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Hundreds of mourners gathered at First Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville to celebrate the life of Bill Waggoner on a sunny winter day that he would have appreciated. Bill Waggoner headed west, to the warmth of Tucson, in the cold of winter.
William Howard "Bill" Waggoner, one of the early summer camp owners in Henderson County, was an avid outdoorsman who loved spotting a wild yellow ladyslipper in the woods almost as much as he loved deer hunting and trout fishing. He died Sunday at age 86 at Elizabeth House, the Hendersonville hospice facility with a "compassionate nursing staff" whom family members thanked for "their wonderful care and kindness."
The people who came to remember Waggoner nearly filled the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church. They heard stories about the man they knew as Dad, Paw-Paw, husband and friend.
Amy Henderson Landers said she and her siblings and cousins were "blessed to be Waggoners" and always happy to celebrate Christmas Eve, birthdays and family reunions at Camp Windy Wood, the Lake Summit summer camp Waggoner and his wife, Jo, founded in 1957. Besides serving as a popular summer camp for three decades, the property was homebase for the second and third generation of Waggoner children and their spouses.
The kids enjoyed driving four-wheelers, riding horseback and camping out under the stars. In a tribute to her grandfather, Amy thanked Paw-Paw for his way of correcting behavior "sometimes a little sternly but always with a twinkle in your eye." Paw-Paw passed on his love of the outdoors to his children and his grandchildren and their children.
"Even today," Amy said, "it is in nature that I can find inspiration, renewal and joy."
A native of Decatur, Illinois, Waggoner was the son of the late Col. Parke H. and Eva Swan Waggoner of Hendersonville. After graduating from Decatur High School, he served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was a 1950 graduate of Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
Founded Camp Windy Wood
After working in a corporate job in Chicago, he and his wife, Joanne Hafner Waggoner, who preceded him in death, in 1997, moved to Hendersonville. They owned and operated the Southwind Motel in Hendersonville while they built Camp Windy Wood, a camp on a bill overlooking Lake Summit in Tuxedo. Waggoner said in a conversation recently that one night, before the camp opened, he and Jo, were sitting in their cabin on a windy night. That's it, they decided.
"It was windy and we were out in the woods and it just came to us," he said.
They opened the camp in 1957, and continued to run it until their retirement in 1986. Bill, sturdy and good-natured, found a good match in Jo, who everyone called BabyJo. "She was kind of the kite, and he was the string," said the Rev. Alex Viola, the retired Saint James Episcopal Church minister who preached the funeral service with First Presbyterian ministers Bill Campbell and Dwayne Durham.
Active in civic affairs
An active member of First Presbyterian Church, Waggoner had served as a deacon and an elder and had served as Sunday School treasurer for 21 years. He was a 59-year member of the Hendersonville Kiwanis Club, having served on the Board of Directors and occupied a corner seat at the usual table, second one in the first row on the right. He stood on few occasions to make a public salute during the club's dollars for scholars, though he was always proud when Northwestern won. On Saturday Kiwanians were seated together in four pews in the front left side of the sanctuary.
Waggoner was a retired member of the Henderson County Rescue Squad, and served on the Board of the Black Mountain Home for Children, Youth and Families. He was presented the "Pioneer of Camping" recognition in 1996 and served as the Executive Secretary of the Southeastern Section of the American Camping Association for over 20 years.
"A full account of a man of his caliber could never be put on paper," said his son, Steve, in another tribute that the Rev. Dwayne Durham read from the pulpit. A World War II veteran, he joined the Army Air Corps at age 17 and achieved the rank of corporal before the war ended.
In his determination to update family members on his latest travel or just what he and his wife were up to "the art of writing a letter was kept alive," Steve Waggoner said. "He was a friendly conversationalist whether it was around a back-country campfire or a fancy dinner table. Paw-Paw was a proud and involved grandparent and great-grandparent."
As his children had children and then those children had children, Waggoner "was back in the camp business, with nearly enough campers and staff for a full session," his son said.
He knew woodcraft, wildflowers, fly rods, hunting rifles and, as his stepdaughter Ashley Thompson observed, "how to eat an apple with a pocketknife."
He loved the symphony, the Flat Rock Playhouse and southwest Indian pottery, Steve Waggoner said. "He was a carpenter, an electrician, a plumber and a mason, and in recent years quite a commentator on politics," he said.
He is survived by his wife, Sandra Edwards Waggoner; his son, Steven Waggoner; daughters, Wendy Henderson, Melinda Bryant, Karen Saine and Pati Waggoner-Myers; and stepdaughters, Betsy Edwards, Susan Sangiolo, Leslie Coker and Ashley Thompson. He had nineteen grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Children and grandchildren placed yellow roses and other yellow flowers on an altar table that contained his portrait. Family members wore yellow ribbons in tribute to his favorite color, for the yellow lady slippers he loved.
The Rev. Viola committed Bill Waggoner's soul back to God. "You did not lose him by giving him to us," he prayed, "so we have not lost him by his return."
In benediction, mourners joined in the singing of "Taps," the bedtime campfire standard that has assured campers young and old for a hundred and fifty years, "All is well, safely rest, God is nigh."