He was called “Coach Big-un” at Castleberry High School that serves the Tarrant County suburbs of River Oaks and Sansom Park. Though quiet and unassuming, he was also remembered after his passing for his approach to school projects and extensive volunteer work – “Go Big or Go Home.”
Michael Joe Williams, 77, was eulogized recently at a memorial service at Broadway Baptist Church for his 35-year teaching career in shop, drafting and architecture – he was named Texas State Industrial Arts Teacher of the Year in 1999 – and his service as a church deacon.
The church work included supporting the youth choir with his spouse Judy, chaperoning the group to performances from New York to California, and acting as construction foreman on mission trips to build low-income housing. At Castleberry, one of the state’s smallest school districts, he coached football and golf, drove a school bus and sponsored its chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes for more than two decades.
Before his health deteriorated, he and spouse Judy helped organize the church’s Sack Lunch Program with other Sunday School members, which could include a freshly made sandwich. One year, an estimated 6,000 sandwiches were prepared. As another example of “going big,” Broadway Senior Pastor Ryon Price said Williams ordered “Vienna sausages by the pallet-load” – a staple in lunches with applesauce, peanut butter crackers and a scripture.
Williams died Sept. 16 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, with his memorial service being held on Oct. 21 in Broadway’s sanctuary.
“He was one of the reasons I became a teacher,” said Jonathan James, a former Castleberry student, at the service. Before retiring, James served as teacher or principal in the Castleberry, H-E-B and Weatherford school districts. With skills he learned in shop classes, James worked his way through college as a custodian.
“I forgot more of what I learned in algebra and in Spanish,” said James, “but I can still wire an electrical circuit because of Mike Williams.” Referring to Mike and Judy Williams remaining at in Castleberry ISD for their entire careers, James said Williams also taught him “contentment… It did not pay as well, but he never jumped ship and go to those larger school districts or leave the profession, as many men did.”
Williams was born in Eastland, Texas, and was sent to Weatherford’s Pythian Home for orphans and widows with his five brothers and sisters when he was 4. As his published obituary said, he lived there until he was 20.
Rev. Price said Williams first became a teacher as a fourth grader in a one-room schoolhouse, teaching younger students spelling. Williams earned undergraduate degrees in physical education and industrial arts and a master’s of education at the University of North Texas.
Rev. Eric Howell, another eulogist, was a childhood friend of Williams’ older son Daryn, a member of the Broadway youth choir. After Sunday afternoon practice, the choir members were fed at the church, where Mike was “General of the kitchen and master of the mashed potato bar.” On trips across the nation, Williams rigged cold showers in the parking lots and made sure the youth woke up on time on inflatable mattresses on church floors.
Howell, who graduated from Texas A&M in industrial engineering before entering the ministry, said research among religious institutions shows that relationships of “non-kinship adults” is a key to success of youth ministries. “These are the difference-makers and we had that in spades,” he said of his experience at Broadway because of Williams.
Howell, now the pastor at Dayspring Baptist Church in Waco, quoted a friend who said Williams “built projects but more than that he built relationships. He built self-esteem and he built confidence…He and Judy led by example and neither one ever waivered.”
Besides his spouse, Williams is survived by a sister Alyce Korn, son Daryn Williams and wife Tiff of Arlington, Texas, son Ryan Williams and husband Julien Martineau of Charlotte, N.C., and two grandchildren.
The motto “Go Big or Go Home” was from the two sons, recalling their father’s insistence of following through with a task at hand. As one vignette was recalled, the class assignment was a project on Egyptian history, with other students creating a small model of a pyramid. Williams’ progeny produced a life-sized paper mache sarcophagus with historically correct hieroglyphics.
Howell said, “The world could use a lot more ‘Big-uns’…He was one of a kind.”