William Earl “Bill/Willie” Betchner
William was known as a kind and gentle soul, he was honest and fair but he was also stern and forthright. He was a Son, a Brother, a Lover, a Husband, a Father, a Grandfather, a Boy, a Man, a Teacher and a Friend. This is his story.
Bill Betchner, 81, a long time resident of Surprise, Arizona, passed away peacefully on April 20th, 2021 with loved ones at his side following a lengthy, arduous and very defiant battle with thyroid cancer. Bill follows the death of his wife Anita who passed in October 2016 and is survived by his four children: Malcolm, Karin, Mark and Kristi, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Bill was born on a small farm near New England, North Dakota to Nikolaus and Katherine (Bambusch) Betchner on September 2nd, 1939. The second to the last child, he was one of eight boys and three girls. Life on the farm was no picnic in those days and at the age of six, Willie, as he was known in his younger years, lost his father to an unexpected heart attack. He would often recall experiences and stories of those early years and had fond memories of the expertise, help and reliance that was given him by his mother and siblings to guide him along. Willie graduated high school in 1957 from New England High School and soon after entered military service.
Bill Joined the Army after a brief stay with relatives in Wisconsin and after initial and advanced training, he came down on orders for Germany. In those early days of overseas troop movements, soldiers were transported by ship and after a short waiting period in New Jersey for the next transport overseas, his brother John, who had also joined the Army at about the same time as Bill but joined and trained in a different part of the country, was also waiting for the same transport overseas. When Army officials found out that these two brothers were going to Germany on the same transport, they assigned them both to same Army unit in Germany, it was the luck of the draw for these two brothers.
While assigned to a Nike Hercules missile battery near Stuttgart, West Germany, Bill met and fell in love with his future wife, Anita. After a couple of years dating, going steady and convincing Anita’s mother and siblings that he would forever love and take good care of their sister and daughter, they were given permission to marry. But… there were hurdles to overcome, because you see, Anita was a foreigner as well in a foreign country, she held an Italian citizenship. So… in waiting for Bill’s commanding officer to give the OK to marry a foreigner and the Italian government to send the necessary paperwork to the state department and then wait for the German government to give the greenlight to wed in their country, what should magically appear? Yeah, you guessed it, a six pound nine ounce baby boy, born in a German hospital, Malcolm held his mothers maiden name until after the marriage and the state department was able to straighten everything out, but what a ride that was, government efficiency, gotta love it.
Next assignment for Bill with his new wife and son was Ohio where after about a year their daughter Karin was born. After a brief stay in Dayton, Bill’s next assignment took him to Korea during the height of the Vietnam war, on an unaccompanied tour lasting 18 months. While in Korea, his small family stayed with his mother Katie Betchner in Dickinson, North Dakota. It was here that Anita became more proficient in the English language and the little ones learned the life and ways of Grandma and their other relatives and cousins that lived near by. Bill finished his tour in Korea, came back to the states, and decided that he would no longer accept any unaccompanied tours overseas without his family and got out of the military. After a short recess from army life and some minor setbacks, he made the decision to reenlist back in the Army.
Next base of operations, Mt. Clemens, Michigan. Here, Anita studied for and became a naturalized citizen of the United States…a very, very proud moment for Bill and the kids. Anita loved America and loved being American, although she retained her European roots, she never forgot she was an American. While in Michigan, Mark was born and not long after, Bill was once again assigned overseas to Germany. Idar-Oberstein is the name of the German village that Bill and his growing family lived during this tour and shortly after arriving there Kristi was born. This tour lasted five years and gave the two older children time to develop and come into their own. The German language was learned and spoken by all the kids and loved the visits with their Oma and all the German relatives and cousins.
After five years in Germany, the Army reassigned Bill back to the States, El Paso, Texas to be exact. The two older kids are high schoolers now and the younger kids are starting to find their place in the world. The whole family developed a true love for the Southwest lifestyle, El Paso being a true border town, Mexican food, culture and lifestyles were all the rage during those years. It wasn’t too long after being stationed there that Bill was diagnosed with colon cancer, we all thanked the lord it was caught in the early stages. Bill went through all the surgical procedures, a portion of his descending colon was removed and went through an arduous recovery period. Bill was now considered a statistic and had to be checked on a regular basis for any remission. That cancer never returned. Because he was considered partially disabled after the surgery, Bill was reclassified into an administrative MOS or job classification. About a year or so after being reclassified, Bill once again found himself and his family being reassigned back to Germany, this time in Bad Kreuznach, the very town Kristi was born years earlier.
This assignment afforded Bill the opportunity to utilize his German language skills, as he had become the Military Community’s new Housing and Development Manager. In this capacity, he worked closely with local German landlords in securing off post housing and other real estate opportunities. This assignment took Bill through the end of his military career of 24 years and into retirement. After returning to the States with his family, Bill ended up briefly in El Paso but chose to live in Colorado…Colorado Springs to be exact.
Bill was restless and couldn’t seem to settle into retirement, so, he pursued work as a Department of Defense civilian, going through the motions in the application process and after
about a year of red tape, would you believe, he was successful in landing a GS-9 position as a Housing Manager, same position that took him through the end of his military career, what are the odds? Bill’s first assignment as a government worker took him straight back to Germany as a Housing Manager for the Schwӓbisch-Gmünd military community near Stuttgart. Bill remained in this area for several years, his two younger children graduated high school, sowed their oats, found love and married during this time. With another successful assignment under his belt, Bill and Anita found their way to Washington State, working in conjunction with the Department of the Navy as their Housing Manager for the Seattle area. Bill and his wife settled in quite nicely, enjoying several years in the area, making friends, taking in the local life and all that Seattle had to offer but low and behold, Bill would have to endure another move. But Bill wasn’t sad because for him he had won the lottery one more time, he was taking Anita back to her homeland once again. This last gig to Germany would see him and his wife move several times within Germany to facilitate the closing of many communities during the overall downsizing of the military presence in Europe. This last assignment brought Bill to his second well deserved retirement.
Bill and Anita moved back to the States, this time settling on Arizona to live out the rest of their days. With the work bug finally crushed, he was ready to settle down for good and had a home built in Surprise. Bill loved his wood working projects, working in the garden and around the yard with Anita and had an insatiable appetite for genealogy. He and his wife revisited Germany many times after their retirement and always enjoyed the company of their adult children and grandchildren.
Dad would often engage in conversation with total strangers and tell his stories of his upbringing, the places he’s been, the things he’s seen, his patriotism to his country, his military career and especially the pride he had in his children. We kids would call it “over sharing” but we knew he couldn’t help it, that’s who he was. Some of those strangers became life long friends and even family. For one stranger, a life changing partnership began, his wife and our beloved mother Anita.
Dad was never at peace and never the same after mom died, he slowly lost interest in all his hobbies and tasks and became more introverted. Slow but sure he started having health issues and the last year of his life was in and out of the hospital more times than we care to count. If there is a God, and he is a kind and loving God, we can only hope and have faith that he will deliver our Dad to our Mom so that they both find Peace…We love you Dad, Vater, Grandpa and Opa…May you rest in eternal peace.
You will be dearly missed.
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