Teri Vance: Willow Bill finds essential service in time of social distance
Like many Americans, Willow Bill (Goulardt) found himself spending a lot of time on the couch distracting himself with television during the first couple of weeks after the government shut down most business in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But a phone call from a friend changed that.
She asked him, “What are you doing about this?”
“She knew I didn’t know what to do,” he recalled. “But I take pride in being able to figure things out.”
So he came up with a way to help. The man —who for 25 years has been making willow reindeer with local children then displaying them along Highway 395 from Bordertown to Topaz — once again turned to the willows.
“Every court has a jester,” he said. “I’ve been dubbed the community elf, so I had to get out and do something. I’m essential.”
He is in the process of creating 50 hearts — one for each state — nestled inside giant reindeer to be displayed along the same stretch of highway.
“This is the perfect thing for a social distance activity,” he explained. “You can get in your car and go out and count the hearts, like a scavenger hunt in the greatest time of need. People need this.”
He said he is taking the necessary precautions to keep himself and others safe.
“I am sheltering in the willows,” he said. “There’s nobody out here but me.”
For Willow Bill, it’s even more important than most. In November, he underwent surgery for stage 4 colon cancer and has completed four rounds of chemotherapy.
He goes back for a scan at the end of the month to see if any cancer survived.
For now, he said, he’s found his best form of therapy.
“Helping people helps me,” he said. “I dance around after I help someone. I do a little jig.”
He doesn’t want to give away the locations of all of the reindeer, which should be in place by the end of April, but he is willing to give a couple of hints.
He pointed to Living the Good Life and the Plaza Hotel as two places to check out what the reindeer and hearts look like in order to locate them along the route.
“I hope the kids see them and realize we’re all together as one,” Willow Bill said. “It’s a reminder we’re going to be OK.”
He is confident the world will re-open, but he’s also optimistic that we’ll do things differently in the future.
“I hope in the end we all pay more attention and care more for one another,” he said. “With love, we’ll get through this … staying 6 feet away.”
His own plans include paddling the Columbia River in his canoe, the New Medi Zen, spending the summer in Oregon, then returning to Carson City for the holiday season.
“If everyone gets a little smile, I’ve done my job,” he said. “The reindeer taught me that.”