Bicycle Bill

On The Road

“While enjoying a meal at Easter time with family, I had a story referred to me about ‘Bicycle Bill’ in Chester, South Dakota. Not only has this man adopted the community, but more importantly, the community has adopted this wonderful man,” said KELOLAND On The Road Host, Mike Huether.

Fifty-six year old Bill Tillson moved to Chester, South Dakota in the early 1990’s.  Though he lives in a one-bedroom apartment there with “Happy Cat”, he is far from alone.  His adopted Chester home and the residents living there, care for him at the highest level.  His good friend, Brad Benson, provides a snippit of Bill’s story. “They brought Bill up and thought the small community would be really good for him.  And so, Bill was living here, and he just kind of, they moved back to Sioux Falls and Bill stayed, because he just loved this environment and he thrived in this environment,” said Brad Benson. “Chester’s taken over as his family,” Benson added.

Bill, also well known as “Bicycle Bill”, is special in so many ways. “It’s so easy to take him in because he wants to be part of everything.  He wants to be part of your kids’ lives. He wants to be a part of the activities that are taking place. He wants to be a part of the business. He wants to go to things with you. He wants to…  He just wants to be a part of something.  And it’s so easy to be the person to take that in because he is a joy to be around,” Jodi Heyn said.

That was Jodi Heyn, a lifelong resident of Chester.  I will share her special connection to Bill soon.  In the meantime, “Bicycle Bill” is also known as “Fire Bike One”, along with, “Mayor Bill.”

“I can’t imagine Chester without Bill.  Because he is probably… he is our mayor.  He is what Chester stands for,” Julie Eppard said. “Well, it’s because of Bill and it’s because of our community.  So many people care about everybody else here.  And Bill… just his loving nature, it is so awesome.  He’s… Bill comes into a room and, ‘Hi Bill, how’s it going?’ He gravitates to people and people gravitate to him,” said Julie Eppard.

Chester Schools’ principal, Julie Eppard, and the students of the school interact with Bill before, during, and after school just about every day. “Anything that goes on in the Chester school Bill’s a part of, whether it’s a ballgame, a concert, a meal going on…he’s there involved with us. He goes to every activity, every event,” said Eppard.

So how does that happen?  Bill doesn’t drive a vehicle. Bill’s either calling someone in Chester or Chester is reaching out to Bill. Is it real,” asked KELOLAND On The Road host, Mike Huether.  “Oh, absolutely.  We know how much he loves, not only loves the school, but he loves the kids.  And he wants to support them, Eppard answered. “It’s just so inspiring how the kids… they look for Bill, and Bill looks for the kids,” Eppard explained. “He is everywhere.  Like I said, you can’t go anywhere… any school that comes to Chester or we go to any school… everybody knows Bill. And he’s probably most well-known for his popcorn here,” Eppard said. “All right, we had to go there,” remarked Huether. “He said, ‘Mike, that’s my office.’, Huether recalled. “Absolutely. Yep, the concession stand is his office.  That is his domain.  He’s very protective of it and especially the popcorn machine,” said Eppard.

Bill is known for his popcorn. But, he is also now known as Jodi and Steve Heyn’s son.  Jodi is Bill’s legal guardian.  This loving couple has 4 children and 2 grandchildren.  And yes, now Bill, too. “He needs somebody.  And who better than somebody that knows him as well as I do,” said Jodi Heyn. “It just feels natural, because you know… he’s basically like a kid to me, one of my own. Even though he’s older than me,” Jodi Heyn laughed.

“Where do you get that inner strength to, to really not only care for them, but care for Bill too, and your hubby,” asked Huether  ” Yeah, yeah. Probably my husband. His most famous saying is ‘you can sleep when you’re dead.  Here we’re to live.’  You don’t need much sleep. So, we just go. You go with it. You care for people. You go to events. You take care of your grandkids. You spend time, you know, you just go, ” said Heyn.

Bill loves this beautiful family.  His words are brief, but his feelings run deep. “You’re happy when they come home?, asked Huether. ” Uh, huh. Yah,” said Bill Tillson. “Why?” asked Huether. “Because I like happy… feels good that way,” answered Tillson. “They really care for you, Bill,” Huether stated.  “I know,” agreed Tillson.

“One thing to say about Bill… when our kids were in school, Sarah, our daughter’s car parked up there in a snowstorm.  Her car would be the only car in the school parking lot that never had snow on it.  Bill always kept it clean,” recalled Steve Heyn. “Yep. Yah,” agreed Tillson. “Bill, I want to be your best friend next,” remarked Huether. “I do too,” said Tillson. “Tell Steve and Jodi what you think of them,” prompted Huether. “Nice people,” said Tillson. “Now tell me what you think of Chester,” asked Huether. “Like Chester,” said Tillson “Nice people?” asked Huether. “Nice people,” Tillson agreed. “Nice people makes the world go ‘round in Chester, doesn’t it?” asked Huether. “Yep.” said Tillson.

The town of Chester impacts Bill in phenomenal ways.  But his impact on the town is real, too. “I’ll tell you what., I take care of him, but he takes care of me more and I’ve learned more lessons from that guy than you could ever imagine,” said Brad Benson. “He’s an inspiration and I hope I can be half as kind as he is to everybody. Because he is a one-of-a-kind man,” said Julie Eppard.

Bicycle Bill’s good friend, Brad, believes there is someone like Bill in your KELOLAND community, too.  “It’s South Dakota, Mike, as far as I am concerned.  I think you can find Bills in just about every town in South Dakota, and I think you will find the same nature…that caring, the nurturing. It is just… it’s not only Chester. It’s South Dakota. And Bill just found his niche here and the people love him and want to be with him and do things with him,” said Benson.

Brad, I think you are right.  But hey, the Bill in Chester has that secret popcorn recipe.  “Bill, give me the secret recipe to your popcorn, (Laughter)” asked Huether. “I won’t do that,” answered Tillson. 
“Oh, come on Bill, KELOLAND is watching.  What is your secret recipe for popcorn?” asked Huether.
“Grease.  Full cup of grease. Salt,” said Tillson. “How much salt?” asked Huether.” A lot!,” laughed Tillson. 

Bill actually received the nickname “Fire Bike One” from the Sioux Falls Fire and Rescue Department during his years in Sioux Falls.  He would often show up on his bike at the fires around town and the firefighters would allow Bill to help “pack back up” when everything was secured.  In Chester, when the fire alarm goes off, Bill goes to the firehouse and opens all the doors before everyone gets there. 

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