A bright, blooming tulip was the flower William “Bill” Overdevest adored until his last breath. So his family honored that affinity with the Dutch flower by giving them away.
The 50-year-old farmer of Dutchtown and Ironstone Farms died April 7 of esophageal cancer. Doctors at MD Anderson Cooper in Camden recommended his treatments end after the cancer moved into his lymph nodes and lungs.
Overdevest left flowers to older brother Case, who found himself with an overflow of Easter flowers in Case’s greenhouse at Overdevest Nursery on Oakshade Road in Shamong. Longtime friend and Tabernacle resident Joe Ritter posted messages on Facebook that welcomed people to pick tulips, hyacinths and daffodils from the nursery on April 14, 15 and 16, asking in return a donation to M.D. Anderson Cooper, where Bill Overdevest first received treatment in 2017.
“They go into the greenhouse with the flowers, take what you want … then put whatever you want in the donation jar,” explained Case. “By 10:30 a.m., the parking lot was full and at 1 p.m. cars were out into the street and we were packed until at least 5 p.m.
“That was just on Tuesday.”
All of the nursery activity was done at safe distances with donors wearing masks, precautions against COVID-19. By Wednesday, only a few flowers remained.
Bill’s girlfriend Barbara Alton noted how he wrote down the names of medical personnel who took care of him at the hospital. Not only was the family able to donate to MD Anderson’s cancer center, but flowers were donated to residents in isolation because of the pandemic.
“Many people told me the flowers would be left on doorsteps of their family members who haven’t been out in weeks,” Bill’s older sister Nilah Gerlack detailed in a letter. “Some would go to neighbors.
“People were eager to brighten the day for so many in this hard time.”
Bill, Case Overdevest remembered, was always bursting with happiness and was full of energy wherever he went, including the ski slopes of Killington, Vermont, which he worked around his treatments to visit.
The avid skier made trips to British Columbia, Canada; Utah and Colorado, to any mountain with snow, Gerlack said. One trip was memorable for Ritter as he laughingly recalled Bill playing James Brown’s “I Feel Good” as loud as possible at 7 a.m. while making his morning beverage.
Loved ones play the song in his memory and recall his interactions with customers and others who saw him as a giver.
Needed a ski rack? He did it. Needed someone to kill a spider in the overnight hours? He did it. Needed a wood rack for a fireplace? He did that, too.
“The first year in our [my wife and I] new home, he spent Christmas break re-doing two of our bathrooms,” Ritter mentioned. “The only thing he left in there was the tub.”
Alton said Bill was willing to do everything and expected nothing in return. Customers at the nursery shared stories about how his flowers gave them purpose. One mother noticed her children showing signs of depression, and getting flowers “felt like a normal day.” Flowers were placed on neighbors’ doorsteps to spread cheer along a street.
Bill had final wishes before his death, among them to visit his sanctuary, the Dutchtown Cranberry Bogs off Rt. 206.
“We got (friends) Fred and Shawn Miller, the dog Cyrus and got him loaded up on Saturday (April 4) and off they went in two hours,” Alton remembered. “He had the biggest smile on his face.”
December Shover, owner of Medford’s A Rose in December florist, collected the few flowers that weren’t claimed at the nursery to raise an additional $600 for the cancer center. Case said a check for about $15,000 will be presented to the cancer research center in Bill’s name.
In a letter he wrote and provided to The Sun, Case said the Easter flowers provided hope during the pandemic “that soothes the situation we find ourselves in will end at some point.”
Further donations can be made in Bill Overdevest’s name to the cancer research center by mailing a check to 3 Cooper Plaza, Suite 500, Camden. Condolences can be shared through Bill’s obituary at Mathis Funeral Home of Medford’s website, at MathisFuneralHome.com.
“So, from Barb Alton, his girlfriend for 10 years, myself and family, and his many friends, we thank you for your help and generosity,” Case wrote on the site.