May 24, 2019

Chester man recognized for community contributions - Daily Leader Extra : Top Stories

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Chester man recognized for community contributions

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Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2019 3:38 pm

Bill Tillson was doing what he usually does on Monday morning -- helping out at Chester High School.

He delivered water to guests, helped to carry equipment, rolled up extension cords after they were no longer needed. The Chester man -- known locally as "Bicycle Bill" because he bicycles around town -- was also at the heart of the activity.

Keloland was in Chester recording an upcoming episode of "On the Road with Mike Huether."

"The story is not so much on Bill as on the community's relationship to Bill and how Bill relates to the community," said program host Mike Huether.

Huether, who served as mayor of Sioux Falls from 2010-18, is currently engaged in an activity from his "magic list," a list of things he wants to do before he dies. He is hosting his own television show.

"Keloland was kind enough to take a risk on me," he said.

He is telling stories from around the state, focusing on the positive. Huether looks for stories about people being compassionate, working hard, lifting others up rather than tearing them down.

"Normally, I go into a town cold and find a story," he said. "As we've been doing the show, more and more we have people referring stories to us."

He learned about Tillson from his brother-in-law. No one knows many details about Tillson's early life. He showed up in Chester in the early 1990s -- maybe from Sioux Falls, maybe from Watertown.

Since then, the disabled man has become integral to the life of the community. He shows up at all the school events, making popcorn for athletic events. He opens the firehouse when firefighters are called out so they can hop in an engine when they arrive and take off.

In her interview with Huether, Tillson's legal guardian Jodi Heyn said, "He really watches the town. If anything is out of place, Bill will be the one to catch it first."

Tillson was recently named 2019 Good Samaritan of the Year by the South Dakota American Legion. The announcement states that he "has been part of the community for over 24 years easily giving over 4,800 hours of volunteer time." He will be recognized at the American Legion's state convention in June.

"This is going to be great, Bill," Huether said, referring to the program they were recording while shaking Tillson's hand.

Huether's inspiration was a program which aired on CBS for more than 20 years: "On the Road with Charles Kuralt." Beginning in 1967, Kuralt crisscrossed the country in a mobile home, looking for stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Huether is looking for the hidden stories about South Dakota's people and communities.

"I never thought in a million years we could use `On the Road'," Huether said.

However, when Keloland contacted CBS, they agreed, feeling the program was a tribute to Kuralt's legacy. "On the Road with Mike Huether" debuted in April with high local ratings.

"The only thing that beat us was the Keloland 6:00 news," Huether said. "We even beat out `Entertainment Tonight'."

He's discovered that producing a television program is far more work than he anticipated. The 30-minute program airs once a month at 6:30 p.m. Each program contains three segments.

The program which will include the segment on Tillson and Chester will air on June 25 and will also include segments on Miller and on Pukwana.

On Monday morning, the crew was in Chester by 8 a.m., recording Tillson greeting students as they arrived at school. Crew members then strolled through the school with Principal Julie Eppard, looking for locations to record interviews with individuals who were going to talk about Tillson.

The gym was initially ruled out because the band was practicing and the sound would interfere with recording. The principal's office was ruled out because it's cliche. Eventually, a science classroom was commandeered.

As they surveyed the school, Huether asked questions of whomever he was with -- Heyn, Eppard, Tillson himself. He worked to understand the unique symbiotic relationship which exists between this 56-year-old man and the community.

"Even as the day evolves, the story evolves. For example, I didn't know Bill was the mayor," Huether observed at one point.

He was especially interested in the trust community members place in Bill. Why does he have the access he does -- especially to children? Why do parents let him hold their babies? Why do families take him to out-of-town activities so he can support Chester's students?

Eppard attributes it to Tillson's loving nature.

"He gravitates to people and people gravitate to him," she said.

Heyn, who is also a nurse with Sanford Health, attributes it to familiarity.

"I think it comes from knowing Bill. He was around when we had our kids," she said, noting that he played with her children and watched them sleep. "He's just part of the family."

By 10 a.m., two interviews had been conducted, a third was being set up, and plans were under way to record Tillson riding his bike. For Huether, the work was just the beginning.

Before the segment is broadcast, he will have to write it, and the interviews will be edited with other recorded material into a cohesive story. While he was surprised how much work is involved, he isn't complaining about doing that work.

Instead, he's looking forward to visiting every county in the state to tell the stories he can find in each.

"We're looking for hidden inspirational stories about life, about people, about our communities," Huether said.

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