(Old) Bill Young’s Extraordinary Journey

As a young, up-and-coming Standard Oil executive, Bill Young lived and worked all over the United States, but he found true happiness in a much smaller pond

By Terrell Manasco

Bill Young was four years old in 1942 when T-R-O-U-B-L-E showed up at the hometown Piggly Wiggly. Bill and his brother Dick were with their mom on the canned goods aisle when he suddenly materialized like a venomous wraith beside Bill with chest thrust outward, teeth bared, and fists cocked.

Bill, now 78, is relaxing in his armchair on a cool and overcast December morning. To his right, two bright red Christmas candles stand side by side on the mantle corner. Directly behind him a built-in bookcase houses several framed family photos. “This bigger boy came up and started to pick on me,” Bill says. “Well, he looked up and Dick had climbed up on the cans, and he jumped on him from the top.” By now Bill is laughing so hard he can hardly finish the story. “That kid was never seen again,” he manages through a few guffaws. “Dick had my back.”

Bill (who points out he is actually a Junior and his son Bill is the Third) was born April 22, 1938 in Elizabethtown, KY. John Richard “Dick” Young, his fraternal twin and valiant protector from supermarket bullies, arrived fifteen minutes later. The boys had an older brother, Ed, and then there was brother Van, born seven years later.

Their father, a University of Kentucky grad with a mechanical and electrical engineering degree (“smart as a whip”), was a company agent with Standard Oil who worked his way up to Vice President and General Manager. Their mom graduated high school at sixteen and taught mathematics and Latin at her alma mater, Pineville High. “She was quite a catch, smart and pretty,” Bill says.

For young Bill, growing up in “E-Town” in the 1940s was a slice of vintage Americana. A smile forms on his lips as he recalls that nostalgic time. “It was idyllic,” Bill says. “Great Christmases going out in the woods to cut down a Christmas tree, and drag it home and decorate it.” His father, also a talented photographer, draftsman and calligrapher, founded an early tradition of making Christmas cards, using the boys as subjects. “I remember one early one when we were probably three or four. He took a picture of us in a semi-circle in front of our fireplace. Everybody had a fireplace. And it’s cold up in Kentucky,” Bill chuckles. “He took popcorn and wrote our names in front of us, and wrote Merry Christmas From the Youngs in popcorn, and then it was Pa, Bill, Ed, Dick, and Mom. And of course, our trick was he’d finally get it all set and we’d eat part of our names and he’d have to stop and (imitates his father scolding them) ‘You boys!’”

Ironically, Bill says the Young boys only received one childhood spanking. “Our mom had dressed us up for church and set about getting herself ready, and we went outside playing on a muddy Sunday morning… and we came in three wrecks,” he recalls, slowly emphasizing the last two words. “My mom was beside herself, and Daddy Bill… just had to pick a switch and we got spanked with those switches. And he never had to do it again.”

The Young twins have always shared a special bond. Dick, rather shy, wore glasses due to a lazy eye and relied on Bill to do the talking when the two were out visiting friends. Bill still remembers the last time they ever had a disagreement. “We were living in Paducah and Dick and I got in a fight,” Bill says. “We were maybe seven or eight, and we were in the side yard. I was astraddle him and I was banging left and right, and he reached up and scratched my face.” What happened next was unexpected. “We stopped in mid-fight and said, ‘We can’t do this anymore.’” And from that day, nary a cross word passed between he and Dick. “I really don’t think we ever got over being separated,” he says. “But do not play us in Password,” Bill adds, with a hint of mischief in his eyes. “The family banned Dick and me from playing partners because we just knew what the other one was thinking. And we were unbeatable.”

J.M. Atherton High in Louisville originally began as a girls school. In the fall of 1950 Atherton became co-ed, with three hundred boys and twice as many girls. “My kind of odds. I loved the ladies,” Bill grins. In football, Dick played center and linebacker while Bill was a halfback and safety. “Athletically, Dick and I were pretty good. Dick always led in tackles and was All State, and I was All State Honorable Mention.”

After graduating in 1956, Bill majored in Pre-Law and German at Washington and Lee. Then he enrolled in law school. During the Berlin Crisis of 1961, Bill, an ROTC student, was called to active duty. “I really had to admit that law school was not my cup of tea,” Bill says, shaking his head. “I thought this would be a good chance to broaden my world view. Lucky for me, it wasn’t Korea.”

While he was at Fort Benning for basic officers training, Bill spotted an irresistible new toy. “There was a great car lot just outside the base that sold British sports cars, and I picked up a brand new Triumph TR3 with the pug nose, that goes wuuuuuuuhhhhhh-wuhhhhhhhhhhh! The TR3 had a top speed of, well I know, a hundred and fifteen. I can ah, speak…from-uh-uh-experience,” he says in his comic drunken Foster Brooks voice. “So here I am, bachelor officer with the powder blue TR3 with the white top, a German major, and going to Germany. The last words my dad said to me [before leaving] were, ‘Bill, don’t bring home a Kraut wife.’ So I went over there with that proviso.”

On July 7 1961, Bill landed in Germany and was stationed with an infantry unit outside of Augsburg. Tensions continued to rise, and on the morning of August 13th, the Berlin Wall was built, officially dividing East and West Berlin. “We got issued ammunition and took defensive positions that morning,” he recalls. “We were on alert for the rest of my tour.”

But instead of war, Bill found the opposite, for it was there in Germany that he met the love of his life. “I was dating a German girl named Sigrid, who had been an au pair for an American family from Virginia,” Bill explains. “She spoke English like they did— ‘aboot the hoose’—just smart.” Sigrid explained to Bill that she had a hairdresser friend who needed someone to translate a letter from an American soldier. “So Anneliese came over and…what a knockout she was! Tall, redhead, and just gorgeous! She spoke what’s called High German and I was just enthralled!” Bill says in a voice soaring with amazement and exhilaration.

The feeling was not mutual, however. “She thought I was very old,” he laughs. “I was twenty-three and I had this flat-top haircut, and I wore those tab collar shirts with suits and ties, and she thought I was squaresville.”

By the time the evening was over, the skies over Germany had opened their floodgates and the streets were covered in rain. With his midnight curfew approaching, Bill offered Anneliese a ride home, which she politely declined. “So she went downstairs and in the carport sat that powder blue TR3 with the white top,” he says, arching his eyebrows. “I am sure she said to herself, ‘Ze next time he asks me to take a ride home, I vill ride in zat car.’

A few weeks later the three were at Sigrid’s apartment, and Bill endeavoured to instruct them more of the American ways, or more specifically, a dance called The Twist. “Again it was raining, and again I said, ‘Do you think I could—’ and I didn’t even get the sentence out,” Bill laughs. “Anneliese said, ‘Ja! You can give me a ride home!’” When he walked her to her door, Anneliese asked to see his tie. “I took it off and she put it in her purse, and she said, ‘If you want to see this tie again, you’re gonna have to come back and see me.’”

He did. Five months later, Bill was still smitten with the gorgeous German hairdresser and began making long-term plans. Late on the night of July 4th, as they sat in the TR3, Bill turned to her and said, “Anneliese, willst du mich heiraten?” He was taken aback by her response. “She started chuckling,” Bill shrugs. Baffled, he repeated the question and her laughter was even louder. “I said to her in German, ‘Anneliese, for the third and last time, will you marry me?’ She said, ‘Oh ja, Billy boy, ja, ja.’” He was later told that a German soldier who was also a general’s son had just proposed to Anneliese only a week before.

Bill and Anneliese were married in December 1962. Their first child, Heidi, was born in 1963. A year later they came home to America and briefly lived in Louisville until Bill found a job.

Then Bill’s new employer, Standard Oil, did the unthinkable. “Oh my gosh, they sent me to Florida—1964 in Fort Lauderdale. It was horrible,” he says with a sly grin, rolling his eyes in mock distaste. With baby Heidi in tow, they booked a motel room and set out house hunting.

But even as they began their search for a home, the TV news issued warnings that Hurricane Cleo was rapidly approaching land. “We were on the second floor of the Anna Capri Lodge, and we thought, oh great, a good time to drink wine, we’ll just have a wonderful time and weather through,” Bill says in a pseudo-jovial tone before his voice suddenly drops lower. “But it got serious. The TV station went out because a window was blown in, and a big ol’ palm tree was banging against the balcony.”

“We put Heidi’s bed in the bathroom and we were sitting in a closet,” Anneliese says.

In 1965 their son Bill was born in Fort Lauderdale, after which Bill (the elder) was transferred to Orlando. Every rung on the corporate ladder took him to another city: Denver, New York, Atlanta, then back to Louisville. “Then, two cautionary notes came,” he says somberly. “First, I would have to serve some time in San Francisco. That was kind of a wall for Anneliese, with all the earthquakes and high cost of living. Then for the first time, they moved me laterally. I thought to myself, this golden ladder I’ve been on is missing a few rungs. Maybe I’m not cut out for this. Maybe I am a little fish in a big pond and I need to find a smaller pond.”

He soon found that pond via the Vulcan Refining Company. “Jasper was just the perfect place, and I hit the ground running,” Bill smiles. He was with Vulcan Refining for seven years, then Russell Coal for two before he was laid off. While he was working for Porter Paint out of Louisville, Bill was offered a city manager position with Dunn Construction. Another layoff followed in 1991, so he sold cars for Franklin Motor Company, then became their service advisor. From 1993-2008 he was the dealer sales manager of Fontaine Trailer Company, before retiring on his seventieth birthday. “I was in my element,” Bill says. “I was doing trade shows and sales meetings. I had a ball. It ended up being a life-changing experience for me.”

But a man like Bill Young (Jr.) never really retires. An avid reader, he loves historical novels, whodunits, and confesses he is a big fan of Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher novels. “My brothers and I trade off suggestions for reading,” he says. He sings bass in the Jasper First United Methodist Church choir. He is a proud original member of the Jasper Men’s Chorale, a group that recently performed at the inaugural program at Jasper High School’s new Pam Brown Theater. “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” he says. He’s sung with the Dickens Carolers for several years, which includes him reading The Night Before Christmas to young children. He emceed the Walker High Christmas Band concert for twenty-two years and the annual Walker County Board of Education Spelling Bee for several years. (“I had a ball!”)

However, there is one activity that holds a special place in his heart. “Theater is a big deal in my life here in Jasper,” Bill says. He appeared in Rumors, he has played the role of Jacob Marley in productions of Scrooge, he was Captain Keller in The Miracle Worker, and has acted in several other productions.

To hear Bill talk about Jasper, you’d never suspect he was not actually born here. “I’d like to say something about downtown Jasper now and what a joy it is,” he says. “You know I’ve done trivia for [Warehouse] 319, we’ve done it two years now. Got my picture up on the wall there. Los Reyes is one of our favorites, and Black Rock [Bistro] with its New Orleans flavor, with [his son] Bill’s paintings on the wall is a treasure to us, and we love Bernard’s. Our daughter Heidi works at [no relation] Young Jewelers. I say it at least once a day to Anneliese about this house and Jasper, ‘Gosh, I love this place!’”

He’s not a little fish anymore. 78

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