Teri’s Notebook: Fundraiser set for Willow Bill
Melissa Maxey first met Willow Bill when her partner, Dan Palmer, was waiting for a liver transplant.
They were at a funeral when a mutual friend introduced her to Willow Bill.
She remembers feeling overwhelmed with fear and grief, not knowing what the future would hold, when the group of friends walked down to the Capitol grounds to see the willow reindeer “Willow” Bill Goulardt makes with area students each year.
“I was all in at that point,” Maxey recalls. “He’s one person making a humongous difference, and never really gets recognized.”
She knew then she wanted help and became a “herdswoman” the next year and every year since then, helping Willow Bill distribute thousands of reindeer to business and private residences along Highway 395.
She was devastated when Willow Bill broke it to her earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.
“Bill and I just sat there, held hands and cried,” she said.
She and Palmer remember the help the community gave them during Palmer’s illness and hope Willow Bill will receive similar support.
They are organizing a fundraiser 5-9 p.m. Dec. 8 at A to Zen, 1803 N. Carson St.
It will feature a cake walk, raffle prizes, live music and more.
“Everything is all in place,” Maxey said. “We just need people to show up. That’s the part you can’t predict.”
Willow Bill is planning to return to Carson City for the event, after undergoing surgery this week in Oregon.
He is going into the surgery feeling good about the progress of what he calls the nation’s largest art project.
He set the goal when he first started in 1997 to line reindeer from Topaz in the south to Bordertown in the north.
This year, he has reindeer in both towns.
“For 22 years I’ve been knocking on doors,” he said. “There’s some space to fill up in the middle, but we will fill them up in the next couple of years.”
But Willow Bill also has some regrets. While undergoing chemotherapy treatments for the cancer this season, he hasn’t been able to visit as many classrooms as usual. He made reindeer with children in 100 classrooms, rather than his usual 175.
“There were a lot of kids who didn’t get to do it this year, and I’m sorry,” Goulardt said. “I hope to be back at it next year.”
He vows to make up for it.
“I ain’t stopping,” he said. “If I drop, I drop, but I won’t stop.”
He is confident he will prevail.
“I keep getting these visions,” he said. “The Lord knows what he’s doing. Why would he being giving me visions if he still didn’t have stuff for me to do? I think it’s pretty cool.”
Maxey said the fundraiser will give him the boost he needs to fight the disease.
“Financially, this will help Bill,” she said. “But also it will give him a sense of hope. Hope is a big thing.”