WILLIAM EDELEN (1922 – 2015)
From The Desert Sun
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.