William Younkins is pictured with his daughter Jayne Teeter on June...

William Younkins is pictured with his daughter Jayne Teeter on June 6, less than a week after his 100th birthday. Younkins was a coal miner who later served in World War II before becoming a long-time minister on Long Island. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

William Younkins has packed a lot of living into his 100 years of life.

The longtime Amity Harbor resident worked in a Pennsylvania coal mine before the government drafted him into the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he served as an airplane dispatcher in the Pacific arena during World War II.

Younkins wanted to go to college, and the only one he knew of was a theological college in Nyack, so that’s where he later went on the G.I. Bill. He became a minister for the Bellmore Alliance Church in 1954, a position he held for four decades. 

After his retirement, Younkins, a father of five, continued his ministry work for several years as a visiting pastor for First Presbyterian Church of Babylon by tending to the sick and dying.

Younkins and his late wife Betty Grace, who were married just shy of 70 years before her 2017 death, watched their home flood during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and spent four years living out of state as it was repaired and raised.

Neighbor Will Clark, 58, called Younkins, who has lived in Amity Harbor for 30 years, a “cornerstone of the area” who has helped guide the local civic association. Younkins’ generosity and sense of community extended into his work as a minister, according to some of his former mentees and colleagues.

The Rev. Billy Smith, 57, of upstate Guilderland, started going to Younkins’ church in Bellmore as a young boy.

“I’ve known a lot of pastors, I’ve been in a lot of churches,” Smith said in an interview. “But he’s the one who really showed me what the heart of a pastor is like.”

The Rev. John I. Snyder, 78 of Munich, Germany, was a pastor in Babylon with Younkins and called him “one of the best colleagues I ever had” as well as “one of the most godly people I’ve ever met.”

Younkins, who is legally blind and has hearing loss, recently shared with Newsday some of his most impactful experiences and the lessons he’s learned in his century of life — which he marked in early June.

Can you share some memories from your work as a coal miner? 

Younkins recalled breathing in the coal dust, a danger he said eventually caused his father, a fellow coal miner, to die from black lung disease. Others he knew from his neighborhood lost their lives in mine cave-ins.

“It was a hard job and you had to be careful,” he said. “It was dangerous. Two of my neighbors were killed as young men down there.” 

How did you feel after returning home from World War II?

After the war ended, Younkins said his sister greeted him as he walked up to his family’s home. She opened the door and yelled out “Bill’s home! Bill’s home!” he recalled.

“It was the sweetest words ever spoken to a returning soldier,” he said. “To hear ‘You’re home, you’re safe’ … I was just so happy I didn’t have to come home in a box … I could come home and walk and talk with my parents again.”

What kept you going as a minister all those decades?

“A love of people,” he said. “What compels you is the ability to make changes in the lives of other people. To this day people come up and thank me for my ministry, and we’re talking about 70 years now.”

Being a minister helped dissolve his innate shyness, he said, and taught him discipline and compassion.

“I wasn’t very good at it sometimes but I kept plugging away,” Younkins said. “Some of my sermons were pretty bad stuff. But I knew I had an impact even with the bad sermons.”

What did you learn from ministering to the sick and the dying?

“There’s no greater joy I could have than to help someone enter heaven,” he said.

Younkins said he often would sing songs, such as “Amazing Grace” with those he visited.

“I found that singing is one of the most important things you can do for a person,” he said. “People love to be heard. They want to hear their own voice and hear the voice of others. It’s a sweet melody.”

What other advice would you give based on your 100 years of living?

“Not to be too smart,” he said. “To take correction, to be humble … just be a good listener.”

He said, as a minister, he discovered early on that the most important thing in life comes down to one thing: love.

“The greatest thing we can do in life is to love people,” Younkins said. “With a loving heart people will accept your faults and they will embrace your love.”

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