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Published: Sunday, 10/21/2001

Retired pastor worked to pass living-will legislation in Ohio

FREMONT - The Rev. William G. Slates, who was a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Fremont for more than 20 years and worked to pass living-will legislation in Ohio, died Thursday in the Walnut Hills Nursing Home in northeast Ohio's Walnut Creek.

He had Alzheimer's disease since the early 1990s, his daughter, Mary Hockenbery, said.

Mr. Slates lived on Taft Avenue in Fremont from 1970, when he became a pastor at Grace Lutheran, until 1995, when he moved to Walnut Hills. He officially retired in 1990 but continued his visitation work with the church until he moved.

He was one of a team of pastors at Fremont and his assignment was visitation and counseling, which was what he enjoyed most.

“He had a real pastor's heart,” said David Hammel, pastor at St. John's Lutheran Church in New Bedford, Ohio, which was Mr. Slates' first parish. “A real care for his people.”

Mr. Hammel visited a couple in the 1970s or 1980s who told him how much they appreciated Mr. Slates' visits when their son was killed in an auto accident in 1939.

Mr. Slates was born near Kilgore in eastern Ohio's Carroll County. He was the only child of a farm couple, and his mother told him after he decided to become a minister that she had prayed he would choose that work.

He graduated from Capital University in Columbus in 1933 and Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, also in Columbus, in 1936. As a student during the Depression, he sold silk stockings door to door and did cleaning and lawn work.

He was a chaplain in Pittsburgh at the Allegheny County jail and Passavant Hospital until 1937, when he was assigned to his first parish, St. John's Lutheran Church in New Bedford, in northeast Ohio's Coshocton County.

There he met his future wife, the former Helen Ruess, a farmer's daughter whose family attended the church.

He remained at the church, which probably drew about 50 people to Sunday services, until 1944, when he went to St. John's Lutheran Church in Sweet Air, Md., where he was the pastor until 1952. That year they moved back to northeast Ohio where Mr. Slates became the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Hubbard, near Youngstown.

He was interested in genealogy and traced his family's line back to a Hessian soldier who deserted in the American Revolution. Mr. Slates traveled West to research the lives of relatives.

He wrote his own “living will” before laws were passed in Ohio, and pushed the legislature to allow people with terminal conditions to choose to die without further medical intervention.

“He really felt that people should be able to die with dignity,” his daughter said.

He enjoyed tennis and handball and could identify many trees and birds on walks with his daughters. He developed black and white film in his basement and often superimposed shapes or used double images for his pictures. He wrote some poetry and liked to read about politics, religion, and philosophy.

Surviving are his wife, Helen; daughters, Lois Harrod, Mary Hockenbery, and Ruth Slates; five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 2 p.m. tomorrow in St. John's Lutheran Church, New Bedford, with visitation an hour before the service. The Smith Funeral Home, Sugarcreek, Ohio, is handling arrangements.

The family requests tributes to the Alzheimer's Association.



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