W.R. “Bill” Chestnut

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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,

*

he’s gone.’”

Kimberlee and Johnny Chang are the parents of

Bill and Denise Chestnuts’ only grandchildren –

twin girls, identical twins, Ashley and Emily, born

in 2008.

“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

was doing.”

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,

September 22.

“Same days and hours of business,” he said. “I

hope everything he taught me over 12 years will

be enough.”

The doctors at the hospital told Jason that,

judging by Bill’s color, he had died from a blood

clot.

“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

his head.

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

struck.

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

heritage.

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

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