When Bill Hyer's father died in a hospital in Dalhart, Texas, Bill's mother Roberta decided to go stay with her father in Colorado Springs. She left her son behind at the hospital.
He was 6 years old.
After his mom left, he decided to track her down. The child hopped a freight train from Texas to the Springs, where he spent the night under a bridge.
That's the beginning of Hyer's story, and part of his biography, published this month by the local Mother's House Publishing. Long Way Home: The Bill Hyer Story tells the history of the late Ernest William Hyer, who spent his retirement painting abstracts in Colorado Springs before he died in December 2010 at age 74.
It wasn't Hyer, however, who pushed for a book.
As a friend relayed bits of the man's life to her, Molly Wingate, 56, knew it had to be shared. As the owner of Wingate Consulting in Manitou Springs, she often works as a "hired pen," so she called him up and offered to write his story. She had no idea how many fabulous tales would follow — including Hyer tying a fly lure for Dwight Eisenhower, though Wingate couldn't prove that one.
Hyer told her that when he arrived in Colorado, he found his mother and grandfather at his father's funeral. But his hopes of rejoining his family were quickly dashed, as his grandfather told him, "Every tub on its own bottom," meaning they were officially putting him out on his own.
Even so, Hyer ultimately graduated from Colorado Springs High School (now Palmer) in 1955. He went on to become a regional manager for a chain of grocery stores, a land developer and a furniture salesman, among other things.
"He was always very entrepreneurial — always had at least one or two businesses going at a time," says his son, Bill James Hyer, 51.
And no matter what job he was doing, the man always made time to help kids who didn't have homes.
"He was interested in the kids who didn't make it to the soup kitchen," says Wingate. He spent time gathering clothes, blankets and food for them, and delivering them personally to the kids in the streets.
His son now carries on Hyer's legacy as executive director of Bill's Kids (billskids.org), a two-year-old project and soon-to-be nonprofit dedicated to providing clothing and shoes for transient teenagers. "Our basic premise is not to preach at the transient kids to get off the road; it is to keep them alive and within reasonable health," says the junior Hyer.
When Bill Hyer decided three years ago to tell what he endured, it was for the purpose of helping those kids, too.
Wingate says that through sharing his experiences, he wanted to continue to urge people to "Do what's right in front of you. Don't worry about solving homelessness. Just help the homeless person that's right in front of your house."