AMARILLO (KAMR / KCIT) — Bill Hunter is like many of the Greatest Generation who went to work at eight years old, to help take care of his mom and his siblings.
He told his illiterate mother at 14 that she was signing forms so that he could go to work in the next county over, but it was actually his enlistment papers.
A few months later, his brother came home from the movies and told her he had seen Bill, that day. He was on the newsreel they played before the show. To his family’s surprise, 14-year-old Bill Hunter was fighting the battle of Iwo Jima.
His mother made some calls, and Bill was escorted back stateside promptly.
Bill then went to work breaking horses in New Mexico before enlisting, again — going through boot camp, again, and going to war in Korea.
Meanwhile, Reba Sursa was perfecting how to be a great wife, mother, friend, and eventually grandmother.
She got married and had two children, Lillian and Seth, with her first husband who passed away from wounds he had received in the war.
Reba was 24 and a widow, but she had grit, and she did whatever it took to keep her land she worked cattle and more doing anything it took to make a great life for her kids.
As fate would have it, one day that meant a trip to the movies at the Lyric Theater in Spearman where Bill, now a telephone technician, spotted Reba and knew it could be love.
Reba was less sure. Their daughter, Lillian Cooksey, picks up the story from there:
“He came out to put a telephone in our house, and we had two big airedale dogs, and he was deathly afraid of dogs, ” said Cooksey.” She just sicced them on him and one went to one side and one went to the other, and he couldn’t get out of his pickup. She was standing at the door with a butcher knife and she just, you know, after a few seconds she just started laughing. So she called the dogs off and he came in and put in the phone. He wanted to go out and she turned him down and he would not ask her out on a date. He asked my brother if we wanted to go to dinner or if we wanted to go to the movies until she actually decided that she wanted to that’s when they started dating.”
They were married on June 16th, 1961.
Lillian said they made a house where the door was always open. She said it should not have even had a front door. Everyone was welcome and everyone made themselves at home.
They were active volunteers. Bill spent 25 years volunteering for the Boy Scouts and even took his troop on a 50-mile hike from Gruver to Lake Meredith right after the lake opened.
Lillian describes Reba as a caregiver. She said she was on the museum board in Spearman and always kept her kids in the latest fashions–all homemade, of course. Reba kept ingredients for some of her most requested dishes on hand so that she could make and share them with her friends and neighbors who found themselves in need of celebration or comfort. She made gorgeous and delicious wedding cakes for friends.
Bill was a prankster, Lillian said, who kept his family and friends entertained and on their toes. They were dedicated to their faith in God and their family.
Over the years, Bill and Reba became not just parents, but “Grandpa and Grandma” to many kids in their community, and attended every ball game they could.
Lillian said kids in the community would all call them Grandpa and Grandma, “They’d call them and they’d say, ‘Grandma and Grandpa, we’re having a ballgame,’ and they’d say, ‘We’ll be there,’ and if it was local they’d go, up until you know, they couldn’t travel anymore which is just like within the last six months. They were healthy up until the end.”
On April 28, 2020, Bill fell. He was taken to the hospital in Amarillo where he tested positive for coronavirus two days later.
On May 1, 2020, Reba went to get a COVID-19 test. It was positive, and she was admitted to the same hospital as Bill.
The next day, they passed away.
“The nurses told me that the only time that they weren’t holding hands was when they had to be working on one or the other of them, but then they push their beds back together and they’d automatically reach for, you know, my mother reached for his hand and he would grab hers,” Lillian said. “They were holding hands when they passed away, and they pretty much literally took their last breath together.”
They died May 2, 2020, about a month shy of the 58th wedding anniversary.
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