The Saddest Post in the Whole Wide World

Adults with Down Syndrome, Aging, Community Participation, Courage, Disability, Down Syndrome, Education, Employment, Family, Friends, Inclusion, Inspiration, People with Disabilities, Special Education, Teaching, Western Carolina University 53 Comments »

Billy Schulz, 56. We are going to miss you.

William Robert Schulz

Kingsport — William Robert “Billy” Schulz, 56, born January 28, 1956, died peacefully on September 2, 2012, after a period of declining health.

Billy was a beloved and influential member of his family, and an ambassador of goodness wherever he went. His cheerfulness and optimism contributed to the communities in which he worked and worshipped.

In April, Billy received his ten-year pin for his work as a bagger at Food City, where he worked at Eastman Road and Colonial Heights branches. He was an active member of First Broad Street United Methodist Church, where he returned their warm welcome to Kingsport by welcoming church members frequently as an usher. He belonged to TeamMates and loved singing at One Thing.

Prior to moving to Kingsport in 2001, Billy worked in Cullowhee, NC, at Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library for 21 years as a security book handler. He was a member of Sylva’s First United Methodist Church, where he was a regular usher for over two decades. Billy graduated from Cullowhee High School in 1977.

Born with Down Syndrome, Billy’s special needs directed the career of his mother, Jane B. Schulz. Billy and Jane inspired thousands of people during their teamwork together, modeling for all how much can be accomplished in life with determination, humor, love, and courage. Jane wrote her memoir, “Grown Man Now,” about her life with Billy, who has been a devoted and generous caretaker to his mother in these later years.

From the Office of the Chancellor, Western Carolina University:
“In recognition of Mr. Schulz’s achievements, service and cultural contributions to the betterment of society, he was scheduled to receive an honorary degree, a Doctor of Humane Letters, from Western Carolina University alongside his mother, Dr. Jane B. Schulz. The award honors Mr. Schulz for not only developing skills, talents and creativity beyond his expectations but also courageously sharing his experiences in presentations at community, university, regional and national events to help dispel negative stereotypes of people who have disabilities and encourage all to seek their full potential. The honor will be bestowed posthumously during WCU’s fall commencement exercises on Dec. 15.”

A music, television and movie buff, Billy created an impressive collection of recordings, and enjoyed discussing these topics and telling jokes. He was a complex and spiritual person; his love and concern for others were boundless. His deep, abiding, and long-lasting relationships with others were inspirational and far-reaching. His loss is keenly felt by Billy’s communities and family. Surviving him are his mother; two brothers, John and Tom Schulz, and his sister Mary de Wit; their spouses, Dekie, Sheila, and Jos; Billy’s nieces, Carrie Schulz and Mary Geitner; and his nephews, Paul (Edna), John Robert (Christine), and Isaac Schulz; and Daniel and Warren de Wit.

A memorial service for Billy will be held at First Broad Street UMC of Kingsport on Saturday, September 8, at 3:00 p.m. with a reception following. Memorial contributions may be made to: The Jane Schulz Scholarship Fund / Western Carolina University / 401 Robinson Admin. Bldg. / Cullowhee, NC 28723; or to the Billy Schulz Memorial Prayer Garden Fund at First Broad Street UMC / 100 E. Church Circle / Kingsport TN 37660.

A Change for Billy

Adults with Down Syndrome, Advocate, Community Participation, Employment, Friends, Independent Living 5 Comments »
Photo of Billy Schulz standing in front of Food City in Colonial Heights

Billy Schulz Welcomes You to Food City, Colonial Heights!

Billy has worked at Food City for more than nine years. There are two stores, one on Eastman Road down town and one in Colonial Heights, where we live. Billy started at the Eastman Road store because that’s where he was placed and trained by Good Will. A few years ago, when they built a new store on Eastman Road, he worked at Colonial Heights during the building process. At that time I thought he might stay at Colonial Heights, but no, he wanted to be at the new store! And of course he wanted to work with his dear friend Jonathan.

This summer two things changed. The Colonial Heights store was enlarged and improved and, most meaningful, Jonathan moved away. Billy grieved when Jonathan left and felt a tremendous loss. He began to consider moving to the Colonial Heights store.

We talked with the  manager at Eastman Road, Ed Moore. If you have seen the interview with Ed on our website you know what a remarkable person he is. He agreed to allow Billy to relocate and we talked with the manager at Colonial Heights, who said he would have a place for Billy.

A very positive factor was the presence of Sue, an assistant manager at Colonial Heights, who had worked previously with Billy at Eastman Road, and had wanted Billy to join her. One day Billy said, “Mom, I ready to move to Colonial Heights.” I was delighted at the prospects of having him closer to home, about a five minute drive away, and just hoped he would not be lonely without the friends he had worked with for so long.

Sue and Billy Get Ready for the Day

One day last week, as I drove by to pick Billy up from his new store, one of the young women, a cashier, ran out of the store, calling “Hey, Billy, you forgot to hug me!”

Once again we have a happy man.

Beautiful People (Part 3): A Beautiful Friendship

Auburn University, Disability, Down Syndrome, Education, Friends, Inspiration, Special Education, Teaching, Western Carolina University 1 Comment »


During my graduate work at Auburn University, I taught a demonstration class for children with intellectual disabilities. Billy and several other children rode with me from Columbus, Georgia during the summer to attend the class with local children. During our first summer, we met Steve Hinton, who was also a member of the class.

Steve, who has Down syndrome, became Billy’s best friend. His parents were professors at Auburn who, like me, were devoted to finding the best education possible for their child. One teacher who observed the class said that he had never seen a more beautiful friendship than the one between Billy and Steve.

After we moved to Auburn Steve and Billy were together each day at their regular school. They were so close that they talked on the phone after school every day and visited with each other frequently. We went with Steve’s parents to their home at the lake where the boys played in the water and Steve tried to teach Billy to swim. They put on concerts for each other, pretending to be their favorite singers. Billy had never had a real friend before.

When I completed my work at Auburn, we moved to North Carolina where I had accepted a teaching position at Western Carolina University. We regretted leaving Steve and promised to return and to expect visits from him. Although thrilled with our new home, we were somewhat concerned about Billy’s adjustment, especially being apart from Steve. When we opened our first phone bill, it was apparent that Billy and Steve had maintained their practice of talking with each other every day after school. As amazed as we were, we realized that we hadn’t explained the difference between local and long distance phone calls. We also acknowledged our surprise and delight that Billy had managed to make the calls.

Steve spent a week with us in North Carolina and whenever I visited my mother in Georgia, Billy spent time with Steve in Auburn. It was always as if no time had elapsed since their last encounter. They were still best friends. As Steve and his family moved farther away and we became involved in our new lives, our letters and visits became rare.

When Billy and I began doing presentations at various conferences, a welcome opportunity arose. We had been invited to The University of Alabama. Since Steve and his family had moved to Tuscaloosa, they planned to meet us at the conference. Billy was so excited and looked forward to a reunion with his best friend. The reunion, however, brought sorrow to Billy and to me. Steve’s mother had warned us that Steve has Alzheimer’s disease, which appears to occur more frequently and at an earlier age in people with Down syndrome than in the general population. Although we knew that Steve’s behavior would be unpredictable, we hoped that he and Billy would retain some degree of their relationship. Billy was devastated when Steve neither recognized nor spoke to us. He could not understand, as none of us can, how a deep relationship can disappear from someone’s mind. Billy sill recalls with sadness, “Steve not know me.”

Steve has improved somewhat, and we still speak by phone from time to time. Billy, however, is still sad about his friend’s inability to relate. Even as we recall their past positive experiences, it always ends with “Steve not know me.”

Like the teacher who observed Billy and Steve, I think of their relationship as the most beautiful friendship I ever saw. Have you had close friendships like this? Have you had experience with Alzheimer’s disease? What would you say to Billy?

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