By: Timothy Kays
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
If you are a resident of Wauseon, chances are good that you know Bill Bray. If your children attend any of the Wauseon Schools, you no doubt have seen Bill Bray snapping pictures at some event. This Fremont transplant has done more to promote the youth of Wauseon in his time here than many natives have in their entire lifetime. You show me a Wauseon kid, ANY kid, and I’ll show you a champion, an advocate, and a friend in Bill, just as it used to be with his father. Unlike your run-of-the-mill members of the media, the articles come second… the kids always come first in the eyes of Bill Bray.
Back in 1990, the organist of the Clyde Christian Church introduced Bill to the Pastor of the church, and in 1991 Bill and Mary Jo became husband and wife. Bill was working at the Adrian Daily Telegram while Mary Jo continued her pastoral duties with the church, but after her father passed away she became concerned for her mother who was living alone in Wauseon. In 1998 Bill and Mary Jo relocated to Wauseon, a new home for Bill, but familiar digs for Mary Jo, a Tribe Town native and a member of the Wauseon Class of 1983.
In June of 2003, Bill went all-in for the community he now called home, beginning the publishing of the Wauseon Youth Connection. Dedicated entirely to the kids of the Wauseon School District, the Bill Bray publication came about for two specific reasons. “I was working in Adrian, while my son (Jacob) was in elementary school,” Bill explained. “It was a point where I was working 70 to 80 hours a week, and he called me two or three times to ask if I was going to be home for his third grade concert. I said, ‘I’m sorry son.’ My daughter (Emily) and son would be asleep when I left, and would be asleep when I got home. I had five years of it, then I said I just can’t do this. They were growing up, and I needed to be around for them. I thought about what I could do. I thought that the local paper wasn’t doing an adequate job of covering youth events…sports, or anything youth related, so I thought that I would start my own paper.”
Printed by his former employers in Adrian, the weekly issued Wauseon Youth Connection was born, and immediately took off. This paper was a one-of-a-kind, focusing exclusively on the all kids, Kindergarten to seniors, in the Wauseon Schools. Economics unfortunately, put a premature end to the publication, but not to Bill’s youth advocacy. “Like every other publication, I was having trouble with advertising toward the end of its life,” he said. “I couldn’t afford it anymore, so in 2009, I went online. That lasted for about a year or a year and a half, and I just ended it and was looking for something else. I can’t remember who, but somebody mentioned Forrest (Church), so I contacted him and talked with him. I said that moving to Wauseon might be a good idea; you can certainly beat the local paper that’s here now.” With that, The Wauseon Reporter was born. Bill came onboard as well, but did he want to continue to focus on the kids? His answer was plain and simple…”Absolutely!”
It was about the same time that the Wauseon Youth Connection was up and running on all cylinders that life was beginning to take a turn for Bill. “In 2004, the hospital was having a diabetes screening, and I went out and took that. They called me back and said that I might want to get some blood work done; it didn’t look right to them. So, I went to my family doctor, got the blood work done, and my kidney numbers were elevated. From there, until 2009, it just progressively worsened. I finally ended up at UTMC, where they performed a transplant in 2009. My kidneys hadn’t completely failed, but they were functioning at only about ten percent.”
With the new kidney in place, things were supposed to be looking up for Bill, but his original kidneys were failing for a reason that was missed by the doctors. “There was an underlying condition called multiple myeloma; it’s a cancer of the blood,” Bill explained. “Multiple myeloma is to kidney tissue as a termite is to wood. It just eats up kidney tissue. It killed my kidneys, so I had the transplant. Within a week of the transplant, the new kidney started to fail. They didn’t know that I had multiple myeloma going into the transplant. They did a biopsy of the transplanted kidney, and it was covered with multiple myeloma. With God’s help, they were able to reverse it, and the kidney transplant gave me five years, but this past June, it too died.” Bill now requires dialysis treatments three times a week. Add to this a colon rupture during 2013 which requires a colostomy bag for the rest of his life, and that would be enough to push even the most stout hearted over the edge.
“I don’t dwell on it,” Bill says. “You live every day like it’s your last.” The dialysis process is, in a word, boring. Not for Bill, though…he works on game stats and other articles about the kids. “If I didn’t have the kids, what would I do there? Sleep?” Even multiple myeloma-induced total kidney failure has to take a back seat to Bill’s kids. This trait of inner strength is a genetic gold mine that he inherited from his father.
“My dad was a coach for about 38 years,” Bill said. “He had the respect of every kid. He taught English. He was ‘back in the day’ when the teachers took kids and slammed them up against the lockers or slapped them across the mouth…he was back in that era. The two kids that grew up with him through the years, the two kids that he gave detention to more than any others, they were almost the first two in the funeral home when he died. Doesn’t that say it all? You’ve got to respect the kids. You’re not going to get respect from them unless you respect them back.”
That mutual respect was not something that was relegated to the microcosm of the local levels. Bill talked about one of his favorite students to watch over the past few years, 2013 Division III Baseball Player of the Year and Wauseon Class of 2013 Co-Valedictorian, Ty Suntken. Bill marveled at his dedication to his athletic skills, and noted that his scholastic skills received equal dedication. “There’s a lot more like Ty out at that school,” Bill said. “I’ve only seen what he had inside in one other athlete. It goes back a long time to Rob Lytle, the All-American at Michigan (and later the Denver Broncos). My dad coached him in high school, and his work ethic was second to none. Every night, all summer long when he came home from Michigan, he and dad would go out. They’d run the hill; they’d run the track. Dad worked him out every night. Going into his junior year, Bo (former Michigan Coach Schembechler) wanted to switch him over to fullback. Gordon Bell was there, and he was a great tailback. Rob said, ‘What do you think, Coach Bray?’ Dad said, ‘Go for it. Who is going to beat you out at either position?’ He did, and he and Gordon were the first two kids to gain over 1,000 yards in a season up there.”
“Rob was a great friend. I miss him…I miss him a lot. He was like a brother to me,” Bill continued about the late Wolverine ground pounder. “He went from Michigan to Denver. He won the AFC Championship Game, called us that night, and said, ‘Coach Bray, I’ve got three tickets to the Super Bowl if you can get yourself there.’ We went to the Super Bowl, and were included in all the family events, the pregame meal, being taken by the bus right up to the front door of the Superdome, and the postgame meal with the team. Unbelievable! My dad contracted pancreatic cancer in January of 1991, and in January of ‘93, he died. That night, Rob was there that whole night with us. Dad started coaching him during his sophomore year, and they were inseparable. It was almost like a father-son relationship, and he was there the night dad died…he stayed there the entire time.” The respect that Coach Bray gave to his kids came back to him over the remainder of his life, and continued after his walk on earth was over. His life was a testament to the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 11:1…”Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back.”
How does all of this tie into the story of who is Bill Bray? Continuing, he said, “Those are the kids that would come over to our house. Dad would give them pep talks; tell them to not leave college without that piece of paper saying that you’re a graduate. Every one of them, before they’d leave, he’d give them a fifty dollar bill and say, ‘Just do your best. Be the best that you can be.’ That’s where I learned it from. That’s where I learned to love the kids. Everything I do comes from him…I learned everything from him when it comes to the kids.”
The Wauseon Christian Church, where Mary Jo was an Associate Pastor, was forced to let her go in a budgetary decision. With the family now without insurance and the extra income that she brought in, the Bray household finances have been strained. However, an appreciative community is rising up to help Bill with his medical expenses. On September 18, an account at gofundme was opened entitled, Friends of Bill Bray. The site at http://www.gofundme.com/eoq1rs, allows for online donations to be made for the benefit of the Fremont kid who has taken the kids of Wauseon to heart. There will also be a benefit scheduled for the end of October at the church that was put together by some of Mary Jo’s cousins, and friends of the family.
Throughout all of the trials, what has held Bill together? “My family,” he said, adding, “The community…the community’s been great to us. Life keeps me going…I love life. My faith plays huge into this. Without God, where would any of us be? I love my Lord; I’m not ashamed to say that. He’s brought me through so much. Prayer was endless for me through the transplant, through the colon rupture, and now through dialysis. I feel those prayers, every day.”
To the aforementioned list, there was one more thing that Bill added to the things that have held him together; “The relationship that I have with a lot of the kids over at the school.” Once again, despite the physical pain and the emotional strains associated with his condition, his thoughts go straight back to the kids of the Wauseon Schools, and now that he has been named the Official Publicist of the NWOAL, he’s got more kids than ever for which to play the advocate. Faith, family and the kids…that’s what keeps Bill Bray running.
Like father…like son. As it was then, so it is now, and as long as Bill can tap a keyboard or hold a camera, so it shall always be.
Timothy Kays can be reached at email@example.com