14 Apr William Keith Whitcomb 1924-2014
William Keith Whitcomb, 89, of Madison died peacefully on January 27 with his wife, Dorothy, at his side. Known for his boundless energy, hearty laugh and beloved for his dedication to service, he will be missed by many. Bill was born in Cresbard, South Dakota on November 29, 1924, the second son of Elmer and Adella Whitcomb. In 1928 he went to central India with his parents who were medical missionaries. Bill attended Woodstock School in Mussoorie, Uttaranchal, India and graduated high school in 1942. Soon after he was drafted into the US Army Air Corps and served two years near Calcutta, India as a staff sergeant. In 1947, Bill married Mary Dorothy Vaugh, a classmate from Woodstock. He received a BS in Agriculture from the University of Minnesota in 1950 and returned to India as a missionary.
Bill’s career in India began as the manager of the hospital founded by his father, but his calling was to feed the hungry. He went on to establish the Rural Life Program which taught farming and other rural development skills. Bill also developed a secure water supply for thousands of villagers. He was known affectionately by villagers as “Billy Baba” having grown up in the same area where he worked. On two separate furloughs to the U.S. he studied sociology at Cornell University and poultry science at the Ohio State University. After serving in India for 25 years, Bill and his family settled in Madison where he worked as the regional director for Church World Service’s CROP organization to raise money for third world hunger relief.
He volunteered for Meals on Wheels and procured unsold produce from the farmer’s market to cook meals at the Wil-Mar food pantry. He joined the Madison East Kiwanis in the 1970’s participating in programs up until this year. In retirement, Bill was an active member of the Oakwood church choir, singing at a service on the day he passed away. He was a leader of the Handy Man group, crafting furniture and toys in the workshop for non-profit groups, family and friends.
As granddaughter Kate noted he was our hero, missionary, volunteer, furniture maker, prankster, storyteller, and tireless and humble advocate for the poor. He was preceded in death by his parents and brothers Tom and John. He is survived by his wife Dorothy, daughters Cate (Jack Hinz), Patricia (Peter Sotos), sons Dr. John (Holly) and Dr. Robert (Susan), sister Ann Lennington of Rochester, MN, and grandchildren: Alisha (Jay Johnson), Jeremiah, David, Kate, Caroline and Daniel. A memorial service is planned for Saturday, April 19 at Lake Edge UCC in Madison at 1 pm with a reception to follow. Memorial donations can be made to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515 or at www.cwsglobal.org .