'You have to follow a passion'

Originally Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2014, 5:41 pm
Last Updated: Aug. 23, 2014, 11:13 pm
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By Dennis Moran, dobrydennis@yahoo.com

John Williams, of Andalusia, spent 30 years at the Rock Island Arsenal as a scientist and engineer, leaving in 1994.

The word "retired" doesn't seem to fit Mr. Williams, 75, who published his second historical novel earlier this year, and is a regular at Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts in Moline, where he earned his black belt in Shaolin kung fu in 2009.

The self-described "history nut" loves surfing the library stacks at his alma mater, Augustana College, for the joy of learning — and possibly for his next literary inspiration.

His second book "When the Nightingale Sings," is a fictional account of the last 11 days of World War II in Hitler's bunker as Berlin is being reduced to rubble. It's available on e-book and trade paperback through Amazon and Barnes & Nobles, and he hopes to have it stocked soon in local bookstores. The book is under his full name, John Ashton Williams.

The book is written from the perspective of a fictional character, Rudy, 14, a boy disabled by polio who works in the kitchen preparing food for the Nazi leaders.

Rudy was raised to admire Hitler, but that turns to hatred as he learns of Nazi atrocities and experiences the insanity of the claustrophobic bunker as the Third Reich collapses.

It's a coming-of-age story under great pressure. "He's kind of going through a transition from a 14-year-old boy to a 14-year-old man," Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Williams' longtime interest in writing caught fire in 1994 when he attended a summer writing workshop led by the late David R. Collins.

"I was always interested in writing, and I had retired in '94, and I thought, 'Well, I've got time,'" Mr. Williams said. "This conference came up, and I started it, and I just loved it. It was a whole week at Augustana every summer."

Mr. Williams wrote short stories and self-published his first novel, "Black Sails," set in the lead-up to World War I, in 2007.

A wrestler in high school and college, Mr. Williams got involved in martial arts in 1964, the year he graduated from Augustana with a degree in chemistry. He earned a black belt in judo and in 1966 spent eight weeks studying at the prestigious Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo.

"Humility, that's what I really learned" studying in Japan, he said. "I came back, and I guess it gave me a new perspective and a new passion or fire."

That showed itself after he returned with a Midwestern judo title in the 172-pound division in Kansas City.

Mr. Williams and his wife, Mary Carol, like to spend time with their five grandchildren, are avid gardeners and healthy eaters and like quiet time in the garden.

"I think it's one of those things that keeps you going," Mr. Williams said. "That's a big thing, too — keeping the interest, the passion. You've got to have a passion.

"I read a lot of Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, and he said you've got to follow your passion in life. You have to. You don't have a choice."


Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.

(More History)