Special to the Tribune

Longtime Chanute resident Bill Roberts grew up in Oklahoma, the seventh of nine children during the Great Depression.

Like so many in that era, Bill’s dad lost their farm. He found employment as the Chief of Police in Disney, Okla., when the Pensacola Dam (also known as the Grand River Dam) was under construction. 

Because of his efforts to help America out of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is Bill’s favorite president – in his 97 years, Bill has seen a lot of presidents come and go through the doors of the White House. FDR took office in the midst of the Great Depression, implementing numerous programs to provide relief to the farmers and the unemployed. National Youth Administration was just one of the many programs implemented by FDR, focused on providing work and education by learning a trade for America’s youth between the ages of 16-25. Bill was just one of the thousands of youths that benefitted from NYA. 

While in high school, Bill played football and after graduating from Jay (Okla.) High School in 1942, he signed up for the Army Air Corps during World War II. In the Corps, Bill served as radio operator in a cargo plane, flying over oceans eight times as a passenger. He also flew all over the world and has been on four continents – South America, Asia, Africa and Europe – and even parachuted behind enemy lines in the invasion of Normandy. 

Bill served his country with love and self-sacrifice for three years and one month. More than 16 million served their country in World War II, and fewer than 390,000 are still alive today. 

Bill was in Washington, DC, for the National World War II memorial dedication, along with President George HW Bush and his son President George W Bush. Bill has also visited Arlington National Cemetery, our nation’s most hallowed ground. In the Library of Congress, there is a recording of Bill giving an oral history of WWII to two college students. 

Bill has continued his military service by volunteering for 63 years as a member of the Veterans of Foreign War, and 53 years as a member of the Elks. He started the Honor Guard 54 years ago as well as a chili cookoff for the Shriners. He also served as Commander for the American Legion’s oldest post, helping other veterans. 

There is a bench with Bill’s name of it at the Chanute Veterans Memorial in Santa Fe Park. The bench also lists Juanita Roberts (his first wife), Virginia Roberts (his second wife), Bill Roberts, Jr. (son), and Twila Busse (daughter). 

Bill has also served on the Board of Trustees for Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center, as well as volunteering for the hospital. He has carried the chain for the high school football team and has ridden on floats in Erie’s parade. 

Outside of his life of service and volunteerism, Bill learned the dry cleaning trade in Tulsa. He also worked for National Life Insurance both in Lawrence and in Chanute. National Life would reward employees by sending them  to The Grand Ole Opry as a treat for a job well done. He earned his trip and got to see Minnie Pearl as well as other stars, listening to the Wabash Cannon Ball. Bill left the insurance business when he bought Top Hat Cleaners, working side by side with his first wife of 51 years, Juanita. 

A few years after Juanita’s death, he married Virginia, who had also lost her spouse. Both couples were longtime friends and now Bill and Virginia have been married for 18 years, and are both members of First Christian Church. 

Scrapbooks and photographs capture the history of Bill’s life. Kids, grandkids and great-grandkids all love to hear about his life. While Bill has traveled the world through the Army Air Corps seeing the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids, he has also traveled extensively throughout the United States, seeing every state but Hawaii. 

Colorado is his favorite, but he will say “all roads lead back to Kansas.”


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