Written by Bill Gerdes, CITS alumnus and TSLF scholarship recipient
My son Will has the spirit of a teacher. As Jesus Christ was a teacher, I see the joy Will takes in sharing his experiences and faith with others, and teaching them as he was taught. Will is an accomplished athlete, but I see more joy in his heart when his little brother succeeds than when he accomplishes his own goals. It is humility.
Will’s life is a 20-year example of leadership. Physically, being the biggest kid in your class can be a blessing or a curse for youngsters, in their minds. Well, kids have always just rallied around “Big Will,” starting in fifth grade, when he was asked to give a speech to classmates and parents.
The time came to deliver the speech, and as he walked to the podium, his teacher asked if he had a copy of his speech to read. Will replied, “No ma’am, I got this.” And he nailed it. As fifth grade graduation speeches go, folks were shocked.
As parents, we always reminded Will that people were watching him—and with leadership comes responsibility.
His mother and I were divorced when Will was 13. It was his growing faith in our Savior and his involvement as an FCA leader at school and in his small group classes that he led at North Point Community Church that gave him the strength needed to deal with this life-changing event. He stepped up, and he has also been a source of strength and inspiration for his little brother.
Lastly, his leadership has excelled on the football field as well and has continued into college. His senior class was very small, but there were many juniors and sophomores… After two losses to start the season, Will called everyone to a team meeting the Saturday morning after. They cleaned the locker room from top to bottom, went and worked out on the field for two hours without coaches, and then they all prayed and went to eat. From there, they reeled off eight consecutive wins, until they lost a heartbreaker to end the season.
In addition to leading well, Will has contributed to the betterment of his community in several ways, including giving back to youth in the church. Small group Bible study leaders were a source of strength for Will at a very vulnerable time in his life, so when he turned of age, he too was very involved in leading a younger group each Sunday. Secondly, Will took missionary trips to Honduras during his junior and senior years. He has fallen in love with the country, the people, and the love they showed for everyone there, as they worked together to build schools and spread the word of Jesus Christ.
The outdoors is something cherished by all of the Gerdes men, and Will is no different. The wonderment of it all, and especially being a steward of God’s planet is important to Will. If one hunts, he is strong in his conviction that it is to be used to nourish, or house, or be of valuable use. And he believes that we should thank God for what He has given us.
The good Lord could not have blessed me with two more amazing boys or a more wonderful life, considering how much I have let him down. I feel Will carries a big burden. Will doesn’t like to show weakness, though he has softened that, and moreover, he doesn’t like to let people down. He feels that burden to please and make sure others are not let down by something he has done or not been able to do. I have always stressed to him to truly focus on what he can control; it is amazing how much clarity that can provide.
Will, like many, was at a critical junction in his life and faith as he prepared to go off to college. As a senior in high school, I like many others, was fortunate to go to college. But that is where I got away from my faith, influenced by freedoms and new experiences. We know it is a journey, and though I am far from being worthy of God’s grace, the beauty is that He loves us regardless. I pray that Will’s faith is strong enough to continue to mold him into a Godly man, and that as he faces this world he has spent 18 years preparing for, that he would make the mark that God has intended for him.
Bill and Will attended Christ in the Smokies Passage to Manhood Camp in 2020, the summer before Will went away for college. To learn more about this camp for fathers and sons, click here.