Bill Versteeg, pastor and inventor, passes away at 55

  • Feb. 1, 2011 11:00 a.m.

In 2008, Bill Versteeg showed The Times a simple device he invented to test well water in Liberia. The device uses old telephone receivers and costs less than $10 to produce.

Langley pastor Bill Versteeg passed away on Friday, after a short battle with cancer. He was 55.

He was pastor of Langley Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Murrayville. He was featured in a June, 2008 article in The Times about his work in helping to determine if wells in Liberia were poisoned.

That work led to him being featured in the Vision TV series Extreme Clergy.

The program was filmed in February, 2007 in Liberia, on Africa’s west coast, when Rev. Versteeg visited a Lifewater Canada team working in the area. They were drilling clean water well No. 201 with the help of his invention.

With a background in electronics engineering, Rev. Versteeg had been asked to design a meter that would measure the time it takes for a potential new well to recharge (refill as water is drawn), while at the same time determining the quantity of dissolved solids (salt, calcium) in the water.

The challenge came from a member of his former congregation in Thunder Bay, Ont., who told him of the charity’s need for an affordable way to assess potential new wells in areas where villagers regularly fall sick or die after drinking contaminated water.

After about 150 hours of trial and error, Rev. Versteeg came up with a simple design comprised of a telephone handset, a wire and a rock.

As the rock, lowered into a hole, meets with various levels of resistance it sends signals through the wire which cause the telephone handset to emit different tones, which can be easily interpreted by the user.

Where a complex digital meter can cost up to $300, by 2008 he had produced 70 meters at a cost of $9.53 each. Many wells in Liberia were contaminated as a result of a brutal civil war that raged from 1989 to 2003.

Rev. Versteeg is survived by his wife Judy, sons Peter (Patricia), Benjamin and Michael, daughter Naomi (Sean), grandson Aiden William, and many brothers and sisters.

A memorial service will take place on Thursday at 2 p.m. at Langley Immanuel Christian Reformed Church, 21713 50 Avenue, at 2 p.m.

Donations to Lifewater Canada (http://www.lifewater.ca)can be made in his memory. Lifewater Canada is a group of volunteers that trains, equips, and supports the rural poor in Haiti and Africa to drill wells and build washrooms.

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