Willow reindeer tradition continues | NevadaAppeal.com

Willow reindeer tradition continues

Teri Vance
Jim Grant / Nevada AppealSusan Peterson, a second grade teacher at Bordewich Bray Elementary school tests the holiday lights on a willow reindeer that her students made.

Over the 15 years “Willow Bill” Goulardt has been making reindeer at local schools, more than 30,000 children have been able to participate.

He started out visiting 16 classrooms and now goes to 184 each year and creates enough reindeer to line 55 miles of Highway 395 from Gardnerville to the University of Nevada, Reno – what he believes to be the largest art project in the nation.

“This is huge,” he said.

Too huge.

“It’s over my head,” he explained. So he’s asking the community for help.

In hopes of raising $15,000 for expenses related to the project, Willow Bill has posted a video to Kickstarter, a website dedicated to fundraising.

“I’m so blessed to be where I’m at. I’m honored,” he said. “But I’ve got to start being more responsible.”

Each year, Willow Bill brings bundles of willow branches into classrooms in Carson City, Reno, Gardnerville and Virginia City. He teaches the children how to drill screws into the branches to form a reindeer.

Nancy Varner, a first-grade teacher at Bordewich-Bray Elementary School, invites him back each year.

“The kids get to use an electric drill and big branch clippers, supervised of course,” she said. “That’s something they normally wouldn’t get to do. And it’s something they can write about because it’s such an experience.”

Second-grade teacher Teresa Mondragon said she ties the project into the math curriculum.

“It’s really interactive, and it’s real world,” she said. “Why do you need to know math? Because you need it to make things.”

In addition to lining the highway, the finished reindeer are also used in a display under the Capitol Christmas tree each year.

“Kids get to see their artwork on display for six weeks,” Willow Bill said. “That’s so cool.”

But as the project has grown, Willow Bill said, so has the expense.

“I’m spending about $800 a year on lights,” he said. “I can’t put that out anymore.

“I have to put my kid through college,” he said of his 18-year-old son, Billy, who is set to graduate from Carson High School this year.

And schools have started to require insurance for him to go into the classrooms. He’s reluctant to charge for his services.

“I’ve never wanted money from the schools,” he said. “I’ve always just been a father trying to do stuff with my kid and trying to make it a better place.”

He’s hoping the community will help him advance the project. Mondragon does as well.

“The kids just love it,” she said.

You can help

To donate to Willow Bill’s Willow Reindeer Project, go to kickstarter.com and type “Willow Bill” into the search window.