Skip to main content
Text Resize

Reverend Bill Tomlinson Supports Seminary Education

Reverend Bill Tomlinson Supports Seminary Education

Reverend Bill Tomlinson (GBI 1954) said he feels strongly that a Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary education is important – so important that he has put the seminary in his will.

"Our ministers need to be exposed to different ideas, especially today," he said. "We need educated ministers. That is why it is important to support seminaries."

Tomlinson said he can't remember a time he wasn't in the church, but he didn't think about becoming a minister until mid-way through college.

For most of his early life, Tomlinson lived on farms in Ohio. After spending a couple of elementary school years on his grandfather's farm near Columbus, Ohio, he and his family moved to another farm in Northeastern Ohio for the rest of his early education and high school.

After graduating from Paris Township High School, he headed to Ohio State University, where he started to take general education courses. Then, he got a part-time job working on a dairy farm. Thinking he would become a dairy farmer, he changed his course of study. "I thought I had better major in dairy husbandry," he said.

His course of study changed again about midway through his college career when he felt a call to ministry. Looking back, Tomlinson realized that three events led to his call.

First, at the end of his freshman year at Ohio State, he was selected as the William Danforth Candidate and was invited to attend Camp Miniwanca, a camp near Shelby, Michigan that taught Christian ideals and helped young men and women prepare for a life of responsibility and leadership.

On his last evening there, the counselors asked the campers to go think about what was important to them. When they came back, there would be square dancing. "When I got back, the square dancing was over, and everyone was in bed," Tomlinson recalled.

Later, Tomlinson attended the National Methodist Student movement in Urbana, Illinois and had what he called "a very moving experience." Following that, he and his roommate, Jack Hedges (GBI 52), stayed up late talking one night, and they both decided they felt called to ministry.

Tomlinson changed his major again, this time to rural sociology and economics. After graduating from Ohio State in March of 1948, he spent the rest of the spring and summer in the Extension Service as a 4H worker in Portage, Ohio.

In the fall of 1948, he and Hedges enrolled at Garrett Biblical Institute. Both chose Garrett Biblical Institute because Garrett Professor Rocky Smith had come to Ohio State and persuaded them to apply and later matriculate.

According to Tomlinson, the highlight of his years at Garrett was meeting his wife, Eileen Ganzel, who was getting her master's degree in religious education. Tomlinson worked at the Garrett dining hall, and they both worked at the First Methodist Church. When they weren't working, they studied and spent a lot of time together. During that time, they found they had a lot in common. Like Tomlinson, Ganzel had grown up on a farm, she in Nebraska. Their first official date was on Valentine's Day.

Tomlinson said he found the coursework at Garrett difficult. "In my fifth quarter, I received an announcement from the Academic Committee that my grades were not sufficient for me to continue," he said. Because he was already enrolled and had a job, he stayed on for the next quarter, taking Professor Rocky Smith's rural sociology course. He aced it but decided to drop out of school and move to Iowa, where he had received a charge at Exline, Sharon Chapel and Zoar. About that time, he and Ganzel got married.

After working for a couple of years, he petitioned to return to Garrett and was accepted. He returned, but his wife and their first daughter stayed behind in Iowa. His experience in the Iowa parish helped him excel. "After I was out in a parish for a couple of years, I began to see how things fit together, and I did much better," he said.

Tomlinson graduated in 1954 and began a 41-year career as a minister in Iowa. In that time, he and his wife served 28 churches in 12 parishes. They also had three children, Kathleen, Muriel Ann, and Walter. The highlights of his career involved working with the youth and the United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries. "I have said several times that if it hadn't been for the camping program, I would not have stayed in the ministry," he said.

Tomlinson got involved in The United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries more than 70 years ago because he "loved being outdoors." He served this ministry in almost every capacity, including serving as the interim director for three different camps. At one point, Iowa had eight camps, and Tomlinson said he had worked at all eight.

After his retirement in 1991, Tomlinson has continued to volunteer at the Wesley Woods camp, building new facilities, repairing old facilities, and helping out.

"Jesus was a carpenter for 30 years, and then he went to preaching. I preached for 41 years and then went to carpentering," he said.

If you, like Bill, are motivated to put the seminary in your will, contact David Heetland, Senior Vice President for Planned Giving (847.866.3970) for further information on how to do so.