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WEDNESDAY. Jan. 13 – Bill Beachler, with his “perfect hair” and “remarkable presentation,” was an ever-present figure at nearly every LGBT and HIV related organizational event and activity in the Capitol City for decades. But on Tuesday January 12, the former state department of transportation employee, Spartan alumni and longtime publisher of the Lansing Association for Human Rights newsletter, passed away. He was 70.
Gary Hicks, a retired attorney in Lansing, has known Beachler since their days as undergrads at Michigan State University. He said in the summer of 1976, when he came out, Beachler was one of the people he struck up a friendship with.
“It was probably due to our being alumni of MSU, his love of sports and his participation in the community,” that caused the friendship to “bloom,” Hicks said.
Beachler was involved in the very early days of the Lansing Association for Human Rights. Hicks said he was in attendance at every meeting of the group from the late 70s on. For decades Beachler also served as the publisher of the organization’s monthly newsletter.
“He relished his role as publisher of the newsletter because it allowed him to keep in contact with the different organizations and promote what they were doing,” said Hicks.
That early and lifelong commitment to the community made him a storehouse of history for the local community said Hicks. Penny Gardner, president of LAHR, said he was “an institution.”
Activists and community leaders noted that Beachler was particularly proud of the formation, in 2000, of a scholarship for LGBT students. State Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) was the second student to receive that scholarship.
“He wanted to get to know each winner of the scholarship,” Hoadley said in a phone interview Wednesday from the floor of the state House. “As a freshman he took me to lunch at Clara’s – someplace I had never been to before – and he shared all this history and culture of the LGBT community that I, as a person from South Dakota, simply had no idea about. That mentorship was pivotal in the next choices I made to get involved.”
Hoadley said the scholarship introduced him to educational advocacy and empowered his love for politics. Hoadley became one of the state’s first openly gay lawmakers two years ago.
Beachler was a long time employee of the Michigan Department of Transportation, and the department named a rest area in Allegan County near Saugatuck after him upon his retirement.
But Hicks said there was more to Beachler than the politics. He said the former farm boy from Independence, Iowa loved euchre – spending two or three nights a week playing the card game and participating monthly in tournaments.
Hoadley said Beachler left “some big shoes to fill.”
“There is no question that the state of Michigan and the LGBT community lost an institution in Bill Beachler,” said Hoadley.
Local politicians and leaders have also been weighing on Beachler’s passing.
“We served on the MSU LGBT Alumni Association together for many years, and I worked closely with him on AIDS and LGBT related events when I was with the city,” wrote Jean Golden, a retired deputy city manager for the city of East Lansing. “Even before that, we worked together advocating for people with disabilities when he worked for the state Dept. of Transportation. For many years now, we have shared our thoughts, difficulties, and successes in our lives together, every Monday night. He was the glue that held us all together – in every organization he worked with. He put in the daily effort to accomplish the tasks that needed to be done, even when many of us faltered. He was a tireless advocate, a generous donor who established the first LGBT scholarship at MSU. He was maddeningly exacting at times, but always with the noblest of intentions. He cared. He was good to his soul, which is now free to soar unencumbered by illness or age. I am grateful to have known and worked with him. I will miss him very much.”
His impact on the city was reflected in a statement from Carol Wood, a city councilmember at-large.
“Bill Beachler has made a enormous impact on the lives of many,” Wood said in her statement. “His dreams of inclusive community and his willingness to work for that has help to change the fabric of our region. From the establishment in January 2000 of the Pride Scholarship Fund at MSU, to publisher of LAHR LGBT News, Bill has given countless hours, resources and talent to enlighten us as individuals. Words cannot express how much he will be missed.”
And Barb Byrum, the Ingham County Clerk and former state representative has also weighed in.
“Today we lost a true trailblazer for equality,” said Byrum in a written statement. “Bill Beachler will be missed dearly but his presence will remain with us at every equality event going forward, because we all know he would be there if he could. Because of Bill’s work and the work of so many other trailblazers, we have made major strides for equality, but we still have a long way to go. Let’s make Bill proud as we continue the fight in his honor.”
Beachler’s brother, Jim, said funeral arrangements were still being planned and would include services in both Michigan and his native Iowa.