There is an item on my bucket list I never mentioned before: meet Bill Stotz.
I first heard about Bill in 2004 from my high school pal, Bob Woodruff, who employed Bill in his fuel business in Bridgeton, New Jersey. In 2010, when the Jolly Swag and I set out, I intended to visit Bridgeton and get Bob to introduce me to Bill.
When I ply the highways and back roads, I’m easily distracted; my route looks more like the path of a drunken bug. It took me almost two years to get to Bridgeton. I arrived a month after Bill passed away at the remarkable age of 102.
Bill was born in 1910. Both his parents were lost to the flu epidemic of 1918, and Bill became a ward of the state of New Jersey. It was not long before the state was able to place Bill with a farming family in a foster situation. The family chosen for Bill was Bob’s great-grandfather.
Farming is seasonal, and farmers struggle to get through the winter when they have no income-producing work. Bob’s grandfather hit upon a perfect business to fill in winter’s slack time: coal delivery. The farm hands now had winter employment as well, and by the time Bill was in his teens, he was swinging from spring plowing and summer harvesting to fall shoveling and winter coal delivery.
For the next 82 years Bill worked for the Woodruff coal company as the company evolved from coal to other forms of energy. Bill evolved from shoveling coal to designing heating systems.
Eighty-two years! Much more than a simple record, it is a testament to a work ethic that is valued less today than in generations past.
On his death the family he’d been part of for 92 years and the business he’d been a part of for six generations honored him with a full-page celebration of his life in the local newspaper.
Bill, I am really sorry I missed ya.