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Longtime Hillsdale residents Bill and Elsie Hayward have traveled to more than 40 countries. Katie Scheu | Collegian
Longtime Hillsdale res­i­dents Bill and Elsie Hayward have traveled to more than 40 coun­tries. Katie Scheu | Col­legian

Hiding behind a thick line of pines off of a Hillsdale County backroad, a 140-year-old house peeks out between fat shrubs and a cluster of brick-red barns. A soft murmur passing between chirping birds fills the natural hush of the coun­tryside, and a couple cats yawn as they loll about on the front porch.

Welcome to the home of Bill and Elsie Hayward.

Bill Hayward, 83, has always lived on his family’s farm, manning it for 62 years. His wife, Elsie Hayward, 78, worked as a nurse at the Hillsdale Hos­pital for 40 years, and con­tinues to vol­unteer at a local clinic. Longtime Hillsdale res­i­dents, the couple still attends the church they got married in, Hillsdale First Baptist.

While the couple has made Hillsdale home, they haven’t been afraid to leave its embrace — Bill Hayward has traveled to 44 coun­tries, and his wife’s per­sonal record is just behind his own. From Bul­garia, to Aus­tralia, to Japan, to Thailand, to Myanmar, to India, to South Africa, to Latvia, to Denmark, to Nicaragua, to Hon­duras, the Hay­wards have left their mark all over the earth.

But they never leave a place without taking some­thing, and often­times someone, home for safe­keeping. The Hay­wards are the friend­liest of hosts, wel­coming strangers into their home and their hearts.

“Our house has a revolving door,” Elsie Hayward said. “All the inter­esting people we’ve met and friends we’ve made, they’ve been people we’ve added to our family.”

Bill Hayward’s love for travel began when he made his way through France, Germany, England, and other European coun­tries as a team chief in the army during World War II.

“When I was in the army, I traveled all over Europe,” Bill Hayward said. “I became addicted. I just think it’s so inter­esting to see all these dif­ferent cul­tures.”

Evi­dence of this fas­ci­nation with travel is all over the Hayward home: foreign trea­sures and trinkets from yearly vaca­tions dec­orate the walls, shelves, and tables.

The Hay­wards con­tinued to collect sou­venirs and friends when they started trav­eling through mission trips in the early 2000s with a program called Men for Mis­sions. After Bill Hay­wards initial 2002 trip to Brazil to do con­struction work — this time without his wife, who was recov­ering from back surgery — the Hayward’s have been on five inter­na­tional mission trips with Men for Mis­sions.

“I go to give, but I end up getting so much back,” Elsie Hayward said. “People to people do a whole lot more than gov­ernment to gov­ernment.”

2004 brought them to Ecuador, where they worked with a 12-person team to erect a medical clinic in a church with only two walls. Elsie Hayward, clad in pat­terned scrubs, assisted a doctor in treating long lines of patients: a woman with tuber­cu­losis, a man with fes­tering snakebites, a little boy with a tongue-tie. Bill Hayward manned the makeshift pharmacy, cutting pills and filling pre­scrip­tions.

“These little kids I got to be friends with would help me put labels on the pills,” Bill Hayward said. “They thought that was so great.”

Although farming is a full-time job, the Hayward’s pri­or­i­tized their travels and mission trips.

“We live in a 140 year-old house,” Bill Hayward said. “We chose not to spend our money on a house. We chose to spend our money on doing this. We’re per­fectly sat­isfied. If someone gave me $10 million, I’d go visit mis­sion­aries and leave the money all over the world. I would have no desire to go out and get a new house or a new car.”

A second trip to Brazil in 2006 intro­duced the Hay­wards to Luciana Sampio, 19 years-old at the time. Sampio visited the Hayward home twice before inviting them to her wedding, asking Bill Hayward to walk her down the aisle.

“It was quite the affair,” Bill Hayward said of the cel­e­bration, which took place amid the col­orful parades during the Car­nival of Brazil.

“It was so special,” Elsie Hayward said, recalling how sharp her husband looked in his snazzy wedding garb.

Just before the 2011 – 2012 school year, the Hay­wards embarked on another mission trip — this time right here in Hillsdale. The Hay­wards received a call from the United States Department of State, asking them to host Daniyar Allabergenov, a foreign student coming to the United States from Turkestan for 10 months.

Hes­itant to take a teenager into their home for almost a year, the Hay­wards agreed to a short-term stay until other plans could be made.

Those other arrange­ments fell through, but that didn’t matter.

“He got attached here,” Bill Hayward said.

“We got attached, too,” Elsie Hayward reminded her husband gently.

The Hay­wards said Allabergenov accli­mated to farm life and American family life quickly.

“The Hay­wards cared about me just like their real son and I am sure they still do,” Allabergenov said in an email. “When I stepped into United States for the first time, I was very young, all alone, and could barely speak English, but they accepted me into their family and every­thing became easier because I felt their support every second. I call them Dad and Mom because they have changed me in terms of shaping up my per­son­ality, manner, and char­acter — I really became a dif­ferent person.”

When Allabergenov’s year abroad came to an end, the goodbye weighed on everyone.

“It wouldn’t have been any harder to put my own daughter on that plane and say goodbye,” Elsie Hayward said.

Allabergenov isn’t the only teenager the Hay­wards have taken in. Mary Giberson, 20, has worked at the Hayward farm for five-and-a-half years, making the short commute from her home in North Adams, Michigan, a few times a week since she was just 15 years old.

“When I first started, I thought I was going to help with the cleanup after an ice storm,” Giberson said. “They ended up liking how I worked so much that they gave me a full time job, and I have just loved it.”

Although Giberson met the Hay­wards through her mother’s job at Hillsdale’s Sud-Z Coin Wash rather than halfway around the world, she’s had the same expe­rience anyone loved by the Hay­wards has had.

“They’re loving people,” Giberson said. “I couldn’t ask for anybody better to work for. They’re a lot more like family than bosses.”

Between their short-term adven­tures and lifelong friend­ships, the Hayward’s tale is one worth hearing, but not for its exotic set­tings and sur­prising twists. Rather, the story of Bill and Elsie Hayward warms the heart because of its incredible lead char­acters, who have spent their lives reaching out with open arms to their fellow man.

“You get so involved in people’s lives, and they in yours,” Elsie Hayward said. “God is so good.”

  • Sandy Daze

    Thank you, Katie Scheu, for this loving and tender story if two of Hillsdale’s finest cit­izens. I know the Hay­wards – they are the best of people. I know too that the Hay­wards look fondly upon the college, and often have stu­dents to their home for meals, an oppor­tunity to get away.

    They are loving people, whether it is their neighbors or someone else who needs a helping hand, one of their two dozen kittens (well, perhaps not that many!), or even to the cul­ti­vation of crops. They approach all that is good, true, and beau­tiful in life imbued with God’s Grace. Grace radiates from them in all things that they do.

    When I think about Hillsdale and the Hay­wards, there is not a better example of the well known saying,

    “It’s the People.”

    May God Bless the Hay­wards, may God Bless Hillsdale, may God Bless the College, and may God Bless you, Katie. Thank you for this won­derful essay.