Benefit to help raise money for UPD officer’s medical expenses

Cassie Buchman, Staff Reporter

Throughout his childhood, University Police Department Officer James Williams was taught to help others.

“It’s just how I was brought up,” Williams said. “I was taught to help other people; it’’s not necessarily about what you get back.”

Giving back is something Williams has strived to do in both the community and his career.

An officer for 23 years, Williams became an “icon” in the university community, fellow officer Andrea Beals said.

“Students, faculty, community and a lot of people know him by name,” she said. “‘Officer Friendly’- that’s one of the names I’ve heard him called.”

In addition to being an officer, Williams is a Marine veteran from Operation Desert Storm, has worked with the county SWAT team, was a board member of the Sexual Assault Counseling and Information Service and has raised funds for a number of charities.

After a career spent helping others, it is now the community’s turn to help University Police Department Officer James Williams as they come together to raise money for medical expenses he has incurred because of a chronic heart condition.

A benefit for Williams is set for 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Charleston VFW Post 1592 on 1821 20th Street. It will feature music by several bands, a silent auction, a 50/50 drawing and raffle.

A gun and riding lawn mower, valued at $1500 in cash, are both being raffled off. A cash bar will be available and food can be purchased for $6.

For those who cannot be at the benefit, a page has been set up so people can donate.

Originally diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2007, Williams has been battling it ever since with a number of surgeries, treatments and medication, culminating in a heart transplant this past February.

For more than a decade, Williams has been through five surgeries and accumulated thousands upon thousands of dollars in medical expenses.

“It’s taken an emotional toll, physical toll, spiritual toll,” he said.

Despite these struggles, with the help of some friends and resources offered by the hospital Williams has taken steps to overcome these challenges.

“I’ve become better as a person because it’s taught me to appreciate life more (and) friendships,” he said. “I don’t take anything for granted.”

Williams’ diagnosis did not stop him from being active in the community.  Since he was diagnosed with heart disease, Williams has started trying to educate the public regarding heart treatments and therapies, going to different clinics that ask for assistance to give them basic information on heartcare.

“I know firsthand the effects of heart disease, so anything I can do to help prevent someone from developing heart disease and to educate people in regards to heart disease is something I want to be involved in,” he said.

Williams said right now, his physical recovery is going well. After two years of not being able to work, he hopes to return in the fall.

“As soon as I found out I was going to leave work, I said I was determined to come back and finish my career,” Williams said. “It’s a huge personal goal for me to be able to do that.”

This passion for his career all goes back to the students and the 23 years’ worth of memories he has built up from his relationships with students and staff, he said.

Williams still hears from these students, some of whom have checked back on him after hearing about his heart condition.

“Students have come out to help around my house, former students have mowed my lawn, done yard work,” he said. “That means a lot.”

Lots of people have stepped up to assist Williams, and he said he has developed many close friendships through this ordeal.

One of the people to do this was Beals, who has worked with Williams for about 12 or 13 years now and was even trained by him.

Beals took Williams to doctor’s appointments and is now helping to organize Sunday’s benefit.

She said not having him around campus has had its own challenges.

“You no longer have that person there to work with, bounce ideas off of,” Beals said.

Kathy Rhodes, another one of the benefit’s organizers and a former family and consumer sciences professor, said Williams is one of the best people she’s ever seen work with students.

“He’s a wonderful human being, a great community leader,” she said.

To meet Williams is to know he is a special person with a very kind and caring heart, she added.

This is what made her want to take part in the benefit.

“I want to give back to him as much as he’s given,” Rhodes said. “Not only has he given much to Eastern; he’s also given to Mattoon and Charleston.”

Seeing people give back and help Williams has been heartwarming, Rhodes said.

People were very generous in giving donations, she said.

It is these people, Williams said, that give him the strength to go on through the recovery process.

“If you  walk by hilm today he still has the biggest smile you’ve ever seen on his face. Even in his darkest hours he still has that wonderful smile,” Rhodes said.

Williams said the secret to this smile is not taking life too seriously.

“You just gotta take everything as it comes to you, appreciate every day,” he said.