Born in 1923 in west-central Illinois, Roland grew up near
Pittsfield and graduated from high school in that area. He now lives in
Lincoln at the Christian Village Congregate Apartments. The distance
between Pittsfield and Lincoln is about 100 miles.
But, Roland's path was definitely not a straight line.
Roland took the long way, a very long way. He traveled to a place
about as far from central Illinois as one can get, not only
geographically, but culturally. He would live much of his life in
a country he would love, India.
How did that happen?
Backing up to the beginning, William's father, Charles, was a farmer
and Christian minister. After William graduated from high school,
his father suggested that the younger Roland might want to consider
following in his footsteps and become a
This was a decision, a profound decision, that would set the course
for William Roland's excellent adventure, an adventure far beyond
what a young man from central Illinois farming
country could imagine.
William first traveled to Cincinnati to attend the Cincinnati Bible
Seminary. While there he met a young woman, Jean Rothermel, also a
student. Friendship grew into a deep commitment that led to
Jean's parents had been missionaries in India. In fact, Jean was
born in India, and she always wanted to return. She convinced
William to travel there with her. William's father thought it was
a good idea.
The couple left the United States in 1947, bound for northern India,
the mountainous region. The trip from San Francisco to Bombay, now
known as Mumbai, was a one-month trip on an old military troop ship.
This was no Crystal Cruise.
The ship was divided into two compartments, one for about a dozen
women and a separate compartment for the men -- definitely spartan
living conditions. They wound their way to Hawaii and the
Philippines, around Southeast Asia and to the
east coast of India. Their trip was not over yet. It took another
week to travel around the south end of India and up the west coast
The Rolands' next destination was the Landaur Language School.
There, they studied Hindustani, meaning place of the Hindus, a
language of northern India. Hindustani is a complex
language with 15 dialects. And they did this with their young
daughter, who had been born in the States.
While living in India, the Rolands spent the summers in the
mountains at 7,000 feet to avoid the sweltering
temperatures of the plains to the south. In winter, they traveled to
the plains, where temperatures were moderate, to
work in a mission that had been established in the 19th century, the
mission where Jean's parents had taught early in the 20th century.
Bill and Jean returned to the United States in 1951. In their four
years in India they had two more children, both sons, and had
witnessed the birth of two new countries.
India had been a British colony until 1947, when a quiet revolution
led by Mahatma Gandhi led to the independent nation of India. A not-so-quiet revolution ensued between the Hindu majority and the Muslim
minority. This turbulence led to the formation of Pakistan -- West and
East Pakistan at the time -- a place to which India's Muslim minority
could emigrate. William and Jean were there for history in the
The Rolands returned to America in 1951 to help William's father
with his farming operation near Barry, Ill.
It was at this time that he attended Lincoln Bible Institute when
the school had just moved its campus to the east side of Lincoln. As
he recalls, "there was only one building at the time." Bill took
graduate classes and taught classes on mission
LBI eventually became Lincoln Christian College and then Lincoln
Through this time back in the States, the strong lure of India was
William and Jean returned to India in 1954. "It felt like going
home," he says.
This time, while still traveling by ship, they left from New York
City and traveled east, through the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez
Canal. This route took one week off the trip.
"I never felt
comfortable on a ship so this time was better. I was only seasick
for three weeks rather than four like the first trip in '47," he
related with a smile.
This return to the subcontinent found them at a Bible college,
training Indians to be missionaries, and then at the Woodstock
School in the Himalayas. Woodstock was a sort of early version
of a magnet school where missionaries in northern India sent their
children. It was a nondenominational institution.
The Rolands were supported in part by Lincoln's First
Christian Church for their time in India from 1954 until 1964.
"The Himalayas were a beautiful place to live. We really enjoyed our
time there," he said.
The Rolands returned to the U.S. in 1964. While William did teach
in India, he did not have a teaching certificate from a university.
When they returned, William and Jean ended up at Fort Hays State
in Kansas, where both of them received teaching certificates.
William majored in industrial arts. He also earned his pilot's
license there. Jean added a nursing degree.
[to top of second column]
Do you notice a trend here? Neither William nor Jean was ever shy
about embarking on an adventure, and neither was hesitant about
remaking themselves. They were always passionate about furthering
What to do with their newly minted degrees? Opportunity was just a
few miles away in the Otis-Bison School District in Kansas. Roland
started teaching industrial arts and English, and eventually moved
into the position of principal at the junior
Jean was employed locally as a nurse. They continued serving the
community until 1972, when the Hindus gave permission and they
returned to their first love, India.
Roland said that only about 3 percent of Indians were Christian in
his time there.
Their next journey to India, in 1974, was not to the familiar north of
the country, but to Madras on the southeast coast. A friend of the
couple had started a leprosy treatment facility in Madras and
invited William and Jean to join the staff. They leapt at the
In Madras, Jean served as a nurse, and William used his industrial
arts skills to help the patients achieve mobility with their disease-damaged hands. Not only had he learned industrial arts, but he was
thinking outside the box in using his skill as a unique form of
Madras was a difficult locale for them because they did not speak
the local dialect, and they were too busy with their duties to take lessons.
Roland said: "We were fortunate that the staff at the
clinic and doctors all spoke English, so we were able to
The Madras culture was different also. "In northern India, wheat
made up a large part of the diet, but in southern India, rice was the
primary grain," said Roland. He commented, "I had not had rice until
I went to India."
Still, they found the work with the leprosy patients very rewarding.
William and Jean continued their exploration of India, moving to the
area near Bhopal to work at a Bible college and continuing that work
from 1978 until 1986.
They then returned to Madras and continued their affiliation with
the Madras Bible College in 1986. The college still exists.
Their mission continued until 1998, when they returned to the U.S. for
the last time, moving to their home in the Otis and Bison area of
Do the math: William and Jean were in India from 1947 until
1998 except for the 10 years learning and teaching in Kansas and
one year farming with William's father.
Dates and place names are a part of a person's arc of life, but what
happened in those places, the people one meets, make the experience
Because they spoke Hindustani while living in northern India,
William and Jean were able to know the Indian people well, were able
to have a cultural understanding. William commented: "I spoke the
language so well that Indians often
assumed I was a native. I was fluent enough to be able to discuss
health issues with Indian doctors."
When they were not working, the Rolands rode the trains, a legacy
of British occupation, to all parts of the country and immersed
themselves in the Indian culture. They visited the Taj Mahal. They
ate the local food and were able to order as if they were natives. With
a twinkle in his eye William said, "Jean could eat the hottest curry
with no problem. I was not able to keep up with her."
While in India during the mid-1950s, a friend of the Rolands
leased a hunting preserve. They accompanied him there to hunt game:
deer, wild pigs, peacocks. This was not a lark, but a real life
necessity. There was little meat in India to buy,
especially in the Hindu areas, so they had to hunt for food, prepare
it and preserve it.
This necessitated learning new skills. Jean learned how to cure meat
with spices and to can it. During one hunting expedition, a tiger
jumped out of the forest and stopped very close to their vehicle.
William was able to shoot the animal, and the result of that
encounter is hanging on the wall at the Christian Village Congregate
Center in Lincoln where Roland now resides.
And such is the story of William Roland, who traveled the 100
miles from Pittsfield, Ill., to Lincoln, Ill., with a 40-year detour through India. Along the way he was a student, husband,
father to a daughter and three sons, farmer,
missionary, language student, again a student in Kansas, pilot,
industrial arts and English teacher in Kansas, a junior high
principal, and a physical therapist.
Roland's life is rich with
adventures he shared with Jean, adventures well beyond the borders
of his home country. It is a life notable for his unstinting
commitment and service to the people he met along the way.
[By CURT FOX]