By Linda Williams Bateman
It was the simple things. It was the motherly way. It was her loving heart. It was Jesus shining through her busy day. He was her constant.
Chinese checkers with the boys, working in the flower beds with the boys, Bible study at the kitchen table with the boys — Fern loved her Ranch boys unconditionally. She wanted them to know Jesus and the true love available to them.
Oh, how she loved her own boys at home, Timothy, Thomas, Titus, Thaddaeus and Theophilus (better known as James). Fern and her husband, Jerry, lived in Scripture.
She loved us all in the same way. She loved sharing the Word with tender hearts in a teenage girls’ class or an auditorium of women gathered to hear her tell of answered prayers. I can hear her songs of Scripture as she gathered the ladies of the community around her dining room table. She loved the friendships developed in her kitchen as she prepared a meal. Hospitality was woven into each day as she welcomed new friends and lifelong dear ones.
As gentle as she was, she also was tough. Her strong, sometimes stubborn, Oklahoma heritage fortified her when life’s struggles would have taken most women down. Fern kept doing what needed to be done. If a dear neighbor needed a kidney, Fern Hill was ready, even at 70, to fill that need. If her sweetheart, Jerry, needed to go across the country for a fundraising dinner, she would pack her little bags of work to do and ride along beside him. If a group of 15 or 20 volunteers suddenly came in her front door, she would have taco salad on the table within minutes. Then she would join Jerry in singing “welcome to our family,” as hands were held and tears flowed.
Fern wrote her first book, Graduation to Glory, in 1974. It was the story of the too-short life of her son, Timothy, and his dreams of serving at-risk and hurting boys. With proceeds from that book, Jerry and Fern began the journey to fulfill Timothy’s dream, and today young men are lovingly housed in four states.
It was sitting alongside her as she wrote her second book that helped me see into the heart of Fern Hill. In Gifts from Glory she shares her trust and dependence on God to answer her requests. As a Father, he wanted to hear her prayers. Time and time again, her requests were answered, often in surprising ways. She knew she was a daughter of the king.
Struggling with cancer was a difficult 10-year journey. Yet, when asked how she was doing, she responded with, “practically perfect in every way.” She protected her body as much as possible. Fern took vitamins and supplements, did a little workout most mornings to remain flexible and mobile, purified her water, and made opportunities to swim as often as she could. She was busy in her kitchen making brown bread, granola or popcorn to share with Jerry during a movie night. She found pleasure in sharing moments with her grandchildren, whether they lived nearby in Riverhead or were visiting from Tennessee. She was determined not to let cancer get in her way.
Even in her final week, I believe she pleaded with her Lord, “Give me just one more!” and then witnessed a stranger become white as snow. How did she lead him to Jesus when she had little breath left in her weary body to teach? She asked him to sit at her bedside and read the book of Acts. She always said Scripture would do the teaching. Within days, they made the journey to the neighborhood lake where he became her brother in Christ.
In October I drove to Long Island to spend a few days at the Ranch. It was my first time visiting when Fern was not there. However, her light, her fingerprints, her words will continue to encompass that campus for many years to come. Lives have been touched, a legacy left like no other. Fern continues to grow, and she is now “perfect in every way!”
Linda Williams Bateman (’66) serves on the board of Timothy Hill Ranch. Her close friend, Fern Hill, co-founder and matriarch of the Timothy Hill Ranch, Riverhead, New York, died May 17, 2021. Hill’s obituary can be found here.