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Life Story / Obituary
Reverend William “Bill” Schoonover led a life of farming and faith. He made a life of sowing seeds and was rewarded in watching them grow; whether agricultural or spiritual. Most remembered for his warm smile and gentle demeanor, Bill devoted himself to others. A good and faithful servant, Bill proved a powerful role model for all who were blessed to know him. His legacy will surely continue to live on in the many lives he so lovingly inspired.
Born on the family farm in Utica, Michigan to Carl and Hilda (Houghten) Schoonover on August 3, 1926, in the midst of the roaring 1920s, Bill’s life changed dramatically after the Great Depression started in 1929. His father lost many acres of his land to the bank. Bill often spoke of how the bank even took the savings account he and his siblings had. This made an indelible impression on him and instilled within him an unwavering desire to help others, especially the downtrodden. Despite the challenges, the family united and found resourceful ways to greet each day. His mother was a school teacher, having taught for only one year because married women were not allowed to be teachers at that time. His father sold fresh vegetables and fruits to local stores and at farmers markets. Bill worked the farm and had a large paper route.
The Schoonover family all attended worship and Sunday school faithfully at the Troy Methodist Church. This was not a light chore for parents of nine children. Despite the hardships of the depression, his parents made Sunday a day of joy and rest. Bill enjoyed spending time with his 7 brothers, Alfred, Carl, Ferry, Don, Wilbert, Gilbert, Alger, and his sister, Beatrice. He liked sharing a bike with his older brother Don.
The church was surely the central influence of their lives. His parents had a strong faith and moral sense of which they set the example and taught to their children. Bill would follow in their footsteps and do the same for his children and grandchildren. He strove to live a principled life, emulating his parent’s strength of character and faith which he credited for giving him the courage and stamina in times of stress and temptation.
After graduating from Utica High School in 1944, where he played trumpet in the band, Bill joined the U.S. Navy. During his service as an air crewman for “the duration and six months,” his character and faith were often tested. As an example, he told the story about the time he was given leave and went to Mexico with some of his buddies from base. They arrived back late, but the rest of the guys were able to “correct” their paperwork, slip it in a pile on a desk, and got off without punishment. Bill did not. Though he was accused of drinking and carousing past his return time and tried to tell his superiors he didn’t drink, he was the only one who ended up on Kitchen Duty peeling more potatoes than he ever had in his life.
After the Navy, Bill attended Michigan State University taking agricultural classes to prepare for his next step of renting land where he farmed during the day and worked the afternoon shift at G.M. Truck and Coach in Pontiac. He also somehow found time to earn his pilot’s license.
Bill met Norma Rose Henderson at the Utica Roller Rink in 1948. He was instantly attracted to her dance moves on her skates, and Norma was drawn to Bill’s dark hair and deep tan. The couple dated for a time, enjoying movies and eating popcorn, going out to eat, and the pleasure of one another’s good company. On September 9, 1950, Bill and Norma married, officially beginning their 70-year adventure together.
After honeymooning at Niagara Falls, the couple settled into a house they built near Rochester, Michigan. In time, they were blessed to welcome six children into their family. Active members at the Elmwood Methodist Church, faith proved the firm foundation of their family life. Bill and Norma were devoted parents who consciously worked together to provide a loving and supportive home.
In 1953, Bill and Norma accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior while attending a Billy Graham Crusade in Detroit. After experiencing a series of “Spiritual Renewal” services at their home church a couple of years later, Bill accepted the undeniable call to preach. With his beloved at his side, Bill began his formal training. By the fall of 1959, they began their ministry at the Brent Creek - West Vienna charge. In 1962, Bill was appointed to the Elba Methodist Church. After graduating from Adrian College, Bill enrolled at the Chandler Theological Seminary at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He pastored the Culloden, Yatesville, and Rogers Methodist charge while earning his Masters of Divinity.
Upon returning to Michigan, Bill was appointed to Norway - Faithorn in 1968, Negaunee Mitchell 1974, Flint Asbury 1982, Ontonagon-Rockland and Greenwood in 1990 to complete his ministry as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Detroit Conference. During his tenure, he served on the Board of Ordained Ministry, Evangelism, Missions, and many others. For many years, he and Norma were camp counselors and deans at Michigamme and Bay Shore. From 1969-1983, Bill was the Civil Air Patrol Chaplain, where he had an opportunity to combine his love of flying with his love of God. On October 26, 1989, Bill shared in his Theological Statement the North star by which he navigated his life. “Pure logic and philosophy cannot explain the marvelous workings of the Lord in a life changed by faith.”
Bill officiated the marriage ceremonies for all six of his children, baptized most of his grandchildren, and later, married many of them. He counseled his family in word and in deed and, quoting scripture, said about them, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” - 3 John 1:4.
Bill and Norma also touched the lives of their extended families in meaningful ways. Bill officiated the funeral of his son-in-law, Mel’s father in 1992. Mel’s mother made him what was his favorite ministerial robe and, years later, he participated in her memorial service as well. After retirement, he continued to pastor at Three Worlds R.V. Resort in Davenport, Florida, and filled pulpits wherever he was needed.
Norma and Bill made many journeys to the Holy Land, where they served as hosts for Educational Opportunities Tours. Over the years, they were blessed to travel the world, including taking in the wonders of Egypt, Korea, Austria, Italy, Germany, and Hawaii. Winters were spent in Davenport, Florida, where their backyard had a pond with alligators, beautiful flowers, and fruit trees. Bill enjoyed tending his garden and never turned down a delicious meal at Villa Capri, his favorite restaurant in Marquette, Michigan or, alternatively, Bartoletti’s in Aurora, Wisconsin.
His farm at Faithorn, Michigan, is where Bill called “home” and where he gardened, sawed lumber, and ran his grandchildren around the fields on a hayride. His kindheartedness ensured sanctuary for every living creature, including his dog Moses who he rescued from an abandoned car, and his feline walking companion, Tiki. He was a woodworker and rock collector, but above all a husband, father, and grandfather who loved a family gathering at the farm, an annual trip to the Experimental Aircraft Association show in Oshkosh, and serving with the people of God.
Without a doubt, there is now a void where Bill’s steadfast presence once was. May we find comfort in our many treasured memories and in the privilege of carrying his legacy forward.
In his words, “Finally, I am grateful to Norma and my family who have loved and supported me through the years and for my sisters and brothers in the faith among the clergy and congregations whose love has been shared liberally in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is my firm belief that wherever one serves God, not only is there much to be done, but there is also much pleasure in knowing the people of Jesus Christ, both in serving them and in working together with them for the spiritual and numerical growth. The presence of Christ and His Holy Spirit is at work in the United Methodist Church.” Amen.
Bill Schoonover, age 94, stepped into heaven on December 29, 2020. Reverend Bill, as he was affectionately known to his parishioners, was preceded in death by his parents, his siblings, and his youngest son, Thomas Schoonover, on December 25, 2020. He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Norma; and his children: William (Lynda) Schoonover Jr., Alice Crookham, Ruth Burby, Anna (Mel) Laurila, and Deborah (Russ) Hanstein. He and Norma enjoy 16 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great-grandchildren.
Cremation has taken place. A memorial service will be held at 2 PM on May 30, 2021, at Grace United Methodist Church, 130 O Dill Dr., Norway, MI, with interment at the Faithorn, MI cemetery. Visit Bill’s personal webpage at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com, where you may read his Life Story, archive a favorite memory or photo, and sign his online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to the United Methodist Committee on Relief through any local United Methodist Church or at www.umcmission.org/umcor. Arrangements by Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Dr., Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900.