BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Bill Cox retired five years ago, but today he’s busier than ever – hauling produce to area food pantries, mentoring young adults and repairing buildings for nonprofit organizations.
“I’ve seen too many people retire to sit in front of the TV. The next thing you know, you’re reading their names in the paper. That ain’t gonna be me,” said the lifelong Maumee resident.
He ties his “never sit still” attitude to the late Dr. Harrison, a physician who had an office on Askin Street. Bill had polio as a child and was paralyzed for a year when he was 2 or 3. Harrison advised him early on not to quit moving or he’d regret it.
“I took that to heart, and I never stopped,” he said.
A longtime member of Maumee United Methodist Church, Bill is involved with the church’s junior high and high school youths, taking teens on mission trips to impoverished areas to make home repairs. As a member of PALS – Professionals in the Art of Living – he makes repairs around the church each week. Through the church, Bill also serves St. Andrew’s Food Ministry, regularly picking up the gleanings from farmers’ harvests to deliver to area food banks, including Toledo SeaGate, Northwest Ohio, EnPuzzlement and Mosaic Ministries. Each year, he takes a box truck to southern Ohio to pick up 6,000 pounds of seed potatoes to give to farmers who agree to plant, harvest and donate the spuds to area food ministries.
“I don’t think there is anything that he won’t do to help another human being,” said fellow church member Amy Clark. “His skills are boundless, and his heart is huge. His selflessness in action is well-known in our community.”
Through the church, Bill also was tapped by Toledo Campus Ministry, and he not only keeps the ministry’s home in good shape, but he also works with students from The University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University as they do service projects.
Bill works with the Spring Green Educational Foundation’s Youth Diversion program as well. Too often, youths are isolated from positive, healthy adults and are left to their own devices to figure out life lessons through unhealthy relationships and measures, said SGEF executive director Dawn Duhaime.
“Bill is clearly a gift to our foundation and the community. Bill treats each teen as if they were his own, opening his mind and heart to their life experiences and offering his time as a way of demonstrating his belief in their worth,” Duhaime said. “Bill goes above and beyond for the simple message of ‘you matter’ to these youth.”
Bill has plenty of experience with youth, as he and his wife of 50 years, Jane, have three daughters, a son and six grandchildren.
“Jane is my biggest backup. She’s great,” he said of his wife, who goes with him on mission trips.
The two met in Bowling Green shortly after he returned from active duty with the Navy. Bill, a 1967 Maumee High School graduate, joined the Navy as part of a one-year program in 1968 and went active duty in 1969, training in California in preparation for Vietnam, where he served as an electrical technician on a bomber for two years.
After a five-year break, Bill joined the Navy Reserves as part of a construction battalion that traveled around the world to work on construction projects. His most memorable trip was in 1993, when he worked on the United States’ display for the World’s Fair in Seville, Spain. While in Spain, he participated in the famous Running of the Bulls and escaped unscathed.
His mechanical and construction skills served him well over the years. For 49 years, he worked as a millwright at Johns Manville. At first, he worked nights and delivered mail during the day. When he began working days, he got involved with volunteering. In 1999, he was named the Johns Manville Volunteer of the Year.
While Bill has had plenty of adventures over the years, one thing has stayed the same – his address. He purchased the Gibbs Street home where he grew up after his parents passed away. Growing up in Maumee has given him plenty of inside knowledge about the history of his hometown.
When he was in fifth grade, Bill and his classmates walked through town asking residents to sign a petition to have the city buy and restore the Wolcott House. Later, the students helped clean up the property, discovering some hidden compartments along the way. Bill also points out that Wolcott built wharves and warehouses and two steamships along the Maumee River where the Edison Club once stood.
As soon as he could start working, Bill was busy. He washed dishes at Gouttiere’s Bakery before and after school, but his first real job was at Dino’s – then known as Don’s Drive In – where he was a carhop and then a grill cook. He stocked shelves for Montgomery Ward, then took a job with Loesch Motors, the original Ford dealer in Maumee. Bill drove a wrecker and delivered parts. The area along West Wayne Street had not only the bakery, Elks Club and Masonic Temple (of which he’s a member), but also a four-lane bowling alley.
While Bill doesn’t volunteer with any historical groups, he’s working on a piece of his own history: restoring the 1941 Ford sedan that his grandmother gave him for his high school graduation. Between that and delivering bikes for Honda East, building swing sets and dollhouses, and all the volunteering, Bill doesn’t sit still.
“I get about five or six hours of sleep a night,” he said.