Bobbi (Bobette) Wilhelm
Our beloved Bobbi left this earth so unimaginably but left behind a very special legacy. Many family, friends, loved ones, and strangers have reached out and expressed the impact she has had on their lives. She was a beautiful, pure, and kind human with one goal: to make the world a better place. In her effort to achieve that goal, she supported civil rights for all, including combating social injustice, LGBTQ rights, racial inequality, women’s right to choose, the Me-Too movement, as well as the homeless members of her community. She saw everyone she met as worthy and was simply a believer in the human race.
It was her wish to not have a formal service but to encourage people to follow her lead and make the world better by giving back. She lived her life to always contribute to the ‘greater good’ and did nothing with the intention of personal gain.
Below is a story about homelessness she shared with a class at a university she was speaking at. Our hope is that after reading her story, in her words, we will all carry with us a little piece of Bobbi and work to make this world the way that she viewed it: beautiful, worthy, good, and most of all, kind.
“I’d like you to know who I am as a person before you know who I am as a formally precariously housed (technically homeless because I was couch surfing) person. We often make judgements about people who are in need, and most of the time those judgments are wrong. I don’t want you to see me as a person who did not have stable housing at a point in her life. I don’t want you to see me as a person who once used food stamps. We are people and should be seen for who we are as a person- not for a temporary station in life. I want to challenge us all to look beyond a label and see a person.
I am an economist, an energy analyst, a researcher, a cyclist, a hiker, a newbie skier, and I have traveled to crazy corners of the world alone. I am a sister, an aunt, and a friend, a dog lover, and a musician.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Economics, a master’s degree in Agricultural Economics, and I’ve taken enough statistics classes to make any normal person want to vomit (although I’d never consider myself a statistician). I am also a person who once struggled for housing and food security.
I felt a little awkward when Bill asked me to speak today because my story isn’t the ‘stereotypical’ story of homelessness. I never spent time in a shelter, I didn’t spend months on the streets, but I did spend time couch surfing, with no place to call home. I think my situation is the most typical of people who have temporary loss in housing.
My stint as a person without permanent housing lasted a few months. In those months, I took odd jobs for money. To be honest, the period after couch surfing wasn’t easy either.
After couch surfing, I spent 6 months on food assistance, a year in poverty, and I lived in a converted garage because it was the only place I could afford. I still carry around my food stamp card-even though I haven’t used it in 13 years. I give money to people holding signs on the side of the road. It’s none of my business what they spend money on, but it is my business if they go hungry because I failed to act.
When I hear people talk about homelessness, they assume people who are homeless are: alcoholics, drunk, deadbeats. I have never used an illegal substance, I have never smoked a cigarette, and I’ve never drank alcohol. Certainly, I’m not deadbeat.
My last 6 months of graduate school, I applied for about 120 jobs, with two interviews and no job offer. I had a choice: move home or take my chances in the Seattle area, where jobs were more plentiful. During the two years of my graduate work, I watched my very talented and intelligent friend struggle to find a job in our hometown, with nothing but minimum wage jobs available.
The choice was easy. I took my chances and I headed to Seattle. I had no money, so I took my violin to a pawn shop and I sold it. I sold the one thing of value I had, and the one thing I had that defined my existence in elementary, middle school, and high school. I sold my violin so I could eat. I headed to Seattle, and I spent a few months couch surfing. I wasn’t in that situation because I was lazy. I was there because it was something that happened as I tried to give myself a fighting chance at life.
I couch surfed for a few months, and I spent a week in a complete stranger’s house.
I finally landed my AmeriCorps position that paid a whopping $740/month (in Seattle). The cheapest place I could find to rent was a converted garage for $400/month. As part of my AmeriCorps duties, I taught math at school for the homeless youth. My students were between 15 and 21. They were living on the streets and in shelters for various reasons: some were kicked out of their homes for being gay or transgender, one was kicked out for not wanting to attend her parent’s church, and one was kicked out for being ‘difficult’. The others left home because of abuse. These kids, despite living in shelters and being on their own, showed up to class every day ready to learn. They wanted to be homed, they wanted jobs, they wanted to go to college, they wanted families, and they wanted to be loved. They weren’t doing drugs and they weren’t lazy. Despite being homeless, every single one of them passed the math portion of their GED within 6 months of starting the math class. They worked their tails off. They aren’t your stereotypical homeless person wither- because no one is.
As a person who spent time on couches and time teaching at a school for homeless youth, I feel a bit sensitive to the words people use to describe the homeless members of our community. Notice that I don’t ever say, ‘the homeless community’ because there aren’t two communities of people here. There’s one. We are all the same community.
I have a great life, I have friends, I have a job, I have food in my refrigerator, I have a healthy 401k balance, I have an emergency fund, I get to ride my bike in some of the most beautiful landscape on the planet. I’m ok, but it wasn’t without the help of the Washington State Food Assistance Program, the sliding scale dental office who pulled my wisdom teeth for $25, the friends who let me surf on couches, the strangers who opened their homes for me, and the employers who took a risk and hired me. The only thing that separates me, and really separates all of us, from homelessness and poverty is luck and programs like the ones Bill and Brenda run. I am walking example that it isn’t education, work ethic, or various reasons we put in our heads every day. It’s luck. It’s my greatest hope that next time you see someone who needs a hand up, you give them two because luck is the only thing that separates us.”
Her final piece of wisdom, posted with a picture during her last ride, reads as follows; “social distancing is not so bad when your road bike is your best friend. You might just have the Time of your life. #timebikes” Bobbi’s last message to the world should encourage us all to never stop living life to the fullest, keep doing what you love, cherish your loved ones and hold them close, take care of this planet because it’s beautiful, time is short but you can make a difference, and most importantly: be kind to all.
In lieu of flowers please continue Bobbi’s mission and donate to any local charity that supports those in need. Some she supported are Aid for Friends, Big Mama’s House, The Pocatello Animal Shelter, Bannock Humane Society, and the PAWS program. Please know that per her wishes, she will be cremated and no formal service will be given. A memorial or remembrance will be hosted at a later date due to the social distancing facing our community at this time. Look for updates on that on Barrie’s Ski and Sports Facebook page.
We would like to give a special thanks to all the kind and truly lovely people who have supported Bobbi and all of us during this difficult time: Idaho Falls Power for their swift communication and concern, the countless volunteers who came out in droves and dropped everything to help find peace for Bobbi and bring her home, The Bannock County Sheriff’s office and Idaho State Police for the compassion they have shown and meticulous yet diligent work to find the person responsible, the Bannock County Search and Rescue for their sensitivity and kindness in Bobbi’s recovery, Colonial Funeral Home for the care they have shown in carrying out her final wishes, and the many, many people who have reached out and shared stories of what a blessing she was in their lives. We appreciate and love every one of you.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Bobette Wilhelm, please visit our floral store.