Our beloved husband and father William (Bill) Davis Salisbury went to be with his Savior on September 10, 2023. Bill passed away in his own home, surrounded by his family. He was 89 years old.
Bill was born to Clarence Ruez Salisbury and Tessie Berg on June 6, 1934 in New York, New York. He lived in Englewood, New Jersey as a youth, and there he made his lifelong friends Charlie, Ernie and Miles. He loved his highschool days playing baseball and football at Dwight Morrow High School and later would repeatedly, with relish recount all the joys of his childhood.
College days followed at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia where Bill studied History. A special memory of his for the rest of his life was playing baseball during a Davis and Elkins reunion alumni game in the spring of 1989. The team designated him “most Valuable Player” and awarded him the game baseball. One college summer his close and lifelong friends Bob and Dave Genberg, invited him to church, and Bill trusted in Jesus Christ as his Savior.
Bill graduated with a Bachelor’s degree. He continued his studies at Northeastern Bible Institute in Essex Fells, New Jersey to learn more about the Lord. In one of the chapel services, the ventriloquist Betty Worrall spoke to students of how they could reach kids for Christ using ventriloquism. Bill felt God calling him to this ministry. He prayed that if God truly wanted him to do this, He would have to provide a dummy. Bill was working in a fish store the following summer when the owner gave him an old ventriloquist doll that he happened to have up in the attic. The doll was moth-eaten with no arms or legs so Bill put a suit coat on him and a pair of pants. This was how he began.
After graduating from Northeastern in 1959, Bill worked at Children’s Bible Fellowship (CBF) in Queens, New York. In 1964 “Uncle” Win Ruelke, founder and director of CBF invited Bill to be Director of Evangelism in charge of the organization’s city ministry doing street and beach evangelism. In the summers Bill managed and worked alongside volunteer college students delivering thousands of packets of Christian literature to countless high-rise apartment buildings in NYC. Using donations which came in to the exact dollar amount needed, Bill purchased the ventriloquist doll he named “Uncle Cousin” who would become his lifelong sidekick. They traveled the streets of New York City for 12 years sharing the gospel with many children. “Uncle” Win introduced Bill to his nephew the gospel singer Ed Lyman, and Ed served with Bill on many occasions. Ed inspired Bill to travel with his ministry, and the two remained lifelong friends.
When Bill met his future bride and missionary partner Karen Kuell at CBF it was love at first sight. He asked her if she would try out a ventriloquist doll. “If I knew that she would be better than me,” he used to joke, “I would never have asked her!.” They were married in 1969.
Shortly thereafter Bill and Karen moved to Florida as Bill became the children’s pastor and head of bus ministry at Northside Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. Their children Billy and Christi were born in 1972 and 1977 respectively. In 1971 Bill and Karen felt called back into evangelistic work, so they retired from church ministry and founded Children’s Gospel Crusade.
Soon after Bill teamed up with Bahamian pastor “Uncle” Willie Pinder of Spanish Wells in reaching Bahamian children for the Lord, a ministry partnership and friendship which was lifelong.
With Children’s Gospel Crusade, Bill and Karen began traveling up and down the east coast of the U.S, Canada and the Bahamas doing evangelistic meetings, missionary conferences, Daily Vacation Bible Schools and summer camps using ventriloquism, puppets, magic, songs, fluorescent flannelgraph and Bill’s unique creation—original five day adventure story slide shows acted out by Barbie dolls!
Bill wrote all his own material, culminating in what now appears to be hundreds or even a thousand different skits, shows and stories, some of which have been used as material in the 10 books he authored. In the mid 1960s through 1970s he made several records including Flyin’ Hi!, The Revolutionary War with Uncle Cousin, and Adventures of Uncle Cousin with Ed Lyman.
In the early 1980s while in Florida, Bill created the radio program “The Uncle Cousin Show” which was originally broadcasted over the Carribean and aired for several years. It was a half hour show of skits, lessons, stories, music and missionary interviews. In 2019 Bill revived the program by putting former episodes onto the podcast platform.
After living in Florida for 16 years, Bill and Karen decided to move to a more central position on the eastern seaboard. During the drive north from Florida while looking for a new location, Billy had a headache as they neared Lynchburg, so they stayed overnight at the Lynchburg Motel. They stayed in the hotel for a few days looking for a house, bought one a few weeks later, and have remained in Lynchburg ever since. Bill and Karen became supported missionaries and members of Heritage Baptist Church where they were blessed to be a part of the missionary family.
“Uncle Bill” was faithful ministering to children 60 years before “retiring” in 2020. Together he and Karen, the perfect team, traveled to 6 continents, doing extensive ministry in the schools of the Bahamas and around and up and down the United States. In 2022 Bill was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer, but still he served the Lord as he was able. Three weeks before his passing, Bill used Uncle Cousin for the very last time and shared missionary stories from his wheelchair at Jordan Baptist Church in Lynchburg, where Bill and Karen attended Sunday evenings.
Bill loved his flower garden, baseball and the New York Yankees, the Three Stooges, O-gauge Lionel trains, his dogs (all named Mickey) Golden-age Hollywood movies, old-time radio shows, and cowboy singers like Wilf Carter. Bill leaves a legacy of faithfulness to the Lord, having shared the gospel with thousands of children. His humor, brilliant creativity and easygoing nature made him easy to love. His treasured friends will miss the old stories, playing card games together, his witty quips and calm presence. His wife and family will never forget the sound of his yodel, the zany jokes, and the countless ways he quietly showed he loved and supported them. He was respected and loved wholeheartedly.
Bill is survived by his devoted wife Karen B. Salisbury, his adoring children William “Billy” S. Salisbury (Antje) of HIghland Mills, New York and Christi L. Howell (Sam) of Lynchburg, VA and his grandchildren Frida, Willa, Laila, and Benji.
A visitation will be held Friday, September 15, 2023 from 6 – 8 p.m. in the chapel of Heritage Baptist Church. A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, September 16, 2023 at 11 a.m. in the chapel of Heritage Baptist Church.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to Children’s Bible Fellowship at www.cbfny.org.
Tharp Funeral Home & Crematory, Lynchburg is assisting the family.