Profile: Bill, the Man of the Many Jokes
The air inside Ordal Dining Hall is filled with a mixture of different smells ranging from meatloaf to chicken teriyaki stir-fry. The clock is just about to hit 5:02 p.m. and I’m working my way through the masses of students whirling around the tables.
As I walk towards the western corner of the cafeteria, I pass the football-table and the scent of food suddenly gets a touch-up of masculine fragrances and sweat. There, sitting alone on a table facing the windows, I see him. He is wearing a blue short-sleeved shirt and a dark baseball cap, waiting patiently.
When I approach him, his eyes immediately light up behind the lenses of his steel-rimmed glasses. The smile is as genuine as always, and the handshake is surprisingly firm.
To most, he’s known as just Bill – with the endless stream of jokes. Every single day, he starts his shift off with sharing a new joke with whoever has time to listen. The jokes never repeat themselves, and his enthusiasm always makes it worth the time.
“If you’re having a bad day, and he comes over to your table to tell a joke, you can’t help it but to feel better when you see how excited he gets,” says freshman Abby Schulte.
“I just love how he shares his jokes with everyone, without singling out anyone,” says freshman Jennifer Lang. “He doesn’t care whether it’s a white girl or a black guy, he just wants everyone to hear his jokes.”
Bill works as a utility worker. He does anything and everything he is asked to do, whether it’s helping with the dishes or picking up the children from the daycare on Campus.
One of his colleagues for many years, Jane Flint, describes him as a team player, a gentleman and “he’s a guy who always looks out for others,” she says.
His full name is Bill William Ellsworth Rooker. Ellsworth, like the air force base. “I have no idea where it came from. My mom just liked it I guess,” he says.
As a Sioux Falls native, he took his first breaths of air in 1957, at the former Sioux Valley Hospital, now known as the Sanford Hospital.
Last year Bill celebrated his 20th year at Augustana. “I got a streaming player for TV, the longer you stay, the better the prizes are,” says Bill who is planning on staying for as long as he can still make a contribution.
Now, let’s go back to the jokes for a minute. As I said, he has a new one every single day, and today is no different. “Why was the baby strawberry crying?” he asks, with his face full of expectation. I’m unable to compose a decent answer, so I ask him to tell me. “Mom and dad were in a jam.”
“At first it started off with Laffy Taffy, the candy. There would be two jokes in every wrapper,” he says. “Then I was given a joke book for my birthday, but it kind of ran itself out, or all the good ones were taken.”
“Now I got some brand new ones, online.” I asked him how he was able to keep track of the ones he had already said, and he quickly responds, “I just mark whichever I’ve used.”
When he’s not working he likes to watch TV and movies, or solve word puzzles. Right now he’s working on some big ones with more than 200 words. “It’s probably going to take all summer to get it done,” he says.
He’s had a lifelong passion for movies, and likes to use Netflix on his computer, especially when he is sitting around and there’s not much on TV, other than Dancing with the stars and the Voice. Since his childhood he’s enjoyed watching the classic Western’s, like Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke with James Arness.
What not everybody knows is that besides telling jokes, Bill also sells jewelry and hairbands. This week he’s even having a special Mother’s Day sale. The sales, however, have not gone as well as he’d been hoping for.
He says that part of the reason is because he doesn’t use social media for advertising like some do. Instead, he gives offers to the people he meets around on campus. “I tell certain people, and hopefully I’ll get it out,” he says.
Now that summer is right around the corner, Bill explains that while many of the students leave town to visit their families, he will keep on working. Even if the days look different without all the students around, there will be camps and other people who are coming in to eat.
That means he won’t have the same split shifts like he usually does.
“It’s like being a doctor, you have to be ready when they call,” he says. “But they will usually tell you ahead in time.”
“Bill is ‘Mister Consistent’ and he always comes in with a good attitude, always full of jokes,” says Bill’s supervisor, Glen Elder.
Some students may feel they see Bill working day and night, and they are right. He starts the day at 10 a.m., before he leaves again at 2 p.m., and then comes back for his second shift from 5:30 to 8 p.m. – every day except Saturday.
He doesn’t mind working long days. ”It helps. It makes it worth getting up in the morning,” he says.
For some students, talking to Bill every morning has become a part of their daily routine. However, in January this year, Bill was suddenly gone, “The atmosphere in the cafeteria just wasn’t quite the same without his jokes,” says junior Karen Joesdendal.
A couple of days later there were a picture of Bill in the dining hall, saying he had been in a car accident.
He had gotten struck by a car as he was crossing Duluth Avenue on 33rd Street on his way to the gas station to pick up some drinks, like he always does.
“I was in the middle of the street,” he says. “Then I look to the left and I saw lights coming at me. I heard a ‘thunk’ and next thing I’m laying on the ground.”
“There was a little bit of bleeding in my head, and they did a couple of CT scans, and I was in the intensive care,” he says. “My eyes were all puffed up, and I still go to physical therapy for my hand.”
He says that he is close to fully recovered, but his hand may never get back to a hundred percent. It doesn’t affect him much at work, unless he has to put a lot of weight on it.
However, his smile, enthusiasm and ability to spread joy around him is as good as ever, and the only thing reminding him of what happened is the one-inch scar above his right eye.
The overwhelming conglomeration of smells that filled the air earlier has now vanished, and the only things left at the football-table next to us is a pond of ketchup and a bent fork.
I ask Bill what he would wish for if he could get one wish fulfilled. His answer is simple.
“I’m happy with the way things are.”
Written by Maria Lavelle May 14th 2015
Movies of the week
Since I haven’t been allowed to do much training this past week, I’ve had a lot more time on my hands than usual. That means I’ve been able to work ahead on my homework, and even more importantly – nourish my passion for movies. Okay, maybe it’s not exactly more important, but it’s certainly more fun!
Below are the movies I’ve watched over the past week, as well as my own personal opinion about them.
Woman in Gold (2015)
Y’all know I have a “weakness” for true stories, and this one was no exception. It was a little on the slow side, but considering how lengthy the character’s mission actually was, I think the pace of the film fit the story. Helen Mirren’s jaunty character also helped speed things up a bit. Overall, a high quality motion picture, and I don’t see how it could have been done much differently. In my opinion they managed to make the most out of the story, but the story didn’t quite hit the “OMG this is amazing-button” in my heart.
As a kid I was never really fond of princesses, because I never identified with them. I was more into Tarzan and Peter Pan, so my expectations for this one were not exactly sky-high. However, the movie was put together in such a beautiful way that it brought out the girly-girl in me. They successfully kept the moral of the story, without getting too lost in the glossiness of the fairytale.
The longest ride (2015)
Author Nicholas Sparks has done it again. This time I think the movie did justice to the story (as opposed to “The best of me (2014) “ which was too predictable, and offered a rather poor choice of actors.) There was something so bright and energetic about it, that made me unable to see it as a cliché.
True story (2015)
Now this is a weird one! When Michael Finkel, a New York Times journalist gets fired, an accused killer steels his identity. Finkel then puts the investigation of the murder into his own hands. And from there… well, the situation takes a number of unexpected turns. I can’t believe I didn’t get bored for a single second, because there was little to no action, but yet it was just so captivating that I was at the edge of my seat throughout the whole thing. I’m surprised someone even came up with the idea of producing the film, but somehow it just works. Watch it and you’ll see.
The age of Adaline (2015)
Adaline Bowman was born in 1908, but after a car accident at age 29 – she would never age a day in her life. In fact, she was able to stay 29 throughout eight decades. After watching the trailer I thought it seemed pretty cheesy, and I initially thought I’d made a mistake by paying $10 to watch it, but in the moment I was about to lose hope – it just sucked me right in. With absolutely stunning cinematography, good acting, and believe it or not, a very compelling story – I couldn’t help it but to like it.. a lot.
Hmm.. this is a tough one. I must admit that I was impressed by Jennifer Aniston’s performance. To me she has (alongside Sandra Bullock and Cameron Diaz) always been the queen of romantic comedies, and to see her portray a character like Claire was somewhat refreshing – because it was different. But at the same time, the story was so incredible dark, heavy, slow, tragic, painful, uncomfortable and without drive that I can’t say I liked it very much.
Furious 7 (2015)
You know that feeling when you walk into a perfumery, and all the wonderful smells become so overwhelming that after a while, you’re unable to smell any of them? That’s how this movie was. I’ve always been a fan of the Fast & Furious movies, but this one simply went over the top with action. By the end I was so fed up with explosions, wrecked cars and extravagant stunts that I just wanted to go home. However, the memorial scenes of Paul Walker were beautiful and somewhat saved my overall impression of the film.
Big eyes (2014)
Another true story, and another creepy good performance by Christoph Waltz. That guy sure knows how to portray charismatic sociopaths! I loved the 1950-1960 San Francisco vibe, and despite the bittersweet core of the story, I found it quite enjoyable.
Yves Saint Laurent (2014)
This is a french biopic about one of the most famous fashion designers of all time. It certainly displays some of that elegance and style you would expect to see from the inside of Paris’ fashion houses in the 1950s, but even the great triumphs and successes of Yves Saint Laurent’s life seems to be overshadowed by the cloudy darkness that filled his life. The unpleasant atmosphere is very similar to “La vie en rose (2007)”. Considering that it’s a true story, that particular tone is perhaps necessary in order to portray the events just the way things were… but it made it rather uncomfortable to watch.
Well, there you go! These are my own opinions about whether or not I LIKED the films. Just because I didn’t like all of them, does not mean they are bad films – Just sayin’