Sorry I missed ya, Bill

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.





6 Responses to Sorry I missed ya, Bill

  1. Karen Goucher says:

    WOW!! They just don’t make them like they used to!!!
    This brought tears to my eyes……I think it was the part
    about you missing him. He knows you almost made it!
    …and he is happy with your reasons.

  2. David L says:

    “Work defines the man,” they say. Mr. Stoltz was a farmer, a coal shoveler, a designer. It’s a part of our personal philosophy, cornerstone of our social definition – poems are recited, sonnets are sung, novels are extolled. We equate men with their work and they are thusly defined. He was a coal miner, a whaler, an artist. Do the men we define in those terms likewise define themselves – I rather think not.

    Do we dream of faraway places, are we honest and truthful, did we love, did we cry, did we want to improve, and did we, the foster environment we came from? Were we selfish or kind, dejected or joyful or both from one time or another? Yes, we worked and we led and we did … but who are we, what kind of men – what kind of man?

  3. Dave Bauer says:

    Thank you for taking time to share this remembrance of the century long life of Wiiliam Stoltz. His life is an inspiration. Your comment about a lost work ethic reminded me of a related observation about American culture made by Bill James. James said,

    “We have difficulty as a nation — this is American, and it relates to our particular time — we have difficulty admiring people. We take such pride in our skepticism. But the natural antithesis of skepticism , the celebration and virtue of accomplishment, is wondering lost somewhere. It is the age of the antihero.” (Posnanski, 2012, p.ix)

    Posnanski, J. (2012). Paterno. New York: Simon & Schuster.

  4. Colleen Rae says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Al. It gives a view of the America of the past, lost values and virtues…but not forgotten.

  5. Kathleen Schwartz says:

    Hi – sorry you never made it to Stowe, Vt – missed you. This post reminded me to tell you that Ed Lymann, the almost 100-year-old writer in Venice (Nokomis) writer’s group who you met last year, died last month. He made it to 100 and was writing up till then I understand. I was in Venice in Nov. and will go back again in Jan. Age is not in the number. Kathleen

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