Bill and Willie Reynolds are true American heroes; their long and productive lives, interspersed with acts of remarkable generosity, should be a real inspiration to those of us who haven’t had the chance to save a life by rushing into a burning building or diving into a freezing river.
Bill Reynolds grew up in Arlington, New Jersey, and graduated from Kearny High School in the mid-1930s. He worked in the accounting department at the famous Clark Thread Company to pay his way through Rutgers University in Newark, and it was there that a kind CEO helped shape his outlook on life by paying part of his tuition. Bill promised his benefactor that, if he ever had the opportunity, he would help others with their education.
Bill had studied hard and learned well. After graduating with a degree in accounting, he passed the CPA exam on his first attempt, and looked forward to a promising career. World War II interrupted his plans, and he was drafted around 1940. He was at Fort Bragg in North Carolina when the news of Pearl Harbor arrived, and eventually spent more than three years in England. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant before the war ended and he was sent back to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio.
When his military career was over, Bill decided to stay in Texas, working as an accountant for the Richter Baking Company (Butterkrust Bread) in San Antonio. It was there that he met his wife, Willie, and there that they raised their son, Bill Jr. When they were nearing retirement age around 1980, they began looking around for a good place to settle. They took quite a few day trips and looked at quite a few houses before choosing a beautiful waterfront home in Kingsland’s Everett Acres. In Kingsland, Bill joined the American Legion and struck up a friendship with Woody McCasland at the Highland Lakes Bank.
Those associations boded well for the Reynolds’ adopted town. Sometimes individually and sometimes in cooperation with McCasland or the American Legion, the Reynolds’ volunteered, donated or helped raise money for many community causes. They installed the granite cross where there had been a little hamburger stand next to the Kingsland Community Church. They helped raise funds for a new fire truck for the Kingsland VFD, donated and raised money ($240,000 all together) for the new library (completed in 1999) and helped considerably with the construction of the Lakeshore Library in Buchanan Dam (“My wife liked to read,” Reynolds explains). They also helped with the construction of a family crisis center in Marble Falls, and contributed generously to CASA and Meals on Wheels.
When Packsaddle Elementary School was nearing completion in 2000, Reynolds was one of the volunteers from the American Legion who helped put furniture together and stocked shelves in preparation for the school year. The day before the school was to open, Bill and Willie Reynolds had a serious conversation about who the students would be, and what their futures would hold.
“We’re not rich,” he explains, “but we had a little surplus. We started figuring that maybe we could send some of them to college.” The remarkable thought became a complicated plan, as the school board’s legal department and their investment consultants pointed out possible pitfalls. They eventually were able to satisfy all the requirements and began placing assets into a special fund to cover the college expenses of any of that first year’s first-graders (42 students were eligible) who stayed in school and drug-free and graduated from Llano High School.
The timing was not optimal; the U.S. economy and the stock market took a huge hit with the terrorist attacks of 2001, but college tuition costs kept on rising. Within three or four years, Bill and Willie felt compelled to write a letter to the parents explaining that the fund would probably not be sufficient to cover all of their children’s college expenses. But in the meantime, they “got to know quite a few of the kids,” and were able to help mentor and motivate their intended beneficiaries. They also donated a new playground to Packsaddle Elementary, and the “some assembly required” turned into a week-long community work party, where “everyone who wanted to help” stopped by and had fun putting the playscape together. Despite the natural attrition, as families moved away from the Kingsland area during the twelve years, eighteen of the former first-graders entered their senior year at LHS last fall.
By then, both Bill and Willie were in their 90s, and health issues kept them from being as closely involved as they had hoped. But this May, Bill was able to attend the scholarship presentations at Llano High School, where he gave vouchers for more than $10,000 to each of the eighteen. They have two years to register in a college or trade school, and the money can only be used for tuition and other fees at the school of their choice. Three more of the original 42 may still graduate next year and become eligible for the generous scholarships.
That executive who helped Bill Reynolds with his tuition during the Great Depression never knew how many lives would be positively affected by his young employee. Well-lived lives like those of Bill and Willie Reynolds have a ripple effect across the community and across the country, and while they may never have leaped tall buildings in a single bound, the Reynolds’ are certainly superheroes, in their own quiet way, here in Kingsland.