Preacher Bill Along
Of Preacher Fill And Homer And Henry
To Fascinate Children Today
Smith - 2007
I'm one of those oddball characters that took three decades to
blunder my way through the educational system to high school
graduation. Oh, it didn't take me 30 years, only 12. It just
seemed like 30. I started attending Neon Grade School in Letcher
County in September 1949 and graduated from Lee County High School
in May of 1961 with short stops in Perry County at the Upper
Broadway Grade School in Hazard and the Klenco Grade School near
When my occasional trips down memory lane take me back to the
school days of my youth, I am inclined to remember most of my
teachers as stern taskmasters. However, in all fairness to their
memories, I remember any number of those former teachers as individuals
dedicated to their profession and armed with the knowledge that
a well-rounded student made a better citizen.
In that light, the more enlightened educators attended the school
of thought that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull
boy." Teachers with that attitude generally tried to make
learning an enjoyable experience for their students. When I was
first starting out in school, the teacher taught us to sing those
silly little songs that generations of school children have come
to enjoy. She often joined in the playground games and helped
us learn the rules of those games.
As the years slowly passed, there would be teachers who would
teach kids to appreciate the value of art and music in their
classes. Even in grade school, we would learn to enjoy the pleasure
of sports and physical competition. The teachers who taught me
to read did not teach me to love reading. That privilege belonged
to my mother. Long before I started school, my mother was teaching
me to read the words on the sides of Quaker Oatmeal boxes and
magazines and phrases from my comic books.
In those days there were no television sets in the schools and
homes, no VCRs, no DVDs, and no computers. Most of us were still
trying to learn to play the radio. We had never seen a television
set and the smartest teachers would have been hard put to explain
what a computer was to their class. They existed only in theory
anyway. The teachers of that era sometimes used a projector and
a movie film as a teaching aid and a treat for the kids. The
teachers generally sent a note home with the kids the day before
a movie was scheduled for showing in the classroom. The going
rate was ten cents. Yep! If you wanted to watch this upcoming
adventure on the silver screen, all you needed was one thin dime,
and those dimes weren't always easy to come by. Of course, we
didn't get to see Roy Rogers or Gene Autry shoot up the place.
The film had to have some redeeming educational value or it never
made it into our schools. I think I must have seen Treasure Island
10 or 12 times over the years and was fascinated every time.
I'm sure there must have been another film or two, but dadblamed
if I can remember what any of them were. On the other hand, I
don't think I'll ever forget seeing the sails unfurl as Jim Hawkins,
Long John Silver, and the rest of the gang put out to sea to
find the treasure. Any thoughts I may have had about growing
up to be a pirate were dispelled, however, by an old gentleman
who lived in our community. He had a hook for a hand, walked
with a limp, and had a funny smell. He had a hooked nose, or
Roman nose as some folks called it, and piercing black eyes that
seemed to look right through you. He was probably harmless enough,
but one would never have convinced the kids in the neighborhood
Bill Holeman with sidekicks, Homer and Henry. They have been
visiting Eastern Kentucky Schools since the 1950s.
All sorts of folks stopped by our schools to visit the kids.
Some, like Cowboy Homer Harris, came by with his wonder horse
to collect our dimes. When I remember some of his tricks and
the way that horse could count, I would swear it was smarter
than half the kids in my class. We had magicians and jugglers
that showed up, too, and then there were the church folks. The
missionaries would stop by from time to time to offer Bible classes
in the school. To encourage students to learn Bible verses, they
would offer copies of the New Testament and various other incentives.
The faces of most of these folks have faded from my memories,
but one of them stands out-Preacher Bill Holeman of Kentucky
Mountain Missions. "Preacher Bill" came to this region
from California in 1953 and has served as a missionary and ambassador
of good will to the public schools of southeastern Kentucky ever
Preacher Bill was a little different than the run of the mill
fire-and-brimstone missionary we were used to seeing in the schools.
His smile stretched from ear to ear and provided a startling
contrast to the pinched-faced preachers with the perpetual scowl
that was all too familiar. In short, Preacher Bill made the kids
laugh while getting his message across. As a result, he had a
big advantage over his predecessors-two advantages to be specific-Homer
and Henry. You see, Preacher Bill was a ventriloquist and Homer
and Henry were his "dummies" or sidekicks. He always
came off as the straight man to the wise-cracking duo; however,
students learned a lot about character, morals, and the Gospel
from these energetic missionaries. Students came to expect humor
and reverse psychology from Homer and Henry, while Preacher Bill
appeared content to muddle through in his role as referee, mentor,
and even parent, and kids loved the show.
Preacher Bill started his Kentucky ministry in Clay County before
expanding to Jackson County. There were still numerous one-room
schools in this area in the mid-1950s and Preacher Bill probably
visited most of them. His donation supported ministry quickly
developed into a full-time occupation.
I think I first enjoyed Preacher Bill, Homer, and Henry around
1956 or 1957, and I've been a fan ever since. Theirs was a humor
that kept the class rocking with laughter. It also made the kids
think about their own lives and their relationship with their
peers and their creator.
In the 1950s, driving from county to county was still an adventure
in motoring, and Preacher Bill saw it all-bad roads, bad weather,
and unreliable transportation, as he sometimes visited as many
as four schools a day. Of course, Henry and Homer saw little
of the countryside from the inside of their suitcase.
In his spare time, Preacher Bill and his wife, Joyce, were busy
rearing a family, starting a church on Jack's Branch, conducting
religious services at the county jail, establishing the Christian
Youth Center in Clay County, and working with the Youth Haven
Bible Camp in Lee County.
Now fifty-some years later, Preacher Bill and Homer and Henry
still work with a group called the "Crusaders" visiting
various schools in 24 counties. In his late 70s, he works as
his health permits and still finds time to attend the Bear Track
Bible Church and actively enjoys numerous church activities.
Visitors to Bear Track have seen Preacher Bill driving the Youth
Haven Bible Camp "train" about the grounds and see
him "high fiving" the children before and after church
on Sunday morning. His interrelationship with small children
is clearly evident to friends and strangers alike and the bond
appears to be as strong as it was a half-century ago.
The humor of Preacher Bill and his sidekicks continues to appeal
to the small children, and they never fail to elicit a chuckle
from those of us who heard them so many years ago.
Over the years, the accumulated adventures of Preacher Bill and
Homer and Henry could have filled a book, and recently, he simply
turned that idea into a reality by writing and publishing a book
called The Dummy in the Middle. Proceeds from the publication
are donated to support the Youth Haven Bible Camp. The books
can be purchased from any number of retail outlets in Lee, Owsley,
Estill, Clay, and Jackson counties. They are also available at
the Three Forks Tradition office or can be ordered by sending
$10 plus $2.50 shipping and handling to: Preacher Bill, 1033
HWY 399, Beattyville, KY 41311.
Editor-Publisher of The Three Forks Tradition newspaper, kindly
shares a little part of Kentucky's history with our readers each
month. He is a native of Fleming-Neon and would appreciate any
historical information from that area. He can be reached at:
The Three Forks Tradition, P. O. Box 557, Beattyville, KY 41311;