In Memoriam: William Edelen has moved on after stroke…

[My comments following obituary… ds]

WILLIAM EDELEN (1922 – 2015)

From The Desert Sun
Palm Springs

Bill Edelen, an ordained minister, anthropologist, Marine fighter pilot, Taoist, newspaper columnist and author of such books as “The Breath of Life” and “Toward the Mystery,” took his own final breath Friday, in what he believed would be the beginning of a mysterious journey.

Edelen, 93, died in a Palm Springs convalescent home, surrounded in his final hours by his son, Bill Jr. He had suffered a stroke just more than a week ago and was taken to Desert Regional Medical Center, where he had been uncommunicative. But his son returned him to the convalescent home that had been his residence for the past year and said he began reminiscing about their early days before succumbing early in the morning.

Edelen was known for fighting religious intolerance with the same tenacity he brought to his service in World War II and the Korean War, where he picked up wounded Marines from the 38th parallel into Inje, North Korea.

He was brought to Palm Springs by former Ambassador Walter Annenberg, who sponsored him to lead a weekly symposium at The Tennis Club on spiritual free thinking. He was supported in his later years by Harold Matzner, owner of Spencer’s restaurant at The Tennis Club.

In 1999, Edelen and his friend, Barry Manilow, performed a memorable benefit concert in the Annenberg Theater for the then Palm Springs Desert Museum. Edelen would recite from his philosophical writings and Manilow would sing and play keyboards on songs reflecting Edelen’s ideas.

Edelen was awarded a place on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars the next year. Among his presenters were Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman, who played Ten Bears in “Dances With Wolves.” Matzner called him “one of a kind.

“He had a wonderful life,” he said. “He inspired a lot of people, including you and me.”

Edelen had his own talk show on KPSI and was a Desert Sun columnist for 14 years. He generated more passionate letters to the editor than any other writer during his tenure. His regular column was eventually suspended, but he was brought back as an occasional guest writer.

In 2001, he wrote a column stating, “(Pope) John Paul does not have enough days left in his life to say “For my part … I am sorry” to all of the millions and millions of human beings slaughtered by the Christian church, to all new discoveries of truth slaughtered by the church.”

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights responded, “The Desert Sun, a Palm Springs, California daily, published a piece by William Edelen that was so unbelievable it had all the markings of a person gone mad. The biggest problem we had with the article was the fact that it got published.”

But Edelen was friends and associates with some of the 20th century’s greatest freethinkers, including Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, philosopher Joseph Campbell, Native American Indian activist Vine Deloria and cartoonist Charles Schultz, who listened to Edelen’s lectures in his home town of Santa Rosa, Calif., when Edelen lived there.

Architect, inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller called him, “An original thinker in the oldest of thinking worlds, that is, thinking about God. He’s in love with the truth. Edelen dares to do his own thinking. He has wide experience to enrich that thinking.”

Edelen spent 12 years in the Marines, logging more than 1,000 hours as an instructor before seeing combat duty in Korea. He left in 1954 to study and write. He earned a degree in horticulture at Oklahoma State University and became involved in a First Presbyterian Church, where he received a grant to study at the McCormick Seminary at the University of Chicago.

He earned a master’s in anthropology at the University of Colorado, teaching that and religion at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. He became a Congregational minister in Tacoma, where he was known as a religious iconoclast.

“I had the senior minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Tacoma one day ask me who Zoroaster is,” Edelen recalled. “I thought, ‘You dummy. You’ve been preaching it every Sunday — Zoroastrianism’.”

A grant from Annenberg allowed him to leave the Congressional Church and devote himself to writing and lecturing. Actress and natural health advocate Suzanne Somers was a fan of his writing.

“Bill Edelen once wrote, ‘Today the bees are bee-ing and the birds are bird-ing’ and I instantly knew what kind of day he was describing,” she said. “Few are blessed with such an ability to work words so beautifully. He was our treasure. A thoughtful treasure. He will be missed.”

Edelen told The Desert Sun in 2012 if he were to describe himself as a disciple of any deity, it would probably be the Lakota Indians’ Wakan Tanka. His friend, Native American leader Russell Banks, told him the name translated to “Great Mystery.”

He said at age 90 he was looking forward to moving toward the mystery.

“I think there’s some kind of consciousness connection,” he said, “some kind of unknown, we know not what.”

Besides Bill Jr. of Santa Rosa, Edelen is survived by his daughter Lee Reeves of Pensacola, Fla., two grandsons and a great-granddaughter. Plans for a memorial service are pending.

From Dave Smith

Back in the seventies, Bill lived in Santa Rosa and had a weekly column in the  Press Democrat which I followed (un)religiously. Eventually, Bill moved to Palm Desert and the PD discontinued his column. Several years ago, Mark Scaramella of the Anderson Valley Advertiser ran one of his current columns and I was able to track his website down where they were still being regularly published.

Coincidentally, the first post I encountered was Bill asking for someone to run his website. I contacted him and volunteered. More recently, at the end of 2013, after running into problems with his web host, he asked me to shut it down and just run his columns on my own blog… this one.

I will continue to post his writings every Sunday here on Ukiah Blog, reposting some, and adding more from his several self-published books of past columns. Here are three recent ones.

Reflections On My Own Death

Reflections at Age 92

Surprised by Joy


“Where shall Wisdom (Chochmah) be found,
And where is the abode of Understanding (Binah)?
Happy is the person who has found Wisdom,
The one who has obtained to Understanding.”

“How great is Your goodness You have held in reserve for those
who revere You,
Which You have wrought for those who trust in You,
in the presence of other people.
How precious Your loving-kindness, O God!
The children of men take trustful refuge in the shadow
of Your wings.
They shall drink of the rich joy of Your dwelling place,
You who causes them to drink deep of the stream of Your bliss.”

“Better is a good name than precious ointment,
And the day of death than the day of birth.”
“The end of th matter after all has been heard –
revere God and keep the committments, for this is the whole duty of a man.”
“May the pious be joyful in glory,
And rejoice in their repose.”
May the destined soul of William Edelen, FRIEND, be true repose under the wings of the Divine Presence (Shekhina) in the celestial realm, the Chamber of the holy and pure shining resplendent as the luminous firmament. May his re-creation (re-incarnation) be free of guilt. May he know redemption and compassionate grace from the One who is enthroned on high, and happy participation in the life of the World to Come. May the Spirit of ADONAI grant rest in the happiness of the Beyond to him who has departed from this world according to the will of the Creator, Ruler of heaven and earth.

May the supreme Ruler of all earthly kings in mercy show this soul love and compassion. May peace attend him and his repose be peaceful, as it is written:
“They shall enter into peace, they who walk in their uprightness shall have repose in their resting places.”
May he and all his ancestors slumbering in the dust along with the other dead of Israel, be included in mercy and forgiveness. May this be the Divine Will, and let us say: AMEYN!

Thank you Dave for continuing the wonderful teachings of Dr. Bill. I have never had such a strong influence on my life as the association with Dr. Bill. I am so fortunate to have experienced his wisdom and understanding of all existence. Namaste

It is amazing that 2 people with the same odd name but 44 years in age difference can have so much in common. My name is William Edelen and I have been heavily influenced by Mr. Edelen’s essays for the past eight years. I also had the privilege of some brief email correspondences with Mr. Edelen. My favorite story is the summer he spent with Tai Chi Master Al Huang. Mr Edelen’s book “Earthrise” will always have a place of honor on my desk at my martial arts school in Denver Colorado.

    It may please you to know that BILL continued his practice of Tai Chi into his 90’s practicing early mornings in the park with his teacher Scott Cole. This remained an expression of his gratitude for his “Breath of Life” experience after receiving a new heart valve. At times he was accompanied by his two Shitz Tzu’s…his four-legged soul mates named “Tai” and “Chi”.


Thank you for your post. It is really inspiring to know that Bill was practicing Tai Chi again. I knew that Bill was having issues when his website was taken down. I regret not having the skills or the money to keep Bill’s message alive through his website but I try to impart his ideals through the way I live my life and teach my students. I think I remember a video of Scott Cole performing Tai Chi to music at one of the symposiums. He was quite good! Thanks again Gail!