HE WAS A GREAT MAN

My father died November 30, 2016. My husband, Pastor Larry Wagner, preached the funeral service and wrote a very touching obituary for him. The title of his sermon was “He Was a Great Man”. Following is he Eulogy that I wrote and read to honor my father and hopefully encourage others to make sure that they are setting an example for others to follow.

WILLIAM KENNETH BRYANT

Few people knew my Daddy by his given name. Only his mother and older sister called him Kenneth. To his friends and business associates he was Buck. His nieces and their husbands called him Uncle Buck. As he aged and had grandchildren he was affectionately called Papa by them as well as many others that knew and loved him.

Daddy led an amazing life. He was the youngest son of a civil war veteran. Raised on a poor hog farm in southern Missouri he was determined to get off the farm and get a job in town just as soon as he was old enough. He had many stories to tell about growing up on a farm in the 1920’s & 30’s. He was a veteran of both WWII and the Korean War. There were more stories from those years. There were experiences in NY City as he trained to design and make fur coats then from Florida where he moved after the Korean War to go into business with his brother-in-law, Charles Keslake. They had an orthopedic brace business. Buck was supposed to be the bookkeeper; but, he ended up learning how to make casts that would be the molds for the braces that he would create. He ended his working career as a postmaster in Longwood FL. There were plenty of stories from those 18 years! The post office was just as crazy back then as it is now. He started as the postmaster of a small post office with one rural route and, because of Disney World causing unprecedented growth, he retired from the same post office with 32 rural routes.

Yes, there are many stories I could relate to you about his fascinating life and all the places he was privileged to see. But, Daddy is in Heaven now and I am sure he would want me to share his spiritual journey. He gave his testimony many times hoping to impress on church going people how important it was to be faithful and set a good example because others, particularly children, are watching you. Daddy was brought up in a church in southern Missouri. At that time, this church taught that you had to be baptized in running water (the river) to complete your salvation. He remembered many Sundays that they walked down to the river to baptize a new convert even if it was the middle of winter and they had to make a hole in the ice. Personally, I would have waited till July to walk that aisle rather than braved that ice! 🙂  The pastor would always say, “He is going into the water an old man in sin and rising from the water a new creation. Behold old things are passed away…” Daddy said that he would watch those people in the coming weeks and months, some of them became leaders in the church but most of them were not truly transformed. In fact, he went seining the river with some of the deacons of the church. This was illegal because it would strip the river of all the fish in one swoop. Because my father could not see any visible changes in the Christians from his church he believed that he did not need salvation because he was as good as any of them. Daddy often said that it took 40 years for God to beat it into his head that he was a sinner in need of salvation.

After I grew up, I realized that he and I had been saved the same year. He was 40 and I was 8. True, he was already a “good” man so, as a child, I did not notice a drastic change in our lifestyle because my father accepted the Lord. Yet, when I look back I realize that it was at that time that we started attending every service of our church instead of just going to Sunday School and then out for breakfast. Not only did we attend every time the doors were open we were always the first ones there! We even beat the pastor! Little did I know that I was being trained to be a Pastor’s wife!:-)

Because of his childhood experiences it was very important to my father that he set a good example. I was taught by both my mother and father that you did not just go to church and church activities for what you would get out of it, you went to encourage others and be a good example. If you happened to receive a blessing or have a good time then that was a bonus. The church I grew up in had elders and my father was one. Many times I heard how we must set a good example for others because Daddy was an elder and Mama ran the Sunday School and Bible School. Others were watching and it was up to us to be there so that others would be encouraged to do what is right.

Daddy had a servant’s heart. Before he and Mama were ready to retire they told Larry and I that as soon as they were retired they would move to wherever we were to take care of our children to free me for the ministry. Right after Ryan was born, they moved to Winston-Salem, NC. Larry was the youth pastor at Marshall Baptist Church. They enjoyed living in NC and the people in the church. When we took the youth to camp or on Mission trips, Nana and Papa would move into our house to take care of Ryan and Tiffany. Two years later we had to tell them that God was moving us to Iowa to build a Christian Camp. We thought they would tell us to have a nice trip but they would go back to Florida. You see, when I was growing up, I heard that from his boyhood on a poor hog farm my father had decided that farming was a miserable life that he intended to avoid at all costs and they never wanted to live in Iowa again! Mama and Daddy had lived in Iowa for one year. He told me when he drove across the Mississippi River he declared that he was never going back there! But they had made a promise so they sold their trailer in NC, bought one in Iowa and joined the caravan of moving van, cars and motor home to move to Iowa in January. For 25 years Papa lived in Bonaparte, Iowa. He would drive to town to pick up supplies that we needed. Larry could call him and he would come out to camp to hold the other end of a board or something else to facilitate a building project. My husband talked him into helping with some VERY CREATIVE building projects! The biggest thing that he and Mama did was take care of the kids whenever we travelled to churches to present the camping ministry. During the camping season Larry and I would live in their motor home at camp and Ryan and Tiffany would move in with them. Nana & Papa would bring the children out to camp for lunch and supper, run errands for us, and generally made our life much easier as we served the Lord. In fact, my father often threatened to go back to work to get some rest. He said he worked harder in retirement than he had as a postmaster. 🙂

My dad firmly believed that cleanliness was next to Godliness, particularly in cars. Many evangelists who came to our camp talked about looking out the window of their fifth wheeler early in the morning to find my father washing their truck. He loved to serve others by cleaning and polishing. When he lived with Tiffany, her friends would bring him their silver and brass to polish. That kept him busy and happy and those nurses had not had such shiny silver and brass in years! I used to love to have my mother and father move into our house to baby sit while we took teens on mission trips. By the time we returned everything that needed polishing shone, there was not a window that stuck and the carpet was spotless. The man was not into sports or outdoor activities; but if he stayed in your house it definitely would be clean!

In his later years he had a burden for his former navy buddies. He made several trips and phone calls to contact them and make sure that they knew the plan of salvation. Many assured him that they had accepted the Lord. For those that would not, he knew he had tried and that was all the Lord asked of him.

I couldn’t have asked for a better father. I said at my parent’s 40th Anniversary celebration that because my Daddy played with me as a child I was willing to listen to him as a teen. In fact, he was my confidante. I told him many things that I would never tell my mother or anyone else. Daddy had a way of listening without judgment and then advising me in creative ways. He could inspire me to do almost anything because he would end it with, “I know you can do it if you put your mind to it.” I can remember calling him crying that I might as well come home from Bob Jones because I was going to flunk anyway. My mother simply told me that I was not working hard enough, which was probably true, but Daddy told me that he was confident that I could bring those grades up. He was praying for me and he knew that I could accomplish anything if I just put my mind to it. After each one of those talks I would hang up the phone knowing that I could and I must do it because my daddy was praying for me and he told me I could do it. When I was seriously in trouble or had a stupid idea, I would receive a letter from my father. I still have the letter he wrote me during my senior year at Bob Jones Academy. I had the brilliant idea that I would take a year off from school. A friend and I were going to get an apartment, live off campus, and work. After all, we needed a break. 🙂  I wish I could find it to read; but, basically he told me that this was NOT happening in the kind, encouraging yet firm way that was my Daddy.

Because of my loving earthly father, I never had a problem understanding a loving heavenly father. He had the patience of Job yet he knew how to discipline when it was needed. Oh how I hated it when Mama told him I had done something that required his attention! He would sit down with me and ask me what I thought about my sin. Then he would tell me how disappointed he was and how much I had disappointed Jesus. All the time I would sit there thinking in my mind, “please just spank me and get it over with!”

Daddy never ran for political office. He was not rich and famous. But those he met as he moved to different parts of our country will remember a man who was faithful to church and God. He was a man who loved to encourage others by his words and his helpful deeds. My father’s legacy will always be those lives that he touched by his faithfulness in church and example of serving others in whatever way he could.