My Heroes, Jane and Billy Schulz

Tom said that the story of my losing my voice was a good metaphor. At the moment, this web log platform is my voice. Today my voice wants to tell the world about my heroes

Doctor Jane Schulz receives awards
Doctor Jane Schulz receives awards

This will be a two part story of an amazing event that I witnessed with my whole family and a few thousand other people on December 15, 2012. It is about my mother, Dr. Jane Schulz, my brother, Billy Schulz, Chancellor Belcher from WesternCarolinaUniversity, and many others. We knew earlier this summer that a prestigious award would be presented to Mom and Billy on this date but we were not allowed to  spread the information around. It was astounding in my estimation that Western Carolina University was preparing to present both Jane Schulz and her son, Billy with honorary doctorates.  Tears were my first reaction to the news that Billy Schulz would have a doctor’s degree.  The news was overwhelming.

And then Billy died in September. During the time following that, Jane Schulz was afflicted with Bell’s palsy, among other things and was struggling to cope with numerous health problems. The university had decided to present the doctorate to her and to Billy posthumously. Mom was to give a speech.

My sister, Mary de Wit, has been a workhorse in the development of this story, working ceaselessly to plan for all contingencies that could be foreseen with the presentation of the award and with mom’s subsequent speech. My brother, Tom Schulz has helped greatly with his time, strength, and empathy.  Jos de Wit has been a pillar of strength, and Mom has also been helped by an amazing number of wonderful friends.

Mom has been frail recently. She has used a walker and a cane to get around. But let me tell you, there was no cane or a walker in evidence at the graduation ceremony.

And her voice which had been a bit challenged by her infirmity? The voice was strong, clear as a bell and to the point as she stood there at the podium and told the audience about Doctor Billy. She said:

“Here was this man, whose IQ measured below 60, relaying a message that inspired others.

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 to relax,
. that you love your family,
and that you go to church on Sunday because people are counting on you.”

When she finished the talk she was rewarded with a standing ovation. (Her entire speech follows the Chancellor’s presentation.)

We, the family, had known all along that she would pull it off because she loves to put on a show, but we had no idea that she would put on such a magnificent performance.  Way to go, Mom…

Anything else I have to say would be insignificant compared to the remarks made by Chancellor Belcher of WesternCarolinaUniversity and then followed by the vibrant acceptance speech from Jane B. Schulz, Doctor of Humanities. I will start with the presentation and follow it with mom’s remarks.  Get a few pieces of tissue and read on:

Honoris Causa
Dr. Jane Bolton Schulz and the late Mr. William Robert “Billy” Schulz blazed a trail for what could be – and what should be – the educational, vocational, and social opportunities afforded to people who have Down syndrome and special needs.
Dr. Schulz, you were a wife and mother of three with a fourth on the way when a doctor diagnosed your son Billy, who was born in 1956, with Down syndrome. He advised you to take Billy home and love him. Love him you did, so deeply and so fiercely that you became a champion for him and for the quality of life he could have. Together you became pioneers in special education and champions for all who have intellectual disabilities. Your journey involved risk. Refusing to accept that Billy could not start school until age eight, you secured a job at a school that allowed you, without a college degree, to teach kindergarten and to bring Billy with you.
Billy thrived, and you were inspired to expand those integrated classroom experiences in a landmark textbook you co-authored, Mainstreaming Exceptional Students: A Guide for Classroom Teachers.

As Billy became a man, you both found vocations. After discovering your exceptional gift for teaching, you enrolled at AuburnUniversity and  earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Inspired by your son, you  became a powerful force in the field of special education. You helped to bridge  the gap between the theoretical and the “real world” by drawing upon what you learned in your own life and from Billy’s.

As a faculty member at Western Carolina University for more than 20 years, you shared your experiences, ideas, and insights with thousands of students Along the way, Billy continued to show you that he and others with Down syndrome were capable of far more than many realized. He 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 earlier this year awarded him a pin for ten years of service.

As you delivered hundreds of presentations and workshops on improving special education, Billy overcame stage fright to join you at some of those talks. 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. Together, you motivated and inspired countless others.
You also developed a statewide program to train teachers to better work with special-needs students. Your ground-breaking work challenged educators in traditional classroom settings to embrace a bold new perspective when teaching children with disabilities and to see the potential that exists beyond a disability. You were instrumental in organizing the Special Olympics program in Jackson County, an effort that spilled over to surrounding counties across Western North Carolina, culminating in a large district meet held on the WCU campus. Your love for your own child and  your dogged determination to help build a better life for Billy have made it possible for many other special-needs children to reach far beyond what once was expected.
As you wrote in Grown Man Now, a poignant memoir chronicling the challenges and victories that you and your son took together: “Billy and I are like beans and corn planted together in an open field; one supplying the nutrient, the other providing the support. We believe that if you want to bring about change you have to be that change.”
Dr. Schulz, you and Billy have indeed brought about change by being that change. The rights and educational, vocational, and social opportunities  for people with Down syndrome have only just begun to catch up with what you, Billy and your family envisioned. In Billy’s role as son and brother, boy and man, and your role as mother and educator, you both blazed through uncharted territory and helped others realize what was possible and what should be normal for persons who have Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities. The field of education is far better today because of the contributions you both have made.
In recognition of these many accomplishments, in appreciation for enriching our communities, and in gratitude for raising the bar of our humanity, the Board of Trustees of Western Carolina University is pleased to award, and the Chancellor to confer, the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, upon Jane Bolton Schulz and posthumously upon William Robert “Billy” Schulz at this commencement ceremony, December 15, 2012, with all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining.



At this point, Mom took the stage.  She has always been a show person and we all knew she would make it, but she knocked that ball right out of the park. 


“Greetings: Chancellor Belcher, Distinguished members of the Platform Party, and Members of the Graduating Class: I never dreamed of receiving such an honor, and wish Billy could be here. He really deserved this more than I do.
I developed Bell’s palsy soon after Billy died, so please bear with me if my speech is difficult to understand.)
My family and I came to Cullowhee in 1971, looking for a fresh start. Like others here today, I found the career of my life at Western, in an environment that was stimulating and rewarding.
For those who are graduating, my wish for you is that you find an equally fulfilling fresh start.
Billy was the motivation for my career, and he was the one who made our presentations remarkable.Here was this man, whose IQ measured below 60, relaying a message that inspired others.
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 to relax,
. that you love your family,
and that you go to church on Sunday because people are counting on you.

Each of us can accomplish surprising things. In his presentations, and in his life, Billy exemplified that friendship has no boundaries, that each of us is important, and that all of us have contributionsto make in our community.
Billy made friends with everyone. “Hi, I’m Billy; you got a dog?” made it difficult for anyone to ignore him. We have heard from people we don’t even know who, frequently, would go in the store where Billy worked and be uplifted by his greeting and cheerfulness. We all miss him.
Even though he dealt with anxiety, frustration, and health issues, just like the rest of us, Billy ended each presentation with “an’ I got a good life.”
Looking out at all of you gathered here today, and thinking of the sense of purpose all of us represent, I think Billy would say, “Well, time to get to work!”
Last August, Chancellor Belcher called to tell us about the honor Western Carolina University intended to bestow upon us.During that time, Billy was sick with the beginning of the illness that led to his death. I sat on his bed and explained the honor to him.
   He asked, “Then who I be,Mom? Dr. Billy?”
And so, speaking for my amazing family, our devoted friends, for myself, and especially for Dr. Billy, thank you.”


 You will find more about Jane and Billy at

And thank you, dear reader, for helping me to use my voice.

And thank you Tom for calling it a metaphor.

John p. schulz aka johntheplantman.

Thank you for the blessing, Doctor Billy.
Thank you for the blessing, Doctor Billy.

Published by John P.Schulz

I lost my vocal cords a while back due to throat cancer. The laryngectomy sent me on a quest to find and learn to use my new, altered voice. I am able to talk now with a really small and neat new prosthesis. My writing reflects what I have learned in my search for a voice. My site publishes a daily motivational quote and a personal comment. I write an article a week for my blog, which deals with a lot of the things that I do in the garden. I am also the author of Requiem for a Redneck and the new Redemption for a Redneck--novels portraying the lives and doings of folks around the north Georgia hills. I have an English Education degree from the University of Georgia and very happily married to the lovely Dekie Hicks. You may enjoy my daily Quotes and Notes at

17 thoughts on “My Heroes, Jane and Billy Schulz

  1. Dear John: What an impressive story. We know you are proud of them and do thank you for sharing it with us. Merry Christmas to both you and Dekie. Sam and Virginia

    ________________________________ From: “Johntheplantman’s stories, musings, and gardening.” To: Sent: Sun, December 16, 2012 2:25:03 PM Subject: [New post] My Heroes, Jane and Billy Schulz John Schulz posted: “Tom said that the story of my losing my voice was a good metaphor. At the moment, this web log platform is my voice. Today my voice wants to tell the world about my heroes Doctor Jane Schul”

  2. John,

    Congratulations to your mom, Billy and your entire family. I am so happy to have met Billy and Jane. They both deserved this award.

    With warm regards,


  3. WOW…what two very special people, Dr. Billy and Dr. Jane!!!
    Tell Mom WAR EAGLE!!! and way to go…you have made a world of difference in the followers of Downs Syndrome!!! You are definitely a leader!
    and thank you John for sharing their story and MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and Dekie!!! Love ya, Connie and Harvey

  4. Works have a stronger voice than words. Coz Billy and Aunt Jane speak volumes as do you dear coz – grateful listener – God bless you!

  5. John, thanks so much for sharing this account. Fred and I were deeply disappointed that we were both ill and unable to attend. I had so looked forward to cheering my beloved friends on once again. Congratulations to all of you, as I know that such accomplishments take an on-going effort from the whole amazing clan.

  6. John, you are so blessed to have such a special mother. She, you and Billy have all touched my heart. My daughter in law is a special ed teacher’s aid, and I love the precious stories she tells me about the kids that she helps. Everyone has their own special purpose here on this earth. We learn so much from the children. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Congratulations to your mom and Dr. Billy. 🙂

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