With my father’s passing nearly a month ago, I wanted to create a small space here in the Internet where he could be remembered. My intention in writing this post is both to share his life story for those who are curious, and to provide a place for loved ones to come back to when they’re thinking of him and want to see photos or share stories. I invite anyone who wants to share a memory or story of my father to leave one in the comments below. If enough loved ones leave comments, we can have a space to visit to remember his warm spirit, generosity, leadership, and ability to befuddle.
In preparation for the memorial service, my mom wrote the life story below.
William “Bill” Elliott passed away at home on October 13, 2016, after a long and courageous battle with heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
He was born to Lieutenant Robert and Shirley in Minneapolis, MN on September 3, 1947. The family moved to South Haven, MI, his father’s home town, in 1948, where two more sons, Robert and Joseph, and a daughter, Jill, were born. In June of 1969 he married Janice Tetzlaff of Kalamazoo, whom he met in 1965 at a summer youth camp. After graduating from high school in 1966, Bill attended Michigan State University for two years. In September 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps (USMC).
Bill lived his life guided by the values of honor, family, hard work, service, passion and compassion. He attended catholic high school in South Haven and a catholic seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, before eventually graduating from L.C. Mohr High School in 1966. At 15, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He was also a member of the Order of the Arrow and Explorer Post 88. His energy was endless and passions many. He was a paper boy, gas station attendant, construction worker, retail clerk, and golf course maintenance worker throughout his high school years. All this in addition to being on the football, swimming and track teams; a class and senate officer, and singing in the robed choir and the honors quartet. Not only was Bill the lead in many of the school’s musicals and plays, he and best friend Ken created a folk group (the Draft Brood) that entertained many at South Haven-area venues for several years. His beloved twelve-string steel Gibson guitar is now in the loving care of his son, Ben. In his two years at MSU, Bill was on the football practice squad challenging renowned players Bubba Smith, Gene Washington, and George Webster. He also sang with the MSU Men’s Glee Club and was a member of the Student Executive Committee.
After enlisting in the USMC in September 1968, Bill was sent to Camp Pendleton, CA, to become a true Marine. He was a platoon leader there and earned the rank of private first-class. His hard work, diligence, and leadership abilities resulted in his being selected for Officer Candidate School (OCS). On his way to Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA for OCS, he and Jan were married—and the drive to Quantico was their honeymoon. The Basic School (TBS) there was next. The ultimate purpose of TBS was to learn the “duties, responsibilities and war-fighting skills required of a rifle platoon commander.”
Once again, Bill’s grit, integrity, and intelligence resulted in his selection to attend flight school for fixed-winged aircraft. As the Navy was overwhelmed in training new pilots due to their losses in Vietnam, Bill (and Jan) were sent to Craig Air Force Base in Selma, AL. There he trained in the T-37 (“Tweety Bird”) and T-38 (“Talon”). He earned his Silver Air Force wings in April 1971. To transition to the Navy way of doing things (like landing on aircraft carriers), Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC (commonly known as Cheerless Point) was the next posting. But due to continuous bad weather conditions and insufficient aircraft maintenance crews, training was delayed by months. Impatient as usual, Bill used his well-known powers of persuasion to request orders for a transfer to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, AZ, which were granted. There he trained on the TA-4 Skyhawk (a single-seat, single-engine subsonic carrier-capable attack jet.) and earned the coveted gold Navy wings on June 16, 1972. His father, Bob, a WWII PB4Y-2 Privateer pilot, was there to award them to Bill.
In December 1972, he was ordered to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, CA, to become part of VMA-214, the famous “Black Sheep” squadron of Pappy Boyington fame. Bill was in is his glory there. He was a trained fighter and leader, and had his beloved, hard-earned Navy wings, and was ready to go to war. He submitted many requests to serve in Vietnam, but was never sent (the USMC gave priority to pilots who had previously served a tour in Vietnam, and many returning pilots requested to serve repeat missions.) As the war came to an end, an officer and pilot who did not hold a college degree was no longer needed in the Marine Corps. He was able to get just enough flying hours to maintain his readiness and wings, so he deduced that his Marine Corps days would be spent “flying a desk” if he stayed active. His last active duty position with the Corps was Casualty Assistance Officer at MCAS EL Toro. He left active duty in late 1974, but continued his commitment to the Corps by becoming a Reserve Officer. A move back to his cherished home town of South Haven became a reality.
There he worked with his father at the Hardt-Elliott Insurance agency, expanding the business to include life insurance. After his father died in 1977, Bill realized that his goals did not fit with the agency. So a move to a bigger market—Kalamazoo– was in order. There he created BFDA, Ltd., a firm providing management consulting, real estate development, and construction management. After building or remodeling several commercial properties in Lansing and Kalamazoo, he trimmed the scope of his work to construction design/build/management, but expanded to add residential projects. This firm was named Elliott Construction Services. In the years before his death, he took great satisfaction in working with the Veterans Administration to reconfigure homes for disabled veterans. This work was especially meaningful to him.
Of all of his accomplishments, the most meaningful to him were his children– and their children. Benjamin and Jodi were his greatest joy and without doubt the most valuable assets he could share with the world. Ben and Jodi are spectacular, caring, honorable, amazingly intelligent and astute individuals, due in large measure to the example he set. From hour one of their lives, Bill was totally enthralled. He’d sleep on the floor next to their beds when they were sick and included them in any activity he could. Bill was Cubmaster for Pack 256, and Scoutmaster for Troop 256, where Ben was a Scout. He was also a coach for the kids’ AYSO soccer teams, and imparted his values of respect and hard work to all the players. As a coach he had the incredible gift of making every one of his players feel important, cared for, and respected. He loved the sport and soon became a certified referee—not only for AYSO but also for regional high school and travel leagues. He refereed many high school matches, even after his kids graduated high school, and after his quadruple bypass surgery in 1995.
Many of the kids he coached have kept in touch throughout the years, and thanked him every visit for the guidance, strength, and tenderness he showed them. Nothing is a better testament to a man’s character.
If you’d like, please share any memories or stories in the comments section below.