William Dee Bills
The Life Of William D. Bills
William D. Bills was born near Cleburne, Texas on September 19, 1886. His parents were George and Parilee Bills who had moved from Cass County, Missouri soon after the Civil War to Texas. They were faithful Christians, having been active in The Church in Missouri, in Texas, and later in Oklahoma where they moved from Texas. His father was a farmer and ownedHobart after moving to Oklahoma. In later years he rented the farm out and operated a grocery store in Sentinel, serving The Church there as an elder. Sentinel was their home to the end of life. Besides Dee, they had another son, Henry, and two daughters, Vera and Stella. As a child in Sentinel I knew the family well, since we went to church together and lived close to each other. I thought “Uncle George” was one of the best men I knew, and his daughter, Stella, one of the best alto singers I have ever known.
Dee Bills attended the public schools in Cleburne until he was eighteen years of age. He obeyed the gospel under the preaching of the lamented W.A. Bentley in October of 1903 when he was seventeen years of age. Somewhere along the line he had decided to be a gospel preacher, and “preached his first sermon" at Aspermont in West Texas in 1905. On Christmas day in 1907 he was married to Miss Susie LaGrone, daughter of George and Rebecca LaGrone, of Sagerton, Texas. The late W.L. Matheny, a faithful gospel preacher, performed their wedding ceremony. The LaGrones were faithful Christians and active in The Church. They also moved to Sentinel, though I do not have the dates when either of the families made the move. Brother LaGrone operated a grocery store, and later they moved away from Sentinel, I think to Tulsa, though I have been unable to verify this and am depending upon my own “recollection” of it. After Dee and Susie were married, they went to Gunter, where he attended the Gunter Bible College, to further his preparation for his work as a gospel preacher. No children were born to them, but in the early years, Henry, Dee's only brother, died leaving several small children including one yet unborn. Soon after the birth of that little boy, Dee and Susie took him for their own and reared him. He is Jack R. Bills who has served as a deacon, elder, missionary, and is now the evangelist for The Church in Dinuba, California. (Nov., 1979)
After Dee began preaching he never worked at anything else, but was kept busy as a gospel preacher. In 1912 he began working in San Antonio, Texas, where he worked for fifteen years. He then spent a shorter time working in Austin, then to Waco from 1929 to 1941. From there he went to Tulsa and was there from 1942 to 1944 when he moved to San Diego where he stayed until ill health forced retirement from his work in 1946. It is very unusual for a man to spend so many years with so few churches, and this speaks well for the kind of man he was. Of course through these years he conducted hundreds of gospel meetings, and those baptized as a result of his efforts ran into the thousands, though he kept no records. He was called to Sentinel for many meetings and I remember once when I was a child that we started walking home, after the Sunday morning service, with Uncle George. We were having a great meeting and he said, “I’m mighty glad my wife is the mother of that boy.” He was truly a useful man in The Kingdom.
He did some writing for the Firm Foundation, and no doubt for other papers published by the brethren. He was the first editor of the spotlight magazine, a monthly publication directed toward the needs of Christian young people. He served in this capacity until 1936 when Frank L. Cox replaced him. He also wrote many tracts, and most of this material is available in the library of Jack R. Bills.
He suffered a slight stroke about 1944 while still in Tulsa where he preached for the Eastside church. That year he moved to San Diego where he worked with the 18th. & G St. church, where his cousin, the lamented John G. Bills had once preached. (A Freeway took the property of 18th & G, so it is not there any more.) In August of 1946 he suffered a severe heart attack during the prayer before the Sunday morning sermon. He insisted on preaching, even if it was to be his last — which it was. The Dr. put him to bed, but he knew his time was running out and he wanted to get back to Oklahoma where his sister, Dr. Vera Harmon lived, thinking she might be able to help him. Also, family ties were strong in his family and he no doubt wanted to be among his people. His health continued to decline, and on November 7, 1946, at the comparatively young age of sixty, The Lord saw fit to call him home. He was living in Oklahoma City at the time, and there the final services were conducted by Lloyd O. Sanderson and he was laid to rest in the Memorial Park Cemetery just outside the campus of Oklahoma Christian College.
Susie, who had walked by his side since student days at Gunter, continued to live for several years. In 1952, six years after Dee’s death, she was married to A.J. Simmons, of Drumright, Oklahoma. On February 7, 1970, she was called home. Funeral services for her were conducted in Drumright by Ector Watson, evangelist for the Drumright church. She sleeps by the side of Dee in Memorial Park. Her son. Jack, says of her: “Her life was that of a keeper of the home. She was the gracious hostess to scores of great gospel preachers of yesteryear, and had her part in instilling in the heart of her son, Jack, the worth of such men as made an indelible imprint on the Southwest for the Cause of Christ, such men as N.B. Hardeman, Horace W. Busby, Jesse P. Sewell, G.H.P. Showalter, J.D. Tant, Early Arceneaux and many others. ‘She hath done what she could’ and passed quietly to the other side to be with Jesus.”
This fine tribute from her only son was well deserved, and applies equally well to untold numbers of wives of other gospel preachers. Today, Tillit S. Teddlie said: “He was a great preacher.” His work shows that to be a true estimate. May God bless his memory and his loved ones who remain.
-Loyd L. Smith, Gospel Preachers of Yesteryear, pages 31-33; This article first appeared in The Christian Worker, Published November, 1979. Note: This is a timed piece. Some of those enlisted as living may be now deceased.
Directions To The Grave of William D. Bills
W.D. Bills is buried in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The cemetery is located on North Kelley Ave in the north part of the city, near Edmond. From downtown O.C., take I-235 North toward Edmond. After crossing I-44/Dr. W.K. Jackson Pkwy. Pass the John Kilpatrick Turnpike, and take the North Kelley Exit. Enter the N. Kelley Ave. entrance to the cemetery to the left. Go past the old funeral home, and enter into the center drive into the middle of the cemetery. Head to the large tower and turn left on the divided road. Go past the second left turn and begin looking to your left for a monument with SELEY, DUNN, STAMM. Head behind this plot a few rows to the Bills plot. Actual location of the grave is: 35°36'27.4"N 97°29'28.2"W / or D.d. 35.607617,-97.491155
Photos Taken February 24, 2012
Courtesy of Scott Harp
Web editor note: In February, 2012, it was my privilege to visit the grave of W.D. Bills. I was invited to take part in the annual Affirming The Faith Lectureship in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Getting into the area early, I was afforded the opportunity to put about 2000 miles on a rental car in order to locate graves of gospel preachers and church leaders of yesteryear in a wide area. My fifth day I was able to visit the grave of W.D. Bills.
Buried in the same cemetery are James O. Baird, J.H. Lawson, & Doug Lawyer