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Faithful servant of God for over 50 years
Ceres resident Bill Gearhart may be slower than he used to be.

His hearing may have been keener 50 years ago when he first became involved in church work than today at age 81.

His body may tire more easily than it did when he first came to Ceres in 1991.

But the heart of the faithful servant of God continues to default to the good works mode.

"The motivation is my love for God for what He did for me," said Gearhart, who has given most of his life to serving God in three churches. Today he continues to serve as a deacon at First Southern Baptist Church, and sits on the committee presently searching for a pastor to replace Craig Hunnel.

Before he slowed down about a year ago due to age, Gearhart regularly picked up a hammer and donned a nail apron to participate in a series of remodeling projects at the Don Pedro Avenue church.

"I don't have the physical energy, the spiritual energy or the mental energy that I did a few years ago. So it was kind of tough for me to get used to a year or so ago but Bonnie finally convinced me, 'You know, you're older now and you need to slow down.' I can't accomplish as much as I used to in a day. They convinced me not to worry about it."

But what he can't do physically, Gearhart and his wife, Bonnie, do financially. They remain stalwart about financially supporting the home church. He is a firm believer in tithing - giving 10 percent of income to the church - as a way of making God first, sacrificing and helping to support a church.

"God has shown us that our 'wants' are not really important. He has supplied us abundantly with all of our needs and protected us so far from various burdens, financial or otherwise. I have already collected about eight times what I ever put into retirement, into Social Security, and into an IRA. We don't have a lot of money....but God had guided our planning. I wanted to retire from work fairly early, at 59, so I could work for the Lord more than I had been. So God made that all possible.

"I am glad that our income did not allow us to have all our 'wants'; if we did have all our 'wants' we would probably be in deep trouble by now."

Bill did without "toys" - he never owned a fishing pole, motorcycle or boat - but he says he's not missed out on "good things" for the spiritual blessings he has received which cannot be measured.

"The spiritual blessings that we have received far outweigh any of these material things," said Bill. "God has provided for us in marvelous ways."

Born in 1931, Bill grew up in Oakland with Christian parents who weren't as faithful about attending church. He was introduced to Sunday School where he accepted Jesus Christ as his lord and savior.

The blessings to the Gearharts started early.

"I was born 'free' because the doctors who delivered me died two weeks later and my parents never got a bill," said Gearhart.

Bill graduated from Castlemont High School and was drafted into the Army in 1952 to serve in the Korean War where he feels God's hand of protection was offered. As other soldiers were seasick aboard the ship Gen. Nelson M. Wallace - bound for Japan - and filling trash cans with vomit, Bill never felt motion sickness.

"I spent the first winter on the front lines," said Gearhart. "We would go on patrols at night but I never really saw any action. Then they sent me back to the military police. Then I got into military government."

Gearhart recalls being in Seoul when air raid sirens began screaming in the night during a bombing raid of the city from North Korean planes. The debate among the men about whether to head to an underground bunker for protection was resolved when a loud explosion took place close by.

After being discharged as a sergeant, Bill entered the sheet metal trade in the Bay Area. He spent most of his career at the Lawrence Livermore Lab working in sheet metal fabrication for heating and air conditioning systems and later estimating materials.

He met Bonnie in church - he says "incidentally a good place to find a wife" - and they were married in 1956.

The blessings have extended to their two children who've led successful lives. Dan Gearhart recently retired as a Seaside Fire Department chief. Dan's wife, Julie, serves on the Seaside Police Department. Bill's daughter, Shari Clegg, is married to Jack Clegg, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Thousand Oaks. Shari is also pre-school director of the church's Accelerated Academy.

Even though he lost his first granddaughter it birth, Bill doesn't question God.

"We just need to turn it over to God because God knows what he's doing. We don't understand why God does that. But like the old song goes, by and by we'll understand."

For more than a half century, Bill has served led congregational singing, taught Sunday School and served as a church leader. Ordained as a deacon in 1960, Bill served in the First Southern Baptist Church in Oakland for 22 years and the Southern Baptist Church in San Leandro for 20 years

Bill and Bonnie moved to a home on St. Gotthard Way to be close to his aging and ailing mother who was in a Modesto care facility. He quickly found a new church home in First Southern Baptist Church in Ceres where he has been for 22 years.

In the ebb and flow of pastors who come and go, Bill has never succumbed to an attitude that he sees in other church-goers.

"You can almost count on it ... when the pastor leaves, some of the people decide, 'Well, you know, I'll just take a back seat, won't come to church. I'll just wait and see and when the new pastor comes I'll see if I like him. But then, of course, you have a core that stay there. Or because we don't have a pastor to pay they cut back on their giving. So our offering is down. We're not even in a position to hire a full-time pastor."