26 April 2009

My Dad

Yes, it's been a while since I posted to my blog. The reason is family. After a week in Intensive Care, my father died on April 23rd, 2009. My Mom died 15 months ago and now they are together. We tried telling her she couldn't have him yet and from the extreme ups and downs during the week in ICU she wasn't quite sure if we could still have him for a while.

William E. Stuart died peacefully while his daughters Sheila, Linda, and Paula along with other family and caregivers were on the way to see him. Just the day before the doctor had commented that Dad would probably pull through this. We were fortunate to have lots of short conversations while he was in ICU. His full obituary is in both the Minneapolis StarTribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press online. I must remember to go buy the papers today. I usually read them online and this is so great when I am out of town lecturing or researching.

From the time he was a teenager, Dad was involved with the auto industry in one way or another. He began long ago by pumping gas and once owned his own station at Cleveland and Ford Parkway in St. Paul.

Dad tried to enlist in WWII but was turned down twice due to his color blindness. Then he was drafted and accepted! Dad spent his Army Air Corps WWII years maintaining planes, as a Flight Engineer, and as a trainer for other countries including some Russians. He became very ill while serving and at one time was the only American in a British Naval Hospital and while there Jack Benny visited him personally. After serving in the Army Air Corps for three years in World War II he turned down a job to work in Iraq for the Arab American Oil Company as a flight engineer on their aircraft. He wanted to come home.

He had another job offer from Northwest Airlines for aircraft maintenance. The interview took place at University and Prior avenues in St. Paul. The pay was only $1.00 per hour which he felt was too low. He did not take that job and instead walked up the street to the Slawik's auto dealership at University and Fairview avenues and applied for a job. He knew the general manager, Carl Dokmo, from his gas station days. He began work there in 1945. His family is grateful because that is where he eventually met my mother, Patricia Hanley. They were married October 4, 1947 and nine months later I was born.

From 1945 on, he worked at auto dealerships. He ended that career with 32 years at Superior Ford in the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth. He quit working at age 87 only because Ben Stroh sold the dealership. For many years he was in fleet sales and sold a lot of trucks, cars, and police cars to the state, and many counties, cities, and school districts. On Friday, April 24th my oldest granddaughter and I were on Highway 169 in Shakopee and she asked if the vehicle in the next lane was an old police car. It was a maroon car -- an old highway patrol car and I told her that most likely her Great Grandpa Bill had sold that car to the Patrol.

In the 1950s he owned a gas station and car dealership at 650 Grand Avenue in St. Paul. Ace Hardware now occupies the building. A couple years ago I took Dad to visit the place and he pointed out where everything had been in that building including the paint booth, offices, and where the specialty sports cars were shown. I remember going there many times and eating next door at Fran O'Connell's restaurant where I learned to love lobster. In later years the family always knew that wherever we went Dad would know someone. Even in other places beyond St. Paul. He could remember the names of neighbors from his growing up years at 2019 Princeton in St. Paul.

Growing up we had new cars around most of the time. I wish I still had that early Ford Mustang that I got to drive as a teenager. My husband and I bought our first Minnesota car from him in 1969 but it wasn't a Ford! In December 2006 I bought the only car that I ever bought alone and had my own name on the title. He guided me along the way at Superior Ford. He loved my Ford Escape and every time I picked him up he had nice words to say about the vehicle. I may keep it forever. The family definitely misses the discounts on cars and trucks.

He was a good dad -- we had snow horses in the yard at 1080 Bowdoin St. in St. Paul, ice skating rinks in the back yard, and volleyball in the summer. They built the house in 1950 and the early pictures just south of St. Paul's Ford Plant show lots of empty space around that house in Reserve Township. That was a great neighboorhood and Dad and I drove through there a few weeks ago and talked about the families that lived in each house. He was a Dad who worked long hours but did take time to play games with his three daughters on Sundays. His BBQ skills are legendary. Pan fries (potatoes), rotisserie chicken, hamburgers, steak -- he did them all well. He and Mom loved to travel, but never on an airplane. They were always taking off once their kids were out of the house.

He loved his grandchildren and great grandchildren. In his later years, he asked about each of them constantly. Dad was always checking up on how his sister Jean was doing and her children. He really missed his sister Dorothy who passed away in 1994. He kept up on what her children were doing and where they were living. His memory never really failed and we are so grateful for that. Sure, there were some things he would forget to do, but he was still amazing at 89.

He went through some serious health scares over the years and overcame alcohol and tobacco addiction. Through all this he never stopped living. He was too antsy to sit still for long. Sure, he had his faults, but we just have to keep the great memories alive.

September 7, 2009 would have been his 90th birthday. We were planning a party at my sister Linda's lake place and they had figured out a way to get Dad down to the lake and on to a pontoon. He was so looking forward to that and we will still have the party and tell Grandpa Bill stories. We will laugh a lot and probably shed a few tears as we will also do tomorrow, April 27th at his funeral.


Kathryn Doyle said...

Paula, what a beautiful tribute to your dad. It sounds like you shared a special bond. My thoughts are with you.

geneabloggers said...


You've written a great and moving tribute to your father. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers over the next few days.

Thomas MacEntee

Randy said...


Thank you for sharing about your dad's life and your special moments with him.

Now the family torch has passed, and you are the elder, aren't you?

My thoughts are with you and yours, and I'm sure your mom is happy to be with her beau again.

Take good care -- Randy

Cheryl Fleming Palmer said...

Paula,this was wonderful! You just never know when the tides change. I am so sorry for your loss and know you are going through the healing process. I hope this post assisted you in that. Been thinking about you.


Brenda said...

Thank you for sharing your Dad with us, Paula. And he must have been so proud of *you*!

Anonymous said...

This is such a nice memorial to Uncle Bill.

I am sure he'll be pleased to know I am still driving a FORD! My first car we bought from him...a 1962 1/2 model year Ford Escort Wagon. Remember that little car? Then when I was starting my 2nd year at Virginia, a newer 1970 Maverick. That lasted until I sold it in 1976 since I did not need a car. Drove a Datsun sedan for about 8 years, then got my first new car, a Ford Excort hatchback...only drove that 13 years and now am driving my 1997 Ford Escort LX, 18 years and doing fine as it nears 200,000 miles on it. Don't think Uncle Bill steered me wrong!

Dave G (posted anon due to my limitations of my Google account).

Colin Kiefer said...

Paula , that is a beautiful tribute to your Dad. I had the pleasure of sharing an office with Bill at Superior Ford in 1988 and 89 I was only 24 at the time and he was 69 but we got along great. I learned a lot from him and seen how he had respect from all of his customers which is rare in the car business. He had integrity and was the hardest working guy there. I don't know if you will even see this or what made me Google him today but whatever the reason I'm glad to see he lived a long life after our time together and I will be including him in my prayers from here on. Colin Kiefer

Oh and by the way I am still in the business I am an independent dealer and thanks to guys like Bill Stuart I have had much success