During his life, the late William Robert “Billy” Schulz showed his mother, Jane B. Schulz, again and again that he and others with Down syndrome were capable of far more than many realized, spurring her to seek better educational, vocational and social opportunities for him and others with special needs. In honor of what they achieved together, WCU on Dec. 15 presented an honorary doctorate to Jane Schulz and posthumously to her son.
“I never dreamed of receiving such an honor, and wish Billy could be here,” said Schulz. “He really deserved this more than I do.”
Her work as a kindergarten teacher opened up an opportunity for Billy to attend a kindergarten class, and she was inspired by that experience to co-author a landmark book in the special education field, “Mainstreaming Exceptional Students: A Guide for Classroom Teachers,” in 1979. Schulz earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at Auburn University and went on to teach in special education at WCU for more than 20 years. She also developed a statewide program to train teachers to better work with special-needs students and was instrumental in organizing the Special Olympics program in Jackson County, an effort that spilled over into surrounding counties in Western North Carolina.
Meanwhile, Billy became a beloved staff member at WCU’s Hunter Library for 21 years. He also worked at a nursing home where he helped care for his father and at a grocery store that awarded him a pin for 10 years of service before his death in September after a period of declining health.
“Billy made friends with everyone. ‘Hi, I’m Billy. You got a dog?’ made it difficult for anyone to ignore him,” said Jane Schulz to attendees at commencement. “We have heard from people we don’t even know that, frequently, they would go in the store where Billy worked and be uplifted by his greeting and cheerfulness. We all miss him.”
Chancellor David O. Belcher shared that Billy Schulz overcame stage fright to join his mother when the two gave presentations to various organizations. “In his own words, he helped you share the story of his life and dispel negative stereotypes of people who have disabilities, and encouraged all to seek their full promise,” said Belcher. “Together, you motivated and inspired countless others.”
Schulz said her son’s message was direct and moving. “Billy’s message, told in his unique language, repeated that every day was a good day, that we all have work to do, that we have friends everywhere, that it’s nice to laugh and relax, that you love your family, and that you go to church on Sunday because people are counting on you,” she said. “Even though he dealt with anxiety, frustration and health issues, just like the rest of us, Billy ended each presentation with ‘I got a good life.’”