LETTER: Bill Bruening made a difference in this world

Jessica Stepleton Stearn, Speaking Out

I recently received a call from my friend Charlie Clary, a long-time Destin Kiwanis club member, who shared the news of a fellow Kiwanis Club member and mutual friend who passed away just before the New Year.

My heart felt sad when I heard the words, even though it did not come as a surprise.

Our friend had been sick off and on for years. As a former Kiwanis Club member, I cherish all of the members with whom I served during my time in Destin. The Destin Kiwanis is special because of the people who make up the club. However, this particular member, this particular friend, was extra special and his name was Bill Bruening. 

Many people knew Bill. He served our country in and out of uniform for many years. He was a proud husband, father, grandfather and dear friend to many.

Most notably, Bill always had a smile and a kind word for everyone who crossed his path. But the one thing that keeps coming to mind since I heard the news of his passing is that Bill Bruening made a difference in this world. He was always involved in making his community better in some capacity and he was always encouraging others to do the same.

I recall a telephone conversation we had a few months ago.

His voice was weak, but his words were very strong. He spoke about the love he had for his family and the good work that was still being done by Destin Kiwanis Club members.

We talked about the 2009 Give BIG event we had worked on together, a project that helped feed 50,000 people locally and globally — a project that many people felt was a waste of time, but not Bill. 

Bill was the first person I approached about hosting a full-day charity music festival; his first response was “It sounds awesome, what can I do to help?” Bill Bruening knew how to lead, he knew how to inspire, and he knew how to get a job done. 

No matter what the task, Bill always asked, “What can I do to help?”

As the New Year unfolds, a common thread, which connects us all, is at top of mind.We wake up every day, ready to tackle our New Year’s resolution with a renewed spirit and enthusiasm. We all want to do more and be better.

To me, it is fitting that Bill left the world just as the New Year approached. As his death reminds me that the world can always be a better place, you just have to make a resolution to make it that way.

My heart goes out to Mimi, the beautiful family she and Bill created, and the Destin Kiwanis Club. Bill's words will always be with me.

I will try to be more like him, and I will forever ask, “What can I do to help?”

Jessica Stepleton Stern

Former Destin Kiwanis Club member and current resident of Arlington, Va.