The pride and purpose of work can be powerful motivators, even beyond financial necessity. Just ask our oldest team member, Bill.
On October 24, 1929, the New York Stock Exchange crashed, triggering the 12 years known as the Great Depression. Four weeks later, William "Bill" Burroughs was born in Danville, Illinois. His grandfather was a coal miner, his uncle fought in the Battle of the Bulge, his father was a butcher. Part of the "Greatest Generation," Bill grew up in a Middle America struggling to retain its deep roots and still become part of the modern world.
“I didn’t realize I didn’t have anything,” he said of growing up during the Depression era. His childhood was a happy one.
Bill got his first car at 16, when gas was 13 cents a gallon and someone pumped it for you and washed your windows while you waited. He worked at his dad’s grocery store while attending high school – Danville High, whose alumni included Dick and Jerry Van Dyke (they were "class clowns," recalled Bill). His best friend at school was actor Gene Hackman, with whom he occasionally double dated. In 1949, while in California visiting his cousins, Bill was to be set up with a local girl named Debbie Reynolds, who worked at the movie theatre. The date never happened but this was for the best, as shortly thereafter Bill met Reita, the woman who would become his wife three months later. Next summer they’ll celebrate 70 years together.
As a young man Bill liked to live dangerously. His father didn’t believe in college – just work – so in 1949 Bill got a job working on the high steel beams, 97 feet up, with no safety harness. After getting married, he worked closer to the ground. He spent five years as a lab chemist and 10 years as a drafter for General Motors and Fairbanks, respectively. Then came Bill’s true calling: the steel industry, where he spent 45 years working. The biggest surprise of his life, he says, came when he was made an engineer even though he wasn’t a college graduate.
It wasn’t all work. He and Reita have two children, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He still plays golf. He loves to fish.
Asked why he’s still working today, Bill says that he can’t sit still; he needs to keep moving to stay alive for his family.
Bill is proud of being the oldest Goodwill team member. “It’s a good place to work,” he says matter-of-factly, adding that he especially enjoys working with his Supported Jobs Plus colleagues, helping them as much as possible. The associates call him "Mister Bill" and there’s no doubt he’s earned it. Watching him come into work is like watching a politician work a crowd. He has a few words with everybody, everyone gets a few moments of his attention – attention that is clearly focused on them. He talks to you and with you, cheerfully sharing stories of his youth and listening to the concerns and problems of teammates. It’s rare that he doesn’t have some words of wisdom. There isn’t a job title for what he does – "wares runner" doesn’t tell anything close to the whole tale – but not having him in the store would leave a terrible hole.
Bill knows it is not just any employer who would allow him to come to work each day. He is grateful that he works for a company that sees the value in all of its team members, especially those who have “been around the block” a time or two. When he does finally retire, it will be a sad day for Goodwill Manasota.
"Mister Bill" is the best example of a life well lived. He’s still living it and those who work with him are reaping the benefits, too. We’re so very grateful for what he does and we hope he’ll never stop.