad you still enjoy my stories. That means so much to me. Love you! Tell your hubby and family Hello! 🙂

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