GREEN BAY — A strong work ethic and a passion to serve describe 2017 Faith That Works recipient Bill Woods. The Freedom native credits his parents for these two admirable traits.
“I got the habit of working hard from my dad (Jim),” he said. “My dad worked in a mill and we had a farm. He always worked hard. My mom (Pat) was always involved in the diocese. There used to be three levels of catechesis; she was a part of that. There was a class where you could be (an extraordinary minister of holy Communion) anywhere in the diocese. She took those classes. She was friends with Deacon Don Newhouse. My mom and Shirley (Newhouse) ran confirmation when I was in the program.”
Woods grew up as a member of St. Nicholas Parish in Freedom. Participation in a Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) retreat following confirmation led him to a Bible study where he met his wife, Debbie, as a senior in high school.
“Actually, it started with a pastor out in New York,” said Woods.
“The Cross and the Switchblade,” a book and later a film, tells the story of David Wilkerson, called to New York to preach to gang members and disillusioned youth.
“Wilkerson converted Nicky Cruz, a gang member, and went around the country doing crusades,” said Woods. “He came to Green Bay in ’77. This Bible study was an offshoot of the crusades.”
Woods rode his motorcycle from Freedom to the east side of Green Bay, to attend the Bible study in the St. Bernard rectory basement. The Bible study was led by a Presbyterian because she was the only one who had a key.
Following high school, Bill attended UW-River Falls, where he earned a degree in dairy science. He was working on a farm in Door County following college graduation when he and Debbie were married at St. Bernard. They moved around before settling in Green Bay. Their stops included Carlsville, Iola, Freedom and Kewaunee. The family marked 20 years in Green Bay last fall.
Bill and Debbie adopted two sons, Joey, who will soon turn 27, and Adam, 25. Both have special needs.
“When we lived in Kewaunee, there were not enough services for our boys there,” said Bill. “We were averaging 80 miles a day on our vehicles. We were coming to Green Bay anyway, so we thought we might as well just move to Green Bay.”
In April, Bill will mark 20 years of employment as a truss builder/craftsman at Wisconsin Building Supply in Green Bay.
“Bill’s focus on safety, quality and his fellow worker is overflowing with God’s grace and spilling on anyone he encounters, without them ever knowing what happened,” wrote Deacon Kevin DeCleene, who nominated him for the Faith That Works honor. “He has a quiet demeanor about him, yet displays a hard work ethic.”
The family chose Nativity of Our Lord Parish when moving to the west side of Green Bay because they sought a large parish community, and so their sons could take part in Nativity’s special education religious education program. Bill taught in the program.
Joey was 6-weeks-old when they adopted him. Adam joined the family at age 3. They had first learned about special needs adoption at a conference at St. Norbert College. Caring for their sons, who both now live in group homes, has been both rewarding and challenging.
“We’ve gone through a lot of hospitals,” said Debbie. “Adam is written up in scientific journals.”
“Joey had five back surgeries in two and a half years,” said Bill. “We’ve made at least 100 (medical) trips to Milwaukee.”
The couple encouraged their sons, during their childhoods, through daily prayer. Each day, the boys were asked to tell God something they were sorry for that day, how they helped someone and to share something good that happened. They would draw a picture about how they helped someone that week and place it in the collection basket at Mass along with a donation.
“We had some people at the parish yell at me because our kids grew up,” said Debbie with a laugh. “One of their favorite things to do was to open the envelope, take out the quarter and find out what (Joey and Adam) did that week.”
Bill, who became an altar server in eighth grade, returned to the ministry as an adult to serve at Mass with Joey. Bill is also an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at Nativity. He is interested in becoming involved in more ministries, including serving as sacristan, a ministry from his days at the Newman Center in college. He would also like to work with the projection system at Nativity. Bill and Debbie are also Koinonia leaders.
Other faith service for Bill includes serving as a leader, team member and director for TEC. He also has a passion for social justice as treasurer and a financial resource for JOSHUA, participating within the guidelines of Bishop David Ricken’s document and expectations.
Parenting special needs children has opened doors to service opportunities. Bill is a Special Olympics coach for the only Christian-based basketball team in the state. The team prays before practice and pizza, and all members must participate in Bible study. The entire family has been involved with Camp Daniel, a summer program for people with disabilities, located in Athelstane, Wis.
The Woods family has one more member, Zechariah, their teenage foster son, who came to live with them when his mother had health issues.
“People kiddingly say they are going to get us a ‘Woods Hotel’ sign for outside our house, because we always have people staying here,” said Debbie.
“Over half the time we lived here, someone else has lived with us,” said Bill.
Their door remains open to people in need.
“He possesses compassion, understanding, patience, respect, honesty and integrity,” wrote Deacon DeCleene about Bill. “He is a servant leader who genuinely listens to people beyond the words. He then helps people by inspiring them to be the best version of themselves. He brings enthusiasm, spirit and hope to the situation.”