STX Historian William Cissel Dies In Ohio

William Fleming Cissel (Contributed photo)
William Fleming Cissel (Contributed photo)

St. Croix lost one of its most knowledgeable historians when William Fleming Cissel (Bill) passed away May 1 in Ohio.

For years anyone who had a question about St. Croix’s history knew Bill was the go-to guy to get answers.

Even his home was touched and filled with island history. The Great House of Estate La Reine, built around 1750, has been in his family’s hands since the early 1840s and still is. First it was a sugar plantation, then a cattle farm. In recent years many of the 225 original acres have been sold off and housing developments have been built, but his family still owns the house and 40 acres. The house is furnished with antiques. In the 1990s he spent 19 months restoring the house to the way it looked in its early years. He told the Source in a 2005 interview that being in the great house as a child and hearing the stories of old days is what fed his interest in being a historian.

He was born in Christiansted in the old hospital at Peter’s Farm, a 10th-generation Crucian, the first son of Norman Ralph and Dorothy Elizabeth Adelaide Fleming Cissel.

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He attended St. Mary’s Catholic School in Christiansted and graduated from St. Joseph’s Catholic High School, Frederiksted, in 1969. He received his associate’s degree at the then College of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus before transferring to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in modern European history with a minor in curatorial and museum management.

When he was not giving historical information out to visitors and locals on the streets he was often called to give talks at historical conferences.

When the Department of Planning and Natural Resources Division of Libraries brought the traveling exhibit, “Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America,” to the island it was Bill who was called upon to talk in 2007.

When Heritage Magazine came to the islands in 1987 and wanted to learn about Fort Christiansvaern, they talked to Bill.

According to Sheila Ross, former chief of staff for V.I. Delegate Ron de Lugo, Cissel was key in getting the U.S. Congress to authorize the Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve in 1992, in time for the worldwide Quincentennial Celebration of the Voyages of Discovery. It contains the Columbus Landing Site, the only known U.S. site where a Columbus expedition set foot. Ross told the Source Cissel “bought great honor to the islands and taught generations of islanders and visitors alike of the history and significant role of the Virgin Islands since pre-history.”

He began his professional career as assistant curator (1980-1983) at the Fort Frederik museum in Frederiksted. He served as curator from 1983-1984. It was during this time that Bill was introduced to, began dating, and soon married his wife Susan.

After Fort Frederik, Bill accepted a position with the National Park Service in Christiansted, where he served for 22 years. He held the positions of museum technician, historian, chief of culture resource management, and chief of interpretation. He was forced to retire on disability due to complications from a severe form of scoliosis.

The Christian faith played a big part in his life. After retirement he threw his energies into preservation efforts and leadership at St. John’s Episcopal (Anglican) Church in Christiansted. His love of the church was poured into researching and writing a comprehensive history of it. He had worshiped at St. John’s for most of his life. He has served in the highest position a layman can – a senior warden. He told the Source in 2005, “My great-grandfather was the senior warden there from 1885 to 1915. I could point to you the pew he sat in.”

His wife said, “Bill may not have realized it, but the greatest role he played was loving son, husband, and father. His sons could not have wanted for a better role model.”

He was born into history. He was born on Transfer Day in 1950. And he had a historian’s sense of humor. He laughingly told the Source, “The only thing good about the good old days was that you don’t have to live them anymore.”

He leaves behind his wife of 37 years, Susan Virginia Hulme Cissel, and sons William Thomas and Alexander Frederick Cissel; daughters-in-law Kathleen Noelle Shugart Cissel and Irene Veranis Rodriguez; and grandchildren, Xavier Alexander, Josiah Eusebio and Gabrielle Rowan Cissel.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. May 25 at St. George’s Episcopal Church 5520 Far Hills Ave., Kettering, Ohio, 45429.

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  1. What Hope for Dead Loved Ones?

    “If a man die, shall he live again?” asked the man Job long ago. (Job 14:14, King James Version) Perhaps you, too, have wondered about this. How would you feel if you knew that a reunion with your loved ones was possible right here on earth under the best of conditions?

    Well, the Bible makes the promise: “Your dead ones will live. . . . They will rise up.” And the Bible also says: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Isaiah 26:19; Psalm 37:29.

    To have real confidence in such promises, we need to answer some basic questions: Why do people die? Where are the dead? And how can we be sure they can live again?

    Death, and What Happens When We Die

    The Bible makes it clear that God did not originally intend for humans to die. He created the first human pair Adam and Eve, placed them in an earthly paradise called Eden, and instructed them to have children and extend their Paradise home earth wide. They would die only if they disobeyed his instructions.—Genesis 1:28; 2:15-17.

    Lacking appreciation for God’s kindness, Adam and Eve did disobey and were made to pay the prescribed penalty. “You [will] return to the ground,” God told Adam, “for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) Before his creation Adam did not exist; he was dust. And for his disobedience, or sin, Adam was sentenced to return to dust, to a state of nonexistence.

    Death is thus an absence of life. The Bible draws the contrast: “The wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life.” (Romans 6:23) Showing that death is a state of total unconsciousness, the Bible says: “For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) When a person dies, the Bible explains: “His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.”—Psalm 146:3, 4.

    However, since only Adam and Eve disobeyed that command in Eden, why do we all die? It is because all of us were born after Adam’s disobedience, and so we all inherited sin and death from him. As the Bible explains: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men.”—Romans 5:12; Job 14:4.

    Yet someone may ask: ‘Don’t humans have an immortal soul that survives death?’ Many have taught this, even saying that death is a doorway to another life. But that idea does not come from the Bible. Rather, God’s Word teaches that you are a soul, that your soul is really you, with all your physical and mental qualities. (Genesis 2:7; Jeremiah 2:34; Proverbs 2:10) Also, the Bible says: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) Nowhere does the Bible teach that man has an immortal soul that survives the death of the body.

    How Humans Can Live Again

    After sin and death entered the world, God revealed that it was his purpose that the dead be restored to life by means of a resurrection. Thus the Bible explains: “Abraham . . . reckoned that God was able to raise [his son Isaac] up even from the dead.” (Hebrews 11:17-19) Abraham’s confidence was not misplaced, for the Bible says of the Almighty: “He is a God, not of the dead, but of the living, for they are all living to him.”—Luke 20:37, 38.

    Yes, Almighty God has not only the power but also the desire to resurrect persons whom he chooses. Jesus Christ himself said: “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.”—John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15.

    Not long after saying this, Jesus met a funeral procession coming out of the Israelite city of Nain. The dead young man was the only child of a widow. On seeing her extreme grief, Jesus was moved with pity. So, addressing the corpse, he commanded: “Young man, I say to you, Get up!” And the man sat up, and Jesus gave him to his mother.—Luke 7:11-17.

    As in the case of that widow, there was also great ecstasy when Jesus visited the home of Jairus, a presiding officer of the Jewish synagogue. His 12-year-old daughter had died. But when Jesus arrived at Jairus’ home, he went over to the dead child and said: “Girl, get up!” And she did!—Luke 8:40-56.

    Later, Jesus’ friend Lazarus died. When Jesus arrived at his home, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Although deeply grieved, his sister Martha expressed hope, saying: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” But Jesus went to the tomb, ordered the stone to be removed, and called: “Lazarus, come on out!” And he did!—John 11:11-44.

    Now think about this: What was Lazarus’ condition during those four days he was dead? Lazarus did not say anything about being in a heaven of bliss or a hell of torment, which surely he would have done if he had been there. No, Lazarus was completely unconscious in death and would have remained so until “the resurrection on the last day” if Jesus had not then restored him to life.

    It is true that these miracles of Jesus were of only temporary benefit, since those that he resurrected died again. However, he gave proof 1,900 years ago that, with God’s power, the dead really can live again! So by his miracles Jesus showed on a small scale what will take place on earth under the Kingdom of God.

    When a Loved One Dies

    When the enemy death strikes, your grief can be great, even though you may hope in the resurrection. Abraham had faith his wife would live again, yet we read that “Abraham came in to bewail Sarah and to weep over her.” (Genesis 23:2) And what about Jesus? When Lazarus died, he “groaned in the spirit and became troubled,” and shortly afterward he “gave way to tears.” (John 11:33, 35) So, when someone you love dies, it does not show weakness to cry.

    When a child dies, it is particularly hard for the mother. Thus the Bible acknowledges the bitter grief that a mother can feel. (2 Kings 4:27) Of course, it is difficult for the bereaved father as well. “O that I might have died, I myself, instead of you,” lamented King David when his son Absalom died.—2 Samuel 18:33.

    Yet, because you have confidence in the resurrection, your sorrow will not be unrelenting. As the Bible says, you will “not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Rather, you will draw close to God in prayer, and the Bible promises that “he himself will sustain you.”—Psalm 55:22

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