My Dad, William (Bill) Pence, has gone home to be with the Lord. After battling heart problems for many years, and significantly over the past eight years, he died on Thursday, September 3, at home, surrounded by his loving family. Death is truly the final enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). But we know that he is now in the presence of Jesus. The Apostle Paul tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross that “today, you will be with me in paradise”. (Luke 23:43).
Dad was married to Rose, my mother for 41 years. He later married Pat, who he was married to for 23 years. He leaves behind Pat, her children and grandchildren, my sister Lisa and her husband Jeff, my brother Mike and his wife Julie, and I and my wife Tammy, two sisters, Linda and her husband Brian, and Cindy, three granddaughters, Jenna and her husband Niles, Brooke and Jorri, two great-grandchildren, Darla and Conrad, family in the Chicago area and many friends.
Before he died, I was able to share the special memories below with him, something I didn’t have the opportunity to do with my Mom when she died after heart surgery twenty-four years ago. My sister, brother and I also had some sweet times together in the hospital telling him that we loved him and remembering favorite things in his life – his favorite trip, meal, song, author, favorite golf course that he played, etc. – and Face Timing with family members.
Here are some of the special memories that I shared with him – a lifetime of memories – in the last week of his life. I hope you enjoy reading these.We moved from Chicago to Normal, Illinois in 1961 for Dad’s job. Dad started work on his bachelor’s degree at Illinois State University, while also working full-time. One of the benefits of a student at that time was for the student and their family members to be able to attend football and basketball games free of charge. So, my brother and I grew up going to basketball games at Horton Fieldhouse and football games at Hancock Stadium. So many great memories. I’ll never forget Dad holding my sister Lisa as a baby in the large north bleachers at Horton Fieldhouse. Another special memory is his kindness in not telling me how ill my Grandpa (his father) really was because he wanted me to enjoy the 1983 Missouri Valley Basketball tournament, which was taking place at that time.
Sports was a connection we had throughout my life. I remember him playing catch with my brother Mike and I in our backyard – whether he was throwing towering popups in the air for us to catch, or crouching down and using his catcher’s mitt to catch my oftentimes wild pitches.
Dad taught me to play golf. I remember him letting me tag along to some of his golf league matches at the ISU golf course, and letting me hit a shot every now and then when it wouldn’t disturb anyone. And of course, the many, many times we played golf over the years – at local courses, and also some pretty nice but difficult ones, like Kemper Lakes and Cog Hill (truth be told that we probably shouldn’t have played). We recalled walking off the 18th green at Kemper Lakes after a brutal round and being asked by one of the attendants if he could clean our clubs. My Dad just waved him off so we could get in the car and drive away. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Dad was a lifelong Chicago Sports fan – Blackhawks, Cubs, Bears, White Sox and Bulls. He took us to many major league baseball games in Chicago and St. Louis growing up. A more recent highlight was our annual Father’s Day baseball game trips to Wrigley Field and Busch Stadium, a tradition for about the last 20 years, (stopped only by COVID this year), and a few special trips to St. Louis Rams football games before they left St. Louis.
Growing up we always had a family vacation. Dad planned everything out, attractions, motels, etc. – and this was all without the Internet! As kids, we were primarily concerned that the motel had a pool. If it had a slide, all the better! I remember one time we were trying to get to the Grand Canyon before it got dark. As I recall, we made it to the Grand Canyon at dusk, saw it and then said something like, “There it is. Now, can we get to the pool”?
We had wonderful trips to Florida, California, Niagara Falls, Canada, etc. When we were small, Dad would set up “beds” for us to sleep on in the backseat, and drive through the night. I never knew how he was able to stay awake on those trips. One time – and one time only – we did a camping vacation. I remember a chilly morning in Yellowstone. We enjoyed many special vacations up in Hayward, Wisconsin. Much later, during the last few years of my Mom’s life, we enjoyed a few special golfing vacations at Eagle Ridge in Galena. Once he hit an errant shot that went onto the roof and landed in the yard of a home alongside the course. He walked over to get the ball, telling the homeowner who was sitting on the patio “Sorry, I’m just getting my son’s ball”.
The last several years, Dad’s legs didn’t work well, resulting in no longer being able to play golf, which he loved, among many other things. That, along with his heart problems, led him often to say “The golden years aren’t so golden”.
Throughout it all, he never lost his great sense of humor, even right up to the last night of his life.
But Paul tells us in Philippians 3:21 that in Heaven Jesus will transform Dad’s lowly body to be like His glorious body. I choose not to think of his legs ravaged by neuropathy and stenosis, but I think of the guy who led my wife Tammy and I from hole to hole at the Western Open golf tournament in Chicago. As soon as the players would putt out on a green, he would lead the charge, enthusiastically saying “Let’s go”, and we would be off to follow another player.
A special memory goes back to 1966. I think I was in the 5th grade at Colene Hoose school. I was called out of class and Dad was waiting in the hall to tell me that I had a little sister.
I used to enjoy watching the state high school basketball tournament on TV. For several years, he would write me a note to get out of school to watch the games. The notes would read: “Please excuse Bill, he’s not feeling up to par”.
As I look back, some of my favorite memories were our annual family Christmas celebrations in the house that I grew up in. Dad would wrap dozens of presents each year and then stack them high on the bed in the bedroom that Mike and I shared growing up. Tammy had never seen stacks of gifts like that. Our Family Christmas celebrations have always been special.
Dad and Mom provided for my college education at Illinois State University, setting me up for a good career at State Farm. We didn’t have a lot of money and I know that was a sacrifice for them. I never had to pay a cent for my education.
Dad was always a hard worker, modeling a strong work ethic for Lisa, Mike and I. He was a list-maker, which is I’m sure where we all got that practice from.
Dad and Mom were involved in Cursillo, a Catholic organization, for years, and often asked me to attend. Years later Dad would tell me how many times (several, seven I believe) I agreed to go, but then backed out. I eventually attended, and ironically it was that Sunday at the Cursillo weekend closing that God changed my life. Years later, in 1991, I would have the privilege of serving on Dad’s Cursillo team, and was proud of him as he led the team through the preparation time and the actual weekend.
Dad and I had some difficult times, going long periods of time without talking. I regret those times, which I can never get back. But not long ago he graciously granted me forgiveness that I had asked for.
Dad was not only my father, but also my friend. We had many interests in common, but three in particular were reading, sports, and politics.
After I retired, there was more time to spend with Dad. We enjoyed going out for breakfast, and watching golf, especially the major championships, on TV, sometimes over a Portillo’s lunch, movie popcorn or Gene’s ice cream. Dad’s all-time favorite player was Arnold Palmer and his current favorite is Jordan Spieth, so I always check to see how Jordan is doing, something I’ll continue to do. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed these times with Dad the past few years.
During the pandemic, I began taking afternoon walks, and as I did, I enjoyed our long phone conversations. I already miss those calls.
Dad loved Canadian geese, and has several paintings and figurines of them in his home. The evening that I got the news from Pat earlier that day that his heart and kidney problems were going to make things very difficult going forward, Tammy and I were sitting on our patio. All of a sudden, a perfect V-shaped formation of geese flew right over our heads and we could only smile. It was like an honorary flyover by the Blue Angels.
Dad battled heart problems for several years, and courageously went ahead with a mitral-clip procedure at Northwestern Hospital in July at age 84. That really showed us all courage, as he tried one final thing to improve his heart and extend his life.
Dad ran a good race with his life. I think of the Apostle Paul, when he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7-8:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
I’m going to miss sending him emails about the latest sports or political news. But we rejoice that he has heard from the Lord:
Well done, good and faithful servant.
I look forward to seeing Dad, as well as Mom, again one day. We are told that for those in Christ:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4