The Rev. William E. "Sonny" Hayman Jr. was a retired Lutheran minister who had pastored churches in Columbia and Dundalk.
The Rev. William E. "Sonny" Hayman Jr. was a retired Lutheran minister who had pastored churches in Columbia and Dundalk. (HANDOUT)

The Rev. William E. "Sonny" Hayman Jr., a retired Lutheran minister who led churches in Columbia and Dundalk, died of gastric cancer Tuesday at Osceola Medical Center in Kissimmee, Fla.

He was 66.

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"He brought joy and a very rooted sense that God is still at work in the world and that we're a part of it," said the Rev. Kristi E. Kunkel, pastor of New Light Lutheran Church in Dundalk. "He was well liked by his congregation and had a big laugh that could fill a room."

The son of William E. Hayman Sr., a New Castle County, Del., civil engineer, and Virginia Hayman, a homemaker, William Edwin Hayman Jr. was one of 10 children in the family and was raised in Wilmington, Del.

He was a 1968 graduate of Wilmington High School, where he was a star football player and an outstanding student.

At the University of Delaware, he was a linebacker for the Fighting Blue Hens and played in the 1969 and 1970 NCAA Division I East championship football games.

After earning his bachelor's degree from Delaware in 1973, he became an elementary school teacher and taught mentally disabled students in Wilmington public schools.

Mr. Hayman was also director of the Zion Lutheran Neighborhood House outreach and witness program, then developed his own youth services corporation, Camp Sonny Inc., which brought enrichment programs to disadvantaged Wilmington youth.

His work in the community resulted in him being named a finalist in 1983 and 1984 as Outstanding Young Man of Wilmington, Del., family members said.

Mr. Hayman was an executive, community service director and urban relations specialist with the Boy Scouts before entering the seminary.

"Even though he had been helping people, Bill felt a calling and wanted to serve God's people," said his wife of 29 years, the former Margaret R. "Marge" Hazewski, a retired Verizon information technology specialist who first met Mr. Hayman when they were in high school. They married after reconnecting years later.

After graduating in 1989 from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Mr. Hayman became pastor for three years at Messiah Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, then served one year as interim pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Philadelphia.

In 1993, Mr. Hayman became pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Living Word in Columbia, where he remained until 2001, when he took over as pastor of St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Dundalk.

"My husband was a member of the call committee that brought Reverend Hayman to St. Timothy's," said longtime parishioner Patricia D. Warfel of Dundalk. "He was well liked by the entire congregation. He was outgoing, gregarious and very spiritual."

Mr. Hayman took a particular interest in the children of the congregation. He advocated for the Sunday school, vacation Bible school and after-school activities for youngsters, Ms. Warfel said.

In addition to Sunday services, he also conducted Bible study classes, and visited the sick and shut-ins.

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"He was constantly on the road," Ms. Warfel said.

"He brought an exuberance to his sermons and he could be animated at times. It wasn't uncommon for him to break into a song in the middle of a sermon with his deep bass voice," she said. "His sermons were very pointed to where we are going in today's world."

"Here was something he was able to do as an African-American man serving a primarily white congregation — it was the way he helped people think through or confront racism, and he did it in a very loving way," Ms. Kunkel said.

Mr. Hayman could, at times, bring an unexpected sense of the comic to his sermons, such as when he requested that parishioners turn off cellphones when attending services.

"One time in the middle of his sermon, a cellphone started ringing — it was his. He answered the phone and said, 'Yes, God. Yes, God. OK, God,'" Ms. Warfel recalled with a laugh. "You never knew what was going to come from him."

Ms. Kunkel became acquainted with Mr. Hayman about eight years ago when they both attended a Lutheran leadership gathering.

St. Timothy's Lutheran Church, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and Lutheran Memorial Church, all in Dundalk, were consolidated to create New Life Lutheran Church, with Ms. Kunkel as its first pastor.

"Bill played a major role in the consolidation," Ms. Warfel said.

"He always preached the Gospel well, and I was blessed to serve in the legacy he left behind," Ms. Kunkel said.

In addition to his extensive work with the Delaware-Maryland Synod, Mr. Hayman served as president of the Dundalk Area Ministerial Association and was chaplain of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

He had also served as a race relations facilitator at Howard Community College, was on the board of Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center and was a supervisor with the Coalition for Compassion.

"He was always happy to pitch in with the Dundalk Area Ministerial Association, and he'd swing a hammer like everyone else when it came to working on a project. People from church joined in and they got the nickname 'Bill's Flock,'" Mr. Warfel said. "He'd also be busy painting signs for the annual Dundalk Heritage Festival."

A longtime resident of Sappington Road in Gambrills, he retired in 2010 and moved to St. Cloud, Fla.

Mr. Hayman enjoyed vegetable and flower gardening, which helped relief stress, his wife said. He also was a lifelong Disney fan, from the "theme parks to the movies — and everything in between," she said. "Disney cruises were his favorite vacations."

After moving to Florida, Mr. Hayman worked 18 months at the Walt Disney World Resort. "He worked at the Animal Kingdom stroller and wheelchair concession, and he loved it," his wife said.

In addition to collecting Disney memorabilia, Mr. Hayman was a dedicated genealogist who had traced his family to the 1650s through a vast collection of documents that he had collected.

He was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Kissimmee.

"Bill's love for God and his love for his family were the primary driving forces of his life," Ms. Hayman wrote in an email.

Plans for a memorial service to be held in November are incomplete.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Hayman is survived by two daughters, Kecia Hayman of Gaithersburg and Linda Hayman-Morales of Davenport, Fla.; four brothers, Edward Hayman of Tampa, Fla., Dale Hayman of Newark, Del., Jeffrey Hayman of Milwaukee and Wade Hayman of Dover, Del.; and a sister, Esther Welch of Glendale, Wis.

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