Meet Your Neighbor
Note: I wrote this article several months ago for another publication.
Although he was born and raised in a small town in New England, Grant Williams has come home to Arkansas City. The admitted baseball fanatic is a devoted husband to the lovely Bernice and father to four grown children, stepfather to three. Williams has traveled the world and worked a multitude of jobs only to settle here after retirement to live the thoughtful life of a poet and author.
He speaks humbly of his work, listens closely and watches life unfold around him. And then, he writes. Every day. A large portion of Grant’s poems are about love, particularly his devotion to his wife, but he has penned volumes about sports, family, children, issues and our town. Williams seems to absorb emotion from life and the activity around him, and then processes it into meaningful tomes.
“I love to write because I love to read,” the author muses. “Once you have something in print, you have to say, ‘I’m an author.’ You have to take the credit and responsibility for everything you do.”
Citing John Steinbeck and Garrison Keillor as two of his favorite writers, Grant has been profoundly influenced by Kansas poets Max Yoho and Naomi Patterson, both of Topeka. He also loves poetry written by children.
Growing up in Westerly, Rhode Island, Grant felt that was the end of the earth, until he was 8 or 9 years old. The town was a rural community, just a few miles from the Atlantic shore. After writing a Christmas play for his church at age 12, Williams mostly put writing away until age 55. What was the impetus to write again? His wife’s birthday.
Bernice points out, “He wrote me a poem for my birthday. I said, ‘Who wrote this?’ and he said, ‘I did.’ I said, ‘No, you didn’t.’ That unleashed a monster. It just came out of him like a river of poetry. He would write as fast as he could and he just kept filling up more books and more books. It’s just never ending.”
According to Grant’s figures, he’s probably written 1200 poems. He writes something every day, either a poem or a short story. Williams recently published a book about baseball, “Summer of ’59.” It chronicles one season in the life of the Buffalo Buffaloes. One of his great passions, Grant spent time coaching and officiating baseball while his children were growing up. He also played the sport in school.
The author of four novels, he has written a book of short stories, “Pigs and Packinghouses,” 15 volumes of poetry and ten books of children’s moral poetry. Grant has also penned the lyrics of a song, collaborated with Donnie Huffman and numerous articles for magazines and periodicals.
Williams initially came to Ark City in 1960. He served in the U.S. Navy through 1964, aboard the USS Barney during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He returned later to attend Junior College here, then left again to pursue a career in the meat-packing industry, working for over 40 years. After crisscrossing the country, he settled again in Arkansas City, working for Rodeo Meats and then John Morrell for 14 years. Finally, Grant became vice president of operations for Mossberg Sanitation of Great Bend. He made the decision to return to Ark City upon retirement.
“This town has a lot going for it,” Grant quipped. “Being in a town that reminds me of ‘Leave It to Beaver’…you know your neighbors, you know the people, whether you agree or disagree with them. We love our home, we love where we live.”
He has been volunteering at area nursing homes for nearly four years. Williams reads weekly at Medicalodge, Presbyterian Manor and Sterling House in Arkansas City, and the Kansas Veterans Home in Winfield. He reads his own work, plus other authors, and leaves volumes of poetry there for others to peruse. Grant serves as an officer in the Kansas Authors Club, and has joined the recently formed Cowley County Writers Guild.
Giving back to his community is important to Williams, and he is a board member of the Arkansas City Literacy Council, Humanities Advisory Council for Cowley College and Senior Citizens Advisory Council. He shared his poetry at the “Art is Ageless” program at Presbyterian Manor for the last two years, and at the Fourth of July program at First United Methodist Church, Arkansas City.
Promoting poetry to young people, Grant shares poems with a moral to kindergartners at Adams Elementary School, as well as the local Christian school. At Christmas, the students sent him their own book of poetry, which he treasures.
“I try to practice little random acts of kindness,” Williams emphasizes, “I call it ‘A.R.K.’.”
The prolific poet has come home to Ark City, to sow the seeds of creativity among the young and old of the community, and to reap the literary harvest.
By Grant Williams
The wind blows swift here in Kansas
The trees bend toward the north
They will grow stronger with the resistance
As life takes them slowly forth
We plant them ten degrees to the south
So they will end up straight and tall
As the wind blows them so erect
Something very important to us all
Our children should be given that same ten degrees
As we nurture them while we watch them grow
Resisting strong winds of discontent and wrong
The efforts of the defiance definitely will show
Plant ideals in the children to last their life long
Then just like the mighty Kansas trees
Help them grow so tall and straight
By remembering to give them the same ten degrees
Missionary Baptist Church's Youth Christmas Program was held last night. Between the play, the string quartet and all the beautiful songs, it was a stirring and spiritual night. Jessica Coldwell, church member and Cowley freshman, wrote and directed "The Donkey's Christmas." Told from the perspective of the steed that carried Mary to Bethlehem, it was crafted with just the right blend of sacred music, Bible text, and sweet/funny dialog.
Acting and singing in the play were ACHS and Cowley students, Alexis Coldwell, Conner Coldwell, Cameron Crabtree, Rachel McAfee, Joe Descartes, David Bartlett, Joe Hooley, Rose Hooley, Emma Schrag, Macey Tarrant and John Kuffler. Junior shepherds and angels were Tyler Gowdy, Autumn Gowdy, Alex Moore, Adam Moore, Tanice Van Buren, Kai Van Buren and Maddie. Good job, kids!
Momala's Christmas Movie Picks: "White Christmas," with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye; "Mixed Nuts," with Steve Martin and Rita Wilson; "Christmas Vacation," starring Chevy Chase; "The Ultimate Gift," with James Garner and Abigail Breslin; and "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Isaiah 9:6 (KJV)
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.