W.R. “Bill” Chestnut,
a man of many passions
They had eaten lunch. It was early afternoon on
a glorious Sunday (Sept. 14), and Bill and Denise
Chestnut were looking forward to a nice walk
along the Välkommen Trail. They often walked
the Trail; it passed by, not far from their home on
South Second Street.
“They got home about two o’clock,” said their
son, Jason. “Dad got a glass of ice water and went
to sit in his easy chair. Mom was doing laundry
and she heard him call weakly for her.
“When she got to him he was gone.”
William Richard Chestnut, 65, master clock-
smith, tireless city councilman, overjoyed grand-
father, devout Roman Catholic, beloved husband,
relentless civic booster, proud Vietnam vet (three
tours), a man who exhausted the Energizer Bunny,
a citizen unmatched in pride for his community
– Bill Chestnut, a man who often seemed happy
about everything, was dead.
FROM the day he opened the Ye Old Clocksmith
in that quaint slice of storefront on North Main,
Bill Chestnut declared an unbridled enthusiasm
for the town and let everyone know it. We have an
image of Bill frozen in memory: He is in uniform
– denim, suspenders, ascot cap – on the sidewalk
with someone in front of his shop, and he is speak-
ing with his hands and arms as that someone lis-
tens, nodding now and then. When Bill spoke with
his arms, it was serious; no doubt it had something
to do with the Trail, or the Meadowlark Trail, its
extension south into the county; or the number
of bookings at the new Sundstrom Conference
Center, or the prospects for filling that last vacant
downtown storefront, or latest agenda for the ad
hoc business roundtable; or, when in the world will
the state let us get on with the downtown renova-
tion? These were among Bill’s passions. Come to
think of it, not much wasn’t among his passions.
Clocks, for example. About a month ago, Bill
was the featured speaker at the Lindsborg Kiwanis
Club’s weekly noon meeting. Bill was a Kiwanis
member, so he was speaking to friends. He brought
several clocks and clock mechanisms – a variety,
rare time pieces, antiques, immaculate and exqui-
site works of art, craftsmanship, technical skill.
When it came to clocks, Bill’s accomplishment
and infatuation was without limit. He layered
experience and history through the art and craft of
keeping time – “…since the sun first rose and the
tides lifted …” – moving an audience of friends,
even, to the edge of their chairs. Time ran out at
1 p.m., time to adjourn the Kiwanis meeting. The
half-hour for Bill’s talk had passed in a moment,
and the crowd remained still. Soon the gavel
banged and the bell rang, and people snapped up,
as though they had been under a spell.
BILL WAS about family.
On Wednesday, the day before Bill’s funeral,
his son Jason brought a few relatives downtown to
see the shop: Bill’s brother-in-law Kevin Downes,
of Cocoa Beach, Fla., sister Terry Cornelisse, also
of Cocoa Beach; Mandy Songer, a niece, from
Freemont, Ia. and daughter Kimberlee Chang, of
“Dozens of cousins are heading to Lindsborg,”
Kimberlee said, “and seven nieces and nephews
and families from … let’s see … Illinois, Iowa,
Florida, Texas, Utah – oh, and Ohio.
“Three of my cousins are driving – driving! – 15
hours from Illinois with a baby.”
Those were the relatives and locations they
could think to mention at that time. It’s hard to
think, really, at a time like this, Kevin was saying,
“it’s just a terrible loss.”
Kimberlee said she had been busy in Boston that
Sunday, making snacks for a block party.
“When mom called and told me, I just kept
making food. I just kept making food, and then I
called back to check on Dad, and Mom said ‘Kim,
Kimberlee and Johnny Chang are the parents of
Bill and Denise Chestnuts’ only grandchildren –
twin girls, identical twins, Ashley and Emily, born
“When we found out we were having twins,
I absolutely panicked, we were spazzing out,
we couldn’t believe it – twins,” said Kimberlee.
“Mom was ecstatic and thrilled and Dad was so
very calm, and relaxed; they were thrilled, and we
parents? We were losing it.
“So, we had the ultrasound and I asked Dad
what he thought, in the midst of our frenzy about
how our lives were about to change so incredibly.
“And he said, ‘So near as I can tell, the only
thing that changes for me is I have to buy two fish-
ing poles instead of one.’”
Kimberlee is at the door to her dad’s shop. The
relatives are ready to leave. “It sucks, but it’s kind
of hard to be too sad for too long … because he
made such an impact.
“Growing up, it was well, we have a dad and
it’s no big deal,” she said. “But about six years
ago, it was pretty cool, when I started learning to
be a parent and looking back. It was just awesome
how much he got right without knowing what he
JASON, who worked full-time with his father,
said that he will keep the Ye Old Clocksmith on
North Main, and planned to reopen on Monday,
“Same days and hours of business,” he said. “I
hope everything he taught me over 12 years will
The doctors at the hospital told Jason that,
judging by Bill’s color, he had died from a blood
“He always said he was ready to go,” Jason said.
“He just didn’t want to hop on the next bus.”
Dept. of Football:
Butchering the Anthem
Did anyone put a stopwatch to that televised
slaughter of our National Anthem on Monday
(Sept. 15) night? Before the Colts-Eagles game,
the microphone wound up at the lips of yet another
warbler – this time, one of especially long wind.
We wondered if it would ever end.
We have noted before that the Anthem is dif-
ficult to master vocally because of its broad range.
In our viewing experience, roughly 40 years, only
a handful of singers have done it well. It is no
piece for amateurs, who include nearly all rock,
R&B, country-western and jazz vocalists. They
often slide into the difficult notes and warble out
of them to mask the obvious failing that they can-
not nail them in the first place.
The result is embarrassment: Again someone
who has sold a lot of records is unmasked, unable
to sing the Anthem without schmearing over
its most beautiful phrasing, when the rockets’
red glare, and missing (by sliding into) all the
high notes and flailing out of them – like a non-
swimmer who has tumbled into water just over
The mess is compounded when, as happened
recently, the singer took an eternity to finish his
butchery. The Star Spangled Banner is written to
be performed in about a minute to a minute and
15 seconds. Thirty or 40 seconds longer than that
becomes torture, even if all the notes are well
Who does it best? Any of the armed forces’
bands or choruses, and those from the service
academies. The military artists’ expertise is guar-
anteed when it comes to the Anthem because of
their intertwined and long-standing interest and
The Star Spangled Banner is no work for the
weak. And it is to end before the dawn’s early
light, not after the first moonrise.
– JOHN MARSHALL