For most of Bill Koeneker’s Southern California life, he always wore swim trunks under his clothing, regardless of where he was. When telling me about this, he said his reason was any day could turn into a beach day, and he needed to be prepared. For nearly 30 years, Bill lived in a modest trailer above Trancas Canyon with no car and, for most of the time, no phone of any kind. He represented the Malibu spirit of the rural lifestyle with a deep appreciation for the coast. And his love for Malibu was evident in the conversation-style articles he wrote every week for three decades in the Surfside News. Today, Bill is down on his luck and could use help from the many friends and fans he has gained over the years.

The current home of Bill, who turns 71 in March, is the Shoreline Care Center in Oxnard, where he shares a room with two other patients. He suffers from physical and mental challenges (the latter brought on by the loss of his home in the Woolsey Fire) while battling cancer. Like many in Malibu, Bill lost nearly everything in the November 2018 fire, including his uninsured home as well as most of the items in it. All Bill had left were a few sets of clothes and other supplies he was able to grab from his home before evacuating. His inventory has only gotten smaller. 

This past Sunday, I visited Bill at what is hopefully his temporary home. I asked him what topped his list of needs. He told me he needed somebody to help him navigate through the paperwork challenges: medical insurance, Woolsey Fire recovery offerings, social security and others. I also noticed he needs the basics to make life more livable: a computer, cell phone, reading material and visitors (he’s in Room 40C; come visit!). Also, he needs help covering the cost of his treatments and life’s basics. 

When I told Bill I’d be writing this article, he asked me not to do it because he likes to “lay low.” That’s Bill: a man much more comfortable offering help than receiving it. But after some discussion, he agreed that even a do-it-myself independent man like him has reached a point where he needs assistance. There is no shame in this.

Bill hasn’t worked full-time since the Surfside News unceremoniously let him and the rest of the staff go in 2013. This quietly ended what may have been the longest reporting career on the Westside, at least in recent memory. While Bill didn’t like being forced out, he quickly fell in love with retirement. He enjoyed no longer being on deadline and still getting to enjoy the Malibu life, in the modest way that he lived it. Although I was living at the time in Boston, he and I kept in touch regularly on the phone, and he told me about the latest news in Malibu. Bill was no longer keeping track of things professionally, but he was still very aware of what was happening. Then came the fire.

How can you help Bill get back on his feet? There is a GoFundMe page his friend Annette and I set up in the days after the fire. Thank you to those who supported Bill through that very difficult time so he could afford temporary housing and other basics. The page is still functioning (find the link below). Also, if you or someone you know could guide Bill through the paperwork and related needs or have any other ideas on how to help him, please post a message on the GoFundMe or contact me at jonathanjournalism@gmail.com and I will connect you with him. 

Please keep in mind that Bill might resist any offers of help at first, but after a calm reality check, he will accept them. Bill has a 90-plus-year-old father living in his home state of Missouri, so his genes say he still has a lot of life left to go. Let’s help Bill get back on the right track so he can enjoy those years.

Learn more at gofundme.com/bill-koeneker-malibu-fire-victim (or just type “Bill Koeneker” in the search bar at the top of gofundme.com).

Jonathan Friedman is a former associate editor of The Malibu Times who recently returned to Southern California. He can be reached at jonathanjournalism@gmail.com.

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