William Lamkey Bear – 1996 Inductee

     “The decease of the Individual whose name forms the subject of this sketch was an event not entirely unexpected by his numerous friends.  For many months Col. Bear had been in declining health, and the flight of time had aggravated rather than alleviated the dread disease which, from the period of his continuous service in the Army, had fastened itself upon his system with increasing vigor and tenacity.  His ailment was chronic diarrhea, and for the past several years its progress had baffled all the varied medical skill that was summoned to his assistance, until, on last Friday evening, the 26th ult., his manhood paid the debt of nature, and his vital energies, ceasing further contest with the fell destroyer, suffered perforce that Death should set his seal upon his grim victory, while the immortals wrestling victory from defeat, hail an accession which enlists, with their ever augmenting forces, in the interminable service of the divine.

William L. Bear was born April 16, 1828, in Petersburg, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the son of Andrew and Elizabeth Bear.  At the age of fourteen years he was left motherless, and about that time he engaged himself as apprentice in the tailor trade [with his future father-in-law], at which he occupied himself for the ensuing seven years, at which time in the capacity of a journeyman tailor, he went to the city of Philadelphia, and pursued his vocation for over a year.  During the time that he was engaged at his trade, he had been very industrious in the pursuit of knowledge and added very largely to the substantial common school education that he had acquired prior to the time that he began his apprenticeship.  To a mind that disposed, and stored with knowledge, the sedentary life of a tailor would not be entirely satisfactory; and so we find young Bear hieing away from the crowded city to his native heath and engaging in the ever to be honored occupation of teaching school.  For more than twelve years he taught school at Lititz in Lancaster County, PA.  During these years he also added fresh acquisitions to his already extended culture, and became an unusually proficient teacher, a vocation for which he was not less completely qualified by natural endowment than he was by positive culture.  On July 1, 1851, he was married at Marietta, PA, to Miss Mary C. Young of Lancaster, PA, in whose estimable disposition, respectable culture and earnest zeal for every good work he found all the requites for a full partnership in the life work of being, living, and doing.  Together they had four children, Clara, Samuel, Oscar, and Clarence.

In the year 1860 we find Mr. Bear and family moved to Lancaster, PA, soon after which the great civil war with all its alarms, rang out upon the slumber of the nation; among those who awoke immediately to the terrors of the situation was William L. Bear, of Lancaster.  The pedagogic pursuits in which he had been engaged for years had neither chilled, diminished, or soured his patriotism, or emasculated his physical energies; so we find him as Second Lieutenant in the 1st regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, in which regiment he served the full time of enlistment–three years–during which time he became Captain of his company, and was serving in this capacity when he was discharged by reason of expiration of term of service.  His military enlistment record described the new recruit as being five feet, eight inches tall, black hair, blue eyes, and with a dark complexion.  On a second enlistment he became the Lieutenant Colonel of his regiment, in which capacity he was a second time discharged on expiration of term of service.  In 1866 he was appointed Inspector and Manager of the Soldiers’ Orphan Schools of Pennsylvania, in which capacity he was able to do a great deal of good by his services to the unfortunate children, a work for which his extraordinary kindliness and love for children preeminently fitted him.  In 1867 he was elected Prothonotary of Lancaster County, in which capacity he served for several years–a position of importance and responsibility.

In the year 1871 Col. Bear, in company with several others, formed an extensive colony in the neighborhood of Lancaster, PA, and emigrated to Kansas, locating in Osborne County, and established the town which eventually became the permanent county seat of the county, the name of Osborne City having been selected by Col. Bear himself.  This colony had a definite organization and after selecting all the different tracts of land that were necessary to supply the several individuals, they resorted to the novel and extremely democratic method of distribution of deciding by lot whose particular possession any tract might become.  It seems that all the members of the colony remained well satisfied with the allotments thus made, and all endured with great fortitude the privations of the frontier.

In 1872 Col. Bear was [the first county representative] elected to the [Kansas] legislature from his county [serving a one year term] and took a lively and intelligent interest in all the deliberations of that body, and interested himself particularly in procuring necessary supplies for the destitute of his section, who were not few in number, for they had come into the country poor and had not yet had time to raise a crop.  In 1874 a grasshopper invasion devastated crops and left much of Kansas destitute.  Relief committees were organized to handle the much-needed food and clothing being sent back from the eastern states, and Bear was asked to be secretary/treasurer of the five-county committee that included Osborne.  Although rumor suggested otherwise, in truth Bear’s committee handled distribution of the relief goods with singular fairness and generosity.  It was noted that the Bear family’s clothing seemed the worse for wear than everyone else’s, yet they never asked for any relief items while the crisis lasted.

At a period three years later [1875] the Colonel took up again the role of an educator and became Superintendent of Public Instruction in [Osborne County; again serving a one year term] and was busily engaged herein, doing efficient and faithful work, when he received an important call from his own native country again, and, after considerable hesitation as to leaving the land of his adoption, concluded to accept the call, and did return to Bethlehem, PA, and took charge of the Parochial Schools of the Moravian denomination, and in connection with other instructors carried on a large educational work at that place.  It was here that the disease which finally proved fatal, became alarmingly injurious to his health.  He was compelled to abandon the life of a teacher and in hopes of regaining health, he again returned to Osborne County and took up his residence [in Osborne City] with his son-in-law, R. G. Hays, Esq.  At this residence he spent the remainder of his days, declining rapidly, and finally sinking into that chronic subjection to disease, from which his most sanguine friends could scarce prophesy or hope for recovery.  His death had in store no surprises for the populace; but each one regarded the demise as a notable event in the history of the county, and all felt throughout the very numerously attended obsequies, that a very important factor in the community had been taken away.

In the life of Col. Bear no feature is more marked than his moral religious and humanitarian sensitiveness.  His nature responded promptly and generously to the religious and intellectual demands in his surroundings, and in the world at large.  His instincts were all in these directions, and he was well calculated to inspire kindred sentiments in his community.  He would spontaneously gather the children into the Sunday Schools, and life lost to him its value and significance if unhallowed by the faiths of his childhood.  His mind was of remarkable natural purity, so much so that the lightest obscenity, even if sparkling with wit, lost the faculty of pleasing.  His religion was as unquestioning and as free from all element of doubt as his patriotism, and to him religious progress lay entirely in the direction of a theoretical and practical appropriation of the great storehouse of the Christian Scriptures.  He was a man of intense and energetic nature, and the repression of his active temperament was, during his last years of sickness, the greatest trial of his patience.

And now that his ashes lie for final sepulture in the neighboring cemetery, carried thither by the respectful obsequies of his Masonic brethren, who reflect credit on their order by their care for their craft when the lights of life grow dim, we may say that many come and many go, and many there be that thread the aisles of the unseen world: yet few there be that live in our midst, in going hence, will mark the flight by a stronger sense of absence – a stroke upon the community, than is felt in the death of the subject hereof – Col. William L. Bear.”  – Frank H. Barnhart, editor, Osborne (KS) County Farmer, December 2, 1880.

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