Bill Blockcolsky

Bill Blockcolsky

William Eli Blockcolsky, whom we know simply as Bill, was born at home on October 25, 1931, with the assistance of a midwife who worked under the guidance of a physician. He was the fourth child and second son born to farmers. He spent his younger years on the family farm that was located 9 miles east of Manhattan, Kansas, which is known as “The Little Apple,” and is home to Kansas State University. His first name was given in tribute to his mother's father and his middle and last names for his paternal grandfather. Although there is debate within the family concerning questions of his family's heritage and history, Bill maintains that his great-great grandfather and brother were indentured to the military academy at approximately 7˝ years of age as Prussian soldiers. When they were older, both were sent to Poland to help quell the uprising in the late 1800's. Circumstances led to their desertion, and fearing reprisal from the Germans, they made up “Blockcolsky,” and thus were known by that name forevermore. Bill is a fourth generation American.

When he was four years old, Bill's father died of pneumonia, leaving his mother to raise five children alone. At the time, her oldest was 12 and her youngest, a baby of 1. To provide for her kids, she continued to work the 240 acre farm which consisted of 40 acres of fertile bottom land and 200 acres of flint hills, pasture and timber. Fortunately, she had help in the form of a man who was mentally challenged. Together, with her hired hand and offspring, she managed to keep 80 head of cattle, 30 head of sheep, 2 span (which I learned is 4) of mules, which were used for plowing and cultivating, a quarter horse for herding cattle and up to 500 chickens.

Everyone had to pull together, and the children all had appointed chores. Bill chopped firewood after school for the kitchen range and the potbelly stove that heated the home. They had no running water or indoor plumbing, so Saturday night was “bath night.” The lower you were on the totem pole, age-wise, the fresher your bath water. The baby was first in line and Mom was last. Bill had the reputation of being a hard boy to track, and his adventurous spirit often got him into trouble. He would rather be outside, preferably in or near the water, than anywhere else. A natural swimmer, Bill never had a lesson but early on discovered a passion that drew him toward creeks, lakes, streams and rivers. Fearing he'd drown or some other tragedy would befall him, his mother sent him to his Uncle Bub and Aunt Ora's garden farm each summer to work in the fields. The absence of standing water on their place, plus their guarantee to keep Bill busy and productive gave her comfort and peace of mind. He picked watermelons, cantaloupes and other produce. Even as a very young child, Bill was always industrious and did field work on neighboring farms for 10-15 cents an hour.

At the age of 5, Bill was sent to a two-room, two-teacher school in Zeandale, about one mile away and within walking distance of his home. He attended and struggled there through 6th grade and was forced to repeat 4th grade because of his difficulty in reading and spelling. Bill's father, grand-father and great-great grandfather had all suffered with learning disabilities and as boys, had experienced these same problems. In those days, there were no fancy words or explanations for kids like this, so Bill had to overcome the stigma of being considered “dumb.” Because he was always busy working, Bill never participated in school sports. At one point, he was employed by Smith Brothers Sporting Goods & Bicycle Shop and also delivered newspapers for the Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Times each morning and evening on a used bike he'd purchased from the Shop. When Bill was 12, in an attempt to save his older brother, Bob, from being sent to fight in WWII, his mother turned the family farm, which was located one mile east of Zeandale, over to her eldest son, who was 18 years old at the time. After this was accomplished, his mother moved, with her remaining children, to the nearby town of Manhattan. Although college educated with a teaching certificate, she worked as a seamstress at a tent & awning factory making tents for the G.I.'s. As it turned out, this area was ripe with Indian arrowheads and finding them became one of Bill's favorite pastimes. Besides the ones he'd found as a boy, he still has his dad's treasured collection of over fifty.

Bill graduated from Manhattan High School in 1950. He enrolled in Kansas State University and after one semester, began to feel the pressure of choosing between making good grades or joining the military. Still experiencing academic trouble, he determined the choices were very limited so he caught the train from Manhattan to Kansas City and joined the Navy in 1951. While still at the University, Bill served as a doorman at State Theater, also known as “The Bloody Bucket.” It was located in a very rough part of town where gang activity and thugs were prevalent. Movies cost 15 cents so groups of ruffians would pool their pennies for the price of one admission and once inside would open the fire exit door, allowing their cronies to enjoy the show for free. Since Bill couldn't be everywhere at once, he had to sometimes use strong arm tactics to control behavior. Around this time, a severe hailstorm passed through Manhattan and damaged many roofs, including that of the theater. As a result, Bill became a skillful roofer, adding this to his growing job resume. Fortunately, the U.S. Navy considered his past work history as “life experience,” which worked in his favor. As a result, after completing his physical/psychological testing and being sworn in, he was given the title of Recruit Chief Petty Officer and put in charge of 60 other recruits. This was an exciting time for Bill, because he was placed on a train and sent to San Diego, California. It was only the second time in his life that he'd been out of Kansas! During the next 14 weeks, Bill attended school, marched, completed weapons training and much to his delight, swam. After this, he was sent to Great Lakes Naval Training Center to be trained as a machinist mate. In 1953, following additional training, Bill was headed for Korea on the USS Brush DD745. The USS Brush's primary job was to escort aircraft carriers and run interference for US bombing missions. Bill remained a machinist mate for the rest of his military career, which lasted 4 years. Today, he holds the unenviable title of Disabled Veteran, with hearing loss and lung cancer, no doubt related to his years in the Navy aboard The Destroyer. Cramped main propulsion engine rooms were extensively covered with asbestos insulation that fell like snow whenever there was a change in acceleration or vibration.

Back home, in the fall of 1955, Bill again enrolled in Kansas State University and managed to stick it out for 3 years before leaving school and getting on with life. Because he was unable to complete the English requirements, he never graduated.

1957 found Bill married with one child and two more in his future. He first came to Alaska for the summer of 1960 as a roofer at Clear AF Station. In the fall, he returned with his wife and son and moved to Carbondale, Illinois on the campus of Southern Illinois University where his spouse was a student. While she was in school, Bill worked as a lab tech for Uni-Dynamics, a division of Universal Match Corporation in East Alton, Illinois. At the time, they produced explosive actuating devices for the Manhattan Project, the growing U.S. Space Program and also for the Viet Nam War. In 1963, his employer relocated Bill to Avondale-Goodyear, AZ as a receiving and in-production inspector. By then, his wife had completed her degree from Southern Illinois University. In 1972, with his family, Bill drove to Alaska in search of employment. He stayed. His family left in the fall but came back in 1974. Luck was on his side, when the Dept. of Defense hired Bill as a heating equipment mechanic/boiler operator in Galena for one year before sending him to Indian Mountain for another year as a supervisor. From there, he transferred to Murphy Dome as supervisor of all heating equipment, boilers and water plant on that site. He was there until 1981.

In 1975, Bill contracted parts of the work out and a family home was built in University Heights, on property that once belonged to the legendary Joe Vogler. Bill was a husband for 28 years and was divorced in 1985, after his children were grown. With no house of his own, he began applying for acreage that was awarded by lottery at $15 per application on Eielson Farm Road. His 60 acres, where he built a barn and a small apartment, gradually grew to 560 acres. He cleared land and primarily grew brome grass. He still owns this acreage plus an additional 40 acres on Old Murphy Dome Road.

After being on light duty for two years in housing maintenance following an on-the-job accident, Bill finally retired as a Civil Service employee on1-2-92. He had previously worked as a boiler/heating equipment operator and coal crew foreman in the Eielson Power Plant.

After living at his place on Eielson Farm Road for many years, Bill moved to Holiday Heights and has resided there for nearly 2 decades. Living “in the city” affords him the social life and companionship that is necessary to his well-being. In fact, he attributes his ability to stay young and active to an article he once read about the life span of the average U.S. Citizen. According to the author, people who stay active and in particular, dance, live an average of 9.7 years longer than the wallflowers. Besides, Bill believes that dancing is a whole lot more fun than ping-pong....that writer's other answer to longevity. When he isn't on the dance floor, Bill likes to spend his time working at his place on Eielson Farm Road. He says he can work out any anger, dissatisfaction or problem by hammering nails, pulling wrenches and enjoying the beautiful scenery, especially in the fall, which coincides with hunting season. Staying current with news and world events is another way he stays young and enjoys reading these publications. Something else Bill enjoys a lot is dumpster “shopping,” and claims to have found all sorts of great things people have tossed out that still have a life and purpose to them. He is especially proud of the steel he has managed to pluck from these receptacles. Those “I” beams, posts, Butler Building “Z” metal and roofing materials have evolved into hay and canopy buildings on his farm. Bill can also be spotted at local auctions where he has managed to purchase much of his farm machinery. He is proud of the fact that he is able to make the repairs necessary to keep things running at a fraction of retail cost.

After several years, Bill continues to participate in the Alaska International Senior Games and has been quite successful in bringing home honors for his age group in endeavors that include track and field, mountain biking and horseshoes. Not surprisingly, he particularly excels in swimming! According to Bill, 2011 was his best year ever, when he was awarded a record-breaking, unprecedented total of 25 medals--15 gold, 5 silver and 5 bronze. About a year ago, Bill, his special friend Alma, his daughter and his grandchildren visited Hawaii for one week. He got to visit with one of his oldest school friends, walk the beaches, snorkel and enjoy the wonderful weather. Memories of this trip are among his fondest. He has yet to see, but keeps at the top of his bucket list, the Rainbow Bridge National Monument which is located in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Utah. His 18 year- old grandson has offered to accompany Bill on this trek, so don't be too surprised when you learn he has managed to carry out this goal. Even today, Bill lists his mother as being his greatest inspiration and influence in life. Although she waited until the very end of her life to tell her children she loved them, Bill says, “she must have loved us terribly to keep us together as a family unit.”

Bill is the first to admit that he loves the ladies, loves to dance (square, waltz, round, Western) and frankly, enjoys attention. He is active in the Yuma, AZ mixers that are offered at the RV parks where sun-seeking participants reside during the winter months. He is a member of Santa's Seniors, VFW, American Legion, Pioneers of Alaska, NRA and Alaska-Yukon Pioneers.

A principal philosophy that Bill holds is this: “There are 24 hours a day and 365 days a year which adds up to nearly 9000 hours each year. If we annually allow 2000+ hours to hold a job and 2000+ hours to sleep, we're still left with over 4000 hours to use for recreation, loving, learning and pursuing creativity.”

When I called Bill to request an interview, he told me right at the get-go that he has a lot of stories. He wasn't kidding, and I sincerely hope he'll get around to putting some of them on paper for his family to read, cherish and enjoy for decades to come. Until that day, we can all look forward to his accounts of how things were “back then.”

Interview/Story by Francie Cork - Santa’s Senior Photo

Back to Santa's Seniors Members -->