Walter Wissman reads his Bible that was returned to him by Frank Buckley after Buckley found it in a ditch along Prince Street. The Bible fell of the roof of the car as Wissman was on his way to Bible study. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer
Frank Buckley was running errands with his sister Tuesday when he noticed the black, leather-bound book on the side of the road on Prince Street.
“I immediately knew it was a Bible,” Buckley said. “I asked my sister to turn around.”
Buckley said his sister was hesitant to execute a U-turn but relented.
“My sister thought I was nuts, but she understood,” Buckley said. “I couldn’t just leave it there.”
Examining it closely, Buckley saw what looked to be tire marks along the edges of the pages.
“It had obviously been run over by a couple of cars,” Buckley said. “I thought it was remarkable that it was in such great shape after all it had been through.” An inspection of the pages revealed multiple marked passages and notations in the margins. “I have my own family Bible, so I knew this was special to someone.”
At about the same time, the Bible’s owner, Walter R. Wissman realized one of his most cherished possessions was missing.
Wissman, 88, arranged a ride to Bible study with longtime friend Jim Van Sickel. According to Wissman, Van Sickel laid the Bible and study book on the roof of the car before assisting him into the vehicle. The two men headed to church, forgetting the books.
“I was shocked to learn the two books had fallen off,” said Wissman, who spent 30 years as a traveling minister for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I had lost my prized personal Bible and it had a lot of good notes.”
Meanwhile, Buckley had discovered Wissman’s name on the front page of the 15-year-old Bible.
“We happened to have a phone book and cell phone in the car,” Buckley said. “I found his name and started trying to call immediately.”
Van Sickel said he followed the same route on the journey home that evening but found only the study book.
“It was about a block and a half away from the house,” Van Sickel said. “We didn’t see the Bible.”
Wissman said he entered his home dejectedly, expecting to spend a sleepless night worrying about the whereabouts of his beloved Bible.
“The phone rang shortly after I arrived home,” Wissman said. “My joy knew no bounds when Frank told me he had found my Bible.”
After thanking Buckley profusely, Wissman graciously offered a monetary reward for the return of his prized possession. Wissman said Buckley’s reply was “beautiful in its simplicity.”
“No way!” Buckley said in response. “This is for God.”
When Buckley learned of Wissman’s age and arthritic condition — he depends heavily on a walker and the kindness of friends for transportation — Buckley offered to deliver the Bible the following day.
Buckley, 51, who has a life-threatening heart condition, said he believes in God but does not consider himself a religious man. He said he’s not sure if two years ago he would have stopped to retrieve the Bible.
“I have aortic dissection,” Buckley said. “I probably don’t have long to live. I guess when you are living on borrowed time, you see things a little differently.”
Wissman said the experience reinforced his belief in the goodness of Clovis people.