He Loved His Family!
RIP Bill Dingee Sr.
"I love my family." William A. Dingee Sr., known as Bill and B1, said it repeatedly because he meant it: “I love my family.”
The retired Chicago-area notions salesman who brought his love of family, laughter, lottery tickets, chocolate and McDonald’s cheeseburgers (in that order) to Bellingham 11 years ago, passed away May 31, 2015. He was 92.
His long and full life included a three-year stint in the US Army Air Corps during World War II, 54 years of marriage with his beloved Sarah, and several decades selling combs, pens, key chains and novelty items for the Dingee Co., a business with a younger brother.
He also hand-crafted 3D greeting cards for many years, learned to play the piano in his 60s, and brought his generosity, friendliness, quick wit and facility with puns to every interaction with customers, friends, family, and even strangers.
“I never saw such sausage!” he would unfailingly remark to the restaurant server who brought him breakfast.
To his grandkids who were born in the 1970s, he instructed: "Call me Uncle Grandpa." Still in his 40s when the first one was born, he wasn’t ready to be called Grandpa. So it was “Uncle Grandpa” instead.
Ironically, because his friendliness and good nature made him so well-known and well-loved in his home town of Hobart, Indiana, many of the children in the area, and even some of their parents, referred to him simply as ‘Grandpa’. He enjoyed shuttling groups of students and their families to and from Hobart High School Brickies football games as well as frequently going out for ice cream with them afterward.
To Sheehan World publisher Kathy Sheehan, he was B1, the father-in-law who wore a full Cleveland at her wedding to Chuck Dingee and sent the family a letter on paper that was cut out in the shape of an E. It was his version of email.
The jokes Bill played to get a laugh included mowing the lawn in a suit and posing for a picture with numbers stuck all over his shirt. He sent that photo to the Sheehan World with the caption, “You can count on me.”
His elaborate and colorful greeting cards were in high demand for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and major life events. He used card stock, glitter, transparency paper, and other craft supplies to spell out the names of the card recipients or write Merry Christmas in 3D letters.
He was generous and friendly with everyone, sometimes to a fault, and never held an ounce of malice toward anyone.
People who didn’t even know him wanted one of his custom-made cards, and he was delighted to make them for anyone who asked. He signed and dated them all on the back, knowing they would be collected and treasured for years.
Bill routinely made about 50 Christmas cards each year, starting his production in October, and never missed sending one on a family member’s birthday.
Born on May 9, 1923, Bill was a twin and one of nine children of Lester and Gertrude Dingee. "Without Marie, I wouldn't be a twin," Bill liked to crack at his birthday celebrations.
The Dingee family lived in the Detroit, Michigan, area in the early 1900s and was well off, with a maid to clean and cook and a driver to take the children to school. All that changed when Gertrude died in 1938 and the family went through rough times.
Later, a stepmother joined the household. The older children moved out of the house around that time, and Bill and Marie were often left in charge of the three younger ones as well as an older brother Lester who was blind and crippled.
The hard times seemed to bond the siblings closer together and they remained close throughout their lives.
Bill enlisted in the US Army Air Corps in 1942 and met his wife, the former Sarah Branigan, while stationed in Rock Hill, S.C. He trained as a fighter pilot but after crashing two planes (resulting in only minor injuries), he was assigned a job as an airplane armorer/gunner with the 344th Bomb Group. He also served as a military police officer.
His eldest son Bill Jr. noted that it was unusual that a trim man who was only about 5-foot-7 could be an MP in the Army. “Those guys were usually picked with burliness as a prerequisite,” Bill Jr. said. “It speaks to how hard he worked to be strong.”
Bill Sr. served in the Air Corps more than three years, including five months in Germany at the end of World War II. He earned the Victory Medal for WWII, the American Theater Ribbon and the European-African-Middle Eastern Ribbon.
Bill and Sarah married in 1944 and lived in various places, including South Carolina, Texas, Montana, Michigan and finally Hobart, where they raised their three children and lived for more than 40 years.
During that time, he traveled throughout the Chicago area in a van filled with combs, pens, sunglasses, novelty key chains and many other items that he sold to convenience stores.
He also had an excellent singing voice and was often asked to sing at parties and other social gatherings.
Although he didn’t like to be called Grandpa, he was quite dedicated to his three grandchildren and spent much time with them when they were young, taking them on fun outings to amusement parks, pools and miniature golf courses.
Bill Dingee III, who grew up in Indiana, probably spent a third of his childhood at his grandparents’ house. “Uncle Grandpa” even crafted a children’s book or two about birds and butterflies to keep the children entertained.
“I would always look forward to trips back to Indiana to see them,” said grandson, Tom Cook of Bellingham, who remembers Bill keeping in shape by having his grandsons hop onto his back while he did pushups.
On frequent trips to Bellingham to visit Chuck and Barbara, the children who moved to Whatcom County in the 1980s, Bill always brought the latest novelty key chains, combs, sunglasses and other items from his business. He gave them freely to all their friends and became pretty well known even before he moved to Bellingham in 2004.
Bill closed his home-based business in Indiana at that time to make new friends in the Pacific Northwest. He relocated to Tucson, Arizona, in 2005 to be with his sister June, also widowed.
His two sons drove the 1,000 miles from Bellingham to Tucson with him, enjoying the scenery along the way and having a memorable road trip.
About a year after arriving in Tucson, though, he suffered a serious illness and returned to Bellingham.
He recovered after a few months and spent the next several years in Bellingham cracking jokes with his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, buying lottery tickets almost daily, and letting his family know how much he loved them.
Bill ate out often following the death of his wife in 1998, preferring to dine at McDonald’s for lunch and dinner most days. This steady habit resulted in the employees at one McDonald’s in Bellingham renaming a cheeseburger with only lettuce and tomato (washed down with a small carton of milk) a “Bill Burger.”
Bill’s health slowly declined during his years in Bellingham and he moved into the Alderwood Nursing Home around 2012. Although no one wants to live in a nursing home, Bill set his mind to enjoy his time there. He received visits from his family nearly every day, got his daily fix of chocolate candy bars there and was crowned the prom king at a social activity in 2013.
He is preceded in death by his wife Sarah; brothers Paul, Lester, and Albert; sisters Marie Key, June Wark, Blanche Connell, and Eleanor Boggs; and a great-grandson, Jacob Cook.
He is survived by his daughter Barbara Dinge (and husband Bill Sargent) of Bellingham; sons Bill Jr. Dingee (Linda) of Indiana and Chuck Dingee (Kathy Sheehan) of Bellingham; his brother David Dingee (Joy) of Florida; grandsons Bill Dingee III (Lema) of Arizona and Tom Cook (Kendra) of Bellingham; granddaughter Elizabeth Best (Mark) of Poulsbo; great grandchildren Isaac and Whitney Best and Colin and Paige Cook; and many nieces and nephews.
There will be a celebration of Bill’s life at 1 pm Saturday, June 6, at the Cedar Grove Clubhouse, 4915 Samish Way, Bellingham. All are welcome to share their memories. Visitors are asked to park only in guest spots on the property.
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