It is not often that people cross paths with truly great men. These are the sort of people that do not actively seek a spotlight, but the impact they have had on those around them is palpable and visible. The longer they have lived, the more lives they touch, the more strands of fate they influence. Westmoreland County seems to be replete with such people these days, from Stanley Schoppe to the subject of this article, Reverend William Ralph Gardener, who turned 90 this year. There were several friends and family in the area that wanted to make sure that Gardener got the recognition they felt he was due.
Several weeks back, a petition was made by Robert Garnett to the Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution thanking and congratulating the local rector for his decades of service in our nation’s military, as a counselor for the Department of Corrections, as a sponsor for the Veterans Outreach Group, but most importantly, for his service to the spiritual needs of his community. The resolution itself was passed unanimously, but was not presented until last Sunday after services at the Holy Redeemer Anglican Church, which many locals will recognize as what was once Grant United Methodist Church.
“There’s an ethos in the military,” Garnett said later, “and it’s that no one gets left behind. Gardener has taken that into all aspects of his life, especially the ministry. There is no one left behind with him, he’s always looking to help others.”
Reverend Gardener had much to say, both during service and after lunch, during which the resolution was presented to him.
“God’s been real good to me,” Reverend Gardner stated, “I’ve never had to take medication or been sick, my wife and I never had a single argument in the decades we were together. How many people can say that?”
“Sometimes things happen that we don’t understand at the time, but later we find out why they happened that way” he continued, “Like the Apostle Paul stated, we see through the glass darkly, and we only understand it all later. I had to put my wife in a nursing home, thankfully it was the best home around. I would visit her every day up until she finally passed on in November 2019. And then the virus came. If she had lasted another year, I never would have been able to see her. She may be gone physically, but I still feel her here with me.
“Everybody, at some point in their life, has run into some kind of sadness, these situations where there were seemingly no solutions. Everybody has, and everybody will. Our bishop here has a saying,” he said as he motioned towards the nearby Reverend Barry Yingling, “And it’s ‘don’t worry about anything.’ You might think that’s being facetious, but it isn’t. Worrying about something does not change one thing. There is no point in worrying.
“I know that’s hard to accept,” Gardener continued, “Because I find myself worrying about little things in life. I’m 90 years old. I have a lot of responsibility at this age, and among them is this church. We’ve paid our bills, and we never once closed our doors during the virus. I like to think the Good Lord was looking out for us.”
To this day, Reverend Gardener also runs a small farm, populated with animals from sheep and chickens to a goat and cats, many of them rescued from abusive owners or abandonment.
“God put me here for a purpose, and has kept me alive for that same reason, and I hope I am fulfilling his commandments. I thank all of you for honoring me by your presence. I hope I can continue to give understanding to those in doubt for the foreseeable future. God bless each and every one of you.”
With those final words, the cake was cut and enjoyed. There are many times in our lives where we might think “Why am I here? What is the point of my existence?” Much like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, Reverend Gardener is a sterling example of how much of an impact we have, both on the world and each other, and it’s clear that he has earned every second of his ninety years on Earth, and there are many that hope he has several more years to come.