Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Postman

The first ancestor in my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project is my maternal grandfather, William Lee "Johnny Bill" Wright (1919-1973)

Bill was born 1 December 1919 in Monroe Township, Madison County, Indiana, just south of Alexandria.  His parents were Virgil Lee & Edna Muriel (Pierce) Wright. He was the only son and the middle of three children.

Though his birth certificate clearly states his name was William Lee, he was known as "Johnny Bill" to family and friends.  His first name is shared by his maternal grandfather, and his middle name was shared by his father.  His paternal grandfather was named John William.  In the 1920 census, he was enumerated as "John W.E.".

Bill was raised on the family farm and was active in agricultural pursuits.  Newspaper articles from the Alexandria Times-Tribune indicate he was a member of 4-H and raised gilts.  The family farm was the same one where I was raised, though by then it had ceased to be an active animal-farm.

In 1934, Bill was certified to attend high school after completing schooling in the Monroe Township schools through the eighth grade.  He would attend high school in Alexandria.

While in high school, Bill was a member of Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H, continuing to participate in agricultural activities such as corn shows, visiting stockyards and husking bees.  He became a member of the executive committee of FFA and was awarded prizes at the county fair.

Bill graduated from Alexandria High School in 1938 and continued to engage in agricultural pursuits. At the time of the 1940 census, he was still living with his parents, with his occupation listed as farmer.  I imagine he assumed he would continue in the family farm, but other forces were at work that would soon put him on a different path.

A newspaper story from 1938 mentioned at Halloween party that Bill attended with his future wife, Bonnie Lambertson.  I don't know if that was the first time they met but I do know that Bill's mother didn't approve of the match.  I had previously blogged about how my great-grandmother had already picked out the girl for him.

Bill and Bonnie were married on 7 June 1941 in Elwood, Madison County, Indiana at the First Baptist Church where Bonnie's family attended.  I believe that for a short time, they set up house in Elwood, but it wasn't long before they were back in Alexandria.

My uncle Terry was born in the spring of 1942, the same week that Bill's parents  purchased the home at 610 West Broadway in Alexandria that would be Bill and Bonnie's home for the rest of their lives.  Though Bill & Bonnie made the payments on the house, this purchase caused some consternation with Bill's older sister, as she thought her parents had a house bought for Bill and Bonnie.

Bill was working as an armature winder at Delco Remy in Anderson before going into the military.

Even with a young baby at home, there was a war on and Bill was determined to sign up.  He and my-great uncle Bob Walsh enlisted in the U.S. Army together  on 19 January 1944.  Supposedly, Bill's mother was so upset at this that she tried to get enlistment rescinded, even writing Congressmen to get him out.

Bill served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a LORAN mechanic & instructor. LORAN is short for long range navigation. He wanted to be a pilot, but a heart murmur kept him from being one.  The story Bonnie told me was that at each post, they would find the murmur and he would be under observation for a period.  I would newspaper mention of him being sent from a radio school in Racine, Wisconsin to Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois.  Bonnie told me of time in Biloxi, Mississippi as well.  Both Bonnie and my uncle Terry travelled with Bill at each assignment.

Bill was discharged 27 April 1946 from the separation center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  He returned home to Alexandria, Indiana.  According to his separation paperwork, he applied for an Indiana service bonus.  

Shortly after returning, he began working at the Alexandria Post Office, where he worked the rest of his life. Local tidbits mentioned in the Alexandria Times-Tribune mention "Johnny Bill" at the post office and his quips of humor.  He was known for doing crossword puzzles and reading the dictionary.  He was an avid fisherman, who often took the family to Lake Tippecanoe and later Silver Lake.  I didn't pick up the fishing gene, but my brother did, and still has some of Bill's equipment.

During this post-war period, Bill was active in the local Elks and the American Legion.  My mom came along, and Bill was active with the parents of Clarke Elementary and later the high school.  In 1962, he helped host the meeting of the local 3070 of Postal Clerks and was active in community affairs.

By the time I came along, Bill was 49 years old.  I was his second grandson.  However, I don't really have too many memories of him.  One memory I have is of me &  mom walking on the sidewalk in town and grandpa coming down the street in his pickup truck and taking us to his place.  Another memory I have is that he liked to keep Pringle's potato chips at his house hidden in a nail barrel that had been converted into a table.

Bill died of a coronary occlusion on 9 July 1973 at Community Hospital in Anderson, Madison County, Indiana.  He was 53 years old. According to his death certificate, he died at 12:44 a.m.  I have a vague memory of that happening, mostly feelings of panic, perhaps I heard the phone calls discussing what happened.  At the time of his death, I was four years old.

I wish I would have been able to know him.  I'm left to reading newspaper tidbits and stories passed on from others in order to get a picture of who he was.

The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge was created by Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small blog.  The premise is to write once a week about a specific ancestor – whether it be a story, a biography, a photograph or a research problem.

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