Eulogy for a Gadfly: Wilford Winholtz

In a speech to the city of Athens, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates once likened himself to a ‘gadfly’ and the city to a ‘well-bred horse.’ By pestering the horse, the gadfly keeps it awake and alert.

I always considered Wilford Winholtz – activist, troublemaker, family man, urban planner and priesthood member – to be one of the church’s foremost gadflies. In his recent passing (16 August 2009), the church lost one of its most vocal and prophetic voices for peace and social justice.

As a pacifist, he submitted numerous World Conference Resolutions calling on the church to clarify its standpoint on the use of violence. He was also a draft counselor during the Vietnam War, presenting people with the option of conscientious objection.

As a passionate believer in the equality of all people, he campaigned tirelessly for civil rights and an end to racism.

As a community builder, he sought to make cities livable and human places through his vocation as an urban planner. He also saw the call to community as a divine injunction and was one of the founders of Harvest Hills, an intentional community in Independence, MO.

“Wilford’s purpose was to call us to our better/higher selves, to hold before us a mirror, as it were, and to ask us to look at the difference between what we say and what we do,” his wife Pat Heady Winholtz told me.

Finally, Wilford, like Socrates, was a master of the aphorism. I have collected a few pieces of his unconventional wisdom here:

  • “Are you a Christian? Yes? … Oh good!  I never met one before.”
  • [While holding a blank sign] “Only the righteous can read this.”
  • “No one has the right to misunderstand what I am stumbling around trying to say.”
  • “I don’t know about you, but me and Jesus, we’re pacifists.”
  • “When you consider that every word in the English language has five or six definitions, and there are more than 500,000 words, it is no wonder that people cannot communicate.”
  • “The Republicans are no good and the Democrats are no good either because they are just like the Republicans.”
  • “You can’t just be good – you have to be good for something.”
  • “I’m a peacemaker, no matter how much trouble I cause.”

Perhaps in honor of him, it would be nice for readers to post their own recollections of ‘Wilfordisms’ in the comments section below.

For a longer article by me on Wilford, click here. To read his obituary, click here.

-Matthew Bolton


5 comments on “Eulogy for a Gadfly: Wilford Winholtz

  1. I hadn’t heard that Wilford had died. Thanks for letting those of us that live in the far country know. I always remember him at Conference…always submitting resolutions. A good man.

  2. Rene Romig says:

    Thanks, Matthew, for posting this here. Many have said that the community will not be the same without him. Taking this one step further, I believe that without Wilford, the community would not have been what it is today. Beyond being one of Harvest Hills’ founders, he continuously touched his neighbors’ lives and shaped day-to-day living.
    As a child growing up in Harvest Hills, I didn’t know Wilford in the contexts of politics or city planning. Wilford was one of the constants of the neighborhood–one of the comforts of home that’s simply always there. I saw him as the neighbor who drove kids to school if they missed the bus, as the person who left an extra copy of the Sunday newspaper in our driveway every week, as a man with a smile holding up two fingers for “peace” as he walked by. Small interactions like these fill up my memories of Wilford, but how eye-opening it’s been to talk with or read stories from people who experienced first-hand Wilford’s resolutions at World Conference or worked alongside him on city committees! Wilford’s outspoken activism, his Christian beliefs, and his laudable accomplishments have truly left an inerasable mark on his corner of the world. Even if many of my years knowing Wilford were colored by a childlike view of the world and I wasn’t able to comprehend or fully appreciate his forward-thinking actions and beliefs, his example did impact my life, and I am blessed to have known him.

  3. Jeff Winship says:

    Likewise I had not heard of his passing. Went to school with his son Willie and sat with Wilford on numerous occasions during World Conference. Enjoyed your article on his life.

  4. James E. Lancaster says:

    It was a pleasure working with Wilford in the Church in Detroit and Independence and in the Good Government
    He was a man of real integrity.

  5. Paul DeBarthe says:

    Wilford counseled with me during the Vietnam Conflict when I was struggling with how to express my opposition to war. Now, I live in Lenexa, a city made user friendly by his plan.
    A fine mentor!

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