Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Broom Man goes home

There's a party in Heaven today. It has nothing to do with the Olympics.

Nor does it have a thing to do with Warren Buffett's making another billion or three. And today's big headline, Barack Obama picking Joe Biden as his running mate, was sooooo yesterday's news before it even happened.

NO, IT'S PARTY TIME for the Heavenly Host because the Broom Man has, at long last, come home. The Omaha World-Herald has the big news:
The blind broom peddler who whistled as he walked Omaha streets for more than 55 years has died.

The Rev. Livingston Wills, who often said "God is good," died Friday at St. Joseph Villa Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. He was 91 and had been living there since May.

"Rev," as he was affectionately called, sold brooms as a way to help support himself and his family.

When Wills began going door to door in the 1950s, Omaha was a much smaller city. Six days a week, he would put on a suit and tie, sling brooms over his shoulder and head out the door.

Often he would catch a bus near his north Omaha home and then walk through Florence, Benson, Dundee or some other neighborhood, never seeming to get lost.

"God will take care of me," he would say. "Do you need a good broom?"

He couldn't tell a $10 bill from a coupon, so he simply trusted people, said his friend Sandy Nogg of Omaha. Cars bumped him several times, and sometimes people slammed the door in his face, but he never became discouraged.

"The hearts of the people of Omaha were for him," said Bernadine Jefferson, a friend of about 50 years. "I think a lot of people felt like he was part of their family. He was joyful and he had a good memory. He really enjoyed being around people."


Wills didn't make brooms, though. He attended Union College in Lincoln, where he studied English and history. After graduating, he moved to Omaha in the late 1940s, intending to teach, but instead he felt a call to ministry.

He was ordained and served for many years as pastor at the Tabernacle Church of Christ Holiness at 25th and Seward Streets. Wills was elevated to bishop in the church in 1975.

Last year, The World-Herald's Goodfellows campaign drew attention to Wills' failing health and financial needs. He had fallen behind on his utility bills, and readers sprang into action.

Within a week, more than $2,000 in donations arrived, in checks big and small. They all came with a message: Please give this to the Broom Man.
THE TRAGIC FLAW at the heart of the human condition is that, when we saw the Broom Man walking down the street peddling his wares, we saw the Broom Man walking down the street peddling his wares.

By virtue of our human fallenness and our cultural conditioning, we're quite incapable of seeing anything below surface trappings. We actually think, probably, that it's better to be like Bill Gates than to be like the Broom Man.

God forbid, most of us probably think it would be better to be President Bush than to walk a dark mile in the Broom Man's shoes.

We value, I think, the wrong kind of success. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say we put inordinate value on the wrong kind of success.

Bill Gates' fundamental contribution to the world has been -- pretty much -- the "blue screen of death." (Can you tell I'm a Windows user?) George W. Bush's big contribution has been to drag a nation further into the mud, injecting what might turn out to be a fatal dose of "preventive war" and a torture-state ethos into our body politic.

REV. LIVINGSTON WILLS, on the other hand, gave a Midwestern city a living example of what it means to trust God and love one's fellow man.

And Omaha's Broom Man sold a damn good broom at a reasonable price. You can't beat that.

God will take care of us. Though we could use a good broom.


Anonymous said...

I have a worn sweeping broom in the garage that was in dire need of replacement. In the winter it would push out the slush and road grit in the spring, summer and fall leaves and dust. It is worn to the point that in this last winter it did not much more than splash the near frozen floor mess.

While I am not rich I could have easily afforded to go to Lowes, just a short distance away, or on any of the several weekly trips to the store replaced it. But in my mind I had the broom man.

I would see him on so many occasions that in my thoughts he was always walking our street or seen on Cass or Dodge....perhaps not on every outing but nearly always on the next.

Once I gave him a lift over to the Varley Drug store plaza. It was a hot summer afternoon and I was concerned as to how he would get home. He said that some times he would take a bus and that other times someone would let him use a phone and there would be a person to pick him up.

I have been associated with Omaha since 1965 I have seen time in the service, been married, had 2 children, retired, and helped with 6 grandchildren but it seems as though there was always the broom man.

At dinner tonight I told my wife that I needed to stop and pick up a broom on the way home. I mentioned that I did not see the broom man any more and she replied that she believed that he had passed away. Later I did a search "Omaha NE Broom Man" and found this article.

I will still watch for him and try to remember his silent selflessness, propriety, humility, and faith in people. Thank you Reverend Livingston Willis

Lisa said...

Thank you for posting this heartfelt blog. I've been away from Omaha for many years and this blog post recalled a few moments in life when you know you see truth before you. And that truth is unforgettable. Heaven definitely had a party.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I am reminded of how when we see truth, it is rarely forgotten. His presence was always peaceful and was represenative of light. He truly lived for Christ.

Michael Schneider said...

I remember him. I think my mother got her brooms from him.