William Ralph Vanderford Jr.

Date of Death: September 14, 2018

Rev. William Ralph (Bill) Vandeford Jr., 71, died Sept. 14, 2018, at his home in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.

Bill answered the call to Christian ministry as a teenager in Tampa, Florida. College was interrupted by the draft, and he spent three years in the Army. The Vanderfords first came to Kentucky in 1975 for Bill to attend seminary in Louisville. During his 38-year ministerial career, he served congregations in Tennessee; Santa Cruz, Bolivia; and Kentucky. He came back to Kentucky in 1987 to serve on the staff of the Louisville Conference Council on Ministries.

Bill collected life experiences rather than possessions. Right before he retired, his family tried to count all his jobs, beginning with a newspaper route when he was 12, and including lifeguard, taxi driver and dispatcher, Army chaplain’s assistant, state parole and probation officer, department store Santa, halfway house director, crisis intervention counselor, founder/director of a bilingual school, and producer and host of a television series about faith-based ethics.

Bill was considering alternative service in 1980 when the opportunity came to pastor the only English-language congregation in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The Holston Conference bishop agreed to appoint him, on the condition that pledges for six months’ salary be secured before the appointment process began—in 11 days! It seemed impossible, but Bill began making phone calls and the afternoon before the deadline, the goal was reached. Three months later, Bill and his family were on the way to South America for a life-changing five-year ministry. 
Bill preached many times on Matthew 25:34-40, and the passage describes how he lived:

“Then the King will say . . . ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

While Bill was a missionary pastor in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, a church in the States sent him a $300 check as a Christmas gift; he used the money to purchase a horse and wagon and set up a young Bolivian husband and father with a mobile produce business to support his family. One of his daughters recalls “going to jail with Daddy” when he encouraged his congregation to provide worship services at a prison. He inspired a congregation to raise enough money to drill a well and provide water for an entire South American village. And, even though he had no experience as a tailor, when a little girl in his first congregation was having her tonsils out, Bill made a stuffed teddy bear to give her; then he challenged the church ladies to start making stuffed toys as a ministry.