William F. Bike, former Gazette Chicago circulation driver, dies at 96
December 6, 2019

William F. Bike, former Gazette Chicago circulation driver.

William F. Bike, adventurer of the 1930s and 1940s, decorated World War II veteran, former Gazette Chicago circulation driver, father of Associate Editor William S. Bike, and father-in-law of Assistant Editor Anne Nordhaus-Bike, passed away on Sept. 24, at age 96.

He was born on Feb. 7, 1923. After completing his sophomore year at Lane Tech High School in 1939, he decided to take to the road “so his family would have one less mouth to feed,” said his son, William S. Bike.

Mr. Bike traveled across the United States, hitchhiking and hopping on freight trains. Historians estimate that more than two million people “rode the rails” during the Great Depression.

Settling in Los Angeles, CA, Mr. Bike was on a streetcar on Dec. 7, 1941, when word came that the United States had entered World War II. Shortly thereafter, he signed up to work as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army constructing air bases in Alaska.

After the air bases were built, he joined the armed services as a sailor in the United States Merchant Marine, the branch of the military that had the highest casualty rate in World War II. 

Completing two years in the Pacific with the Merchant Marine, he ended World War II in the U.S. Army, finishing his service in 1946. He was decorated with a Good Conduct Medal and World War II Service Medal.

“My dad was a triple veteran of World War II—civilian employee of the U.S. Army, and member of the Merchant Marine and the Army,” William S. Bike said.

Back in Chicago after the war, he met Jean Smolen, and they were married in 1954 at St. Hedwig’s Roman Catholic Church in Bucktown. They had their son, William S. Bike, in 1957.

Mr. Bike bought a truck in 1959 and went to work as a driver for Peerless Enameling and Japanning Co. He worked as a truck driver for the rest of his career, later working for Nick Totoni & Sons Trucking and Stockyards Packing Co.

“From the time my dad retired in 1987 until my mother’s passing in 2014, they pretty much spent 24 hours a day together unless he was working out in his health club or working at Gazette Chicago,” William S. Bike said.

“Big Bill, a nickname I gave him soon after my husband and I married, was like a second father to me,” said daughter-in-law Anne Nordhaus Bike. “As an Aquarius, he was incredibly loving and loyal as well as wonderfully kind and quirky. I loved him so much and enjoyed his wacky sense of humor.”

Mr. Bike is survived by his son, William S. Bike; daughter-in-law Anne Nordhaus-Bike; friend Susan Fong; and several nieces and nephews.

Services were held at Notre Dame de Chicago Church with more than 60 people attending.

Memorials in his name may be made to Honor Flight Chicago, 9701 W. Higgins Rd., Rosemont, IL 60018, honorflightchicago.org, or Austin Special Chicago, 5318 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, IL 60630, austinspecial.org. Austin Special is an agency that assists handicapped adults.


Eulogy:

Hello. I’m Bill Bike Jr, and it is my honor to share a few words and memories about my dad.

On behalf of my wife, Anne, we thank you for being present with us today at Notre Dame de Chicago Church to celebrate a life well-lived.

My dad was quirky, starting with him having two birthdays and two names. Born at the stroke of midnight as February 6, 1923, turned into February 7, he could, and did, claim both as his birthday.

His mother wanted to name him Bruno Roman Bike, but his father wanted to name him William Frank Bike, so his father put William Frank Bike on his birth certificate and didn’t tell anyone. So everyone called him Bruno. He didn’t find out his real name until he needed his birth certificate to get into Lane Tech High School.

My dad grew up with brothers Joe, Frank, Dick, and John and sister Jean in the rough and tumble Bucktown neighborhood in the roaring ‘20s, working in the family bakery and occasionally getting into fights on those mean Bucktown streets.

One of his grade school classmates with whom he fought was Robert Irsay, who would later own the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League. So while many football fans have wanted to punch an NFL owner in the nose, my dad actually did!

The Great Depression gave him an entrepreneurial spirit, which started one Christmas Eve when he and his brother Dick, his best friend throughout his life, passed by a Christmas tree lot and asked the seller what he was going to do with the unsold trees. He told the young men they could have them, so they loaded up a truck with them and took 50 trees to Maxwell Street on Christmas Day and sold them for $1 apiece.

After his sophomore year at Lane, he decided to take to the road so the family would have one fewer mouth to feed. He then began years of adventure, hitchhiking and hopping on freight trains and traveling the country.

He worked at odd jobs and learned a lot of skills along the way, such as construction and auto repair. One of those jobs was loading sacks of cement for 25 cents per hour, and he swore to himself that if he ever had kids, they would go to college so they wouldn’t have to haul cement.

My dad was on a Los Angeles streetcar on Dec. 7, 1941, when word came that the United States had entered World War II. That week, he signed up to work as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army constructing air bases in Alaska.

Conditions in Alaska were so stark that my dad and his buddies had the sled dogs join them in their sleeping bags so they could all keep warm.

After the air bases were built, he became a sailor in the U.S. Merchant Marine, the branch of the military that had the highest casualty rate in World War II.

After completing two years in the Pacific, he ended the war in the U.S. Army. One of his favorite Army memories was how on a long, hot march he purposely fell into a river, secretly filling his canteen with cool water. The other soldiers laughed, until they realized he was the only one with water on the second half of the march.

After the war, this triple veteran who pretty much knew how to build or fix anything returned to his home state and built a house by himself in Lockport, IL.

A few years later he returned to Bucktown and met my mother, Jean Smolen. They were married in 1954 and I was born in 1957.

My dad bought a truck in 1959 and worked as a truck driver until he retired in 1987. A member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, My dad was honored by Teamsters Local 700 in June of this year for his World War II service and service to the Teamsters.

My dad loved being a father, and took me with him everywhere he could in the 1960s, including on the truck. Today that would probably break about a half a dozen laws, but we both loved it.

I also loved it that my grandmother, Margaret Bike, lived in the same house we did, as my dad had moved his mother into an apartment there. He and his brother Dick helped support her in her old age, just as their siblings Joe, Frank, and Jean helped support her in an earlier era.

I always knew that my dad had my back. I was in a toy store as a kid when an older kid started to pick on me. My look of total relaxation must have perplexed the bully, but I knew that my dad would take care of the situation as soon as he turned into that aisle.

Nonetheless, he didn’t mind stretching the truth with me a little. To get me to stop biting my fingernails as a kid, he pointed to his missing right index finger, which he had actually lost in an industrial accident, and told me he bit his fingernails as a kid, so somebody cut off his finger.

My dad always took care of his health, which is one reason he made it to 96. My dad insisted on always having fresh fruit or fresh vegetables along with the meat and potatoes at every meal.

Two years before the famous Surgeon General’s report on smoking, he decided to quit cigarettes. In his typical quirky fashion, he smoked one cigarette from a new pack and threw the almost full pack out the window, to the delight of a smoker who happened to be walking by.

He then became an anti-smoking evangelist, opening windows at parties to get rid of the smoke, and making a big show of going to bed during parties he and my mother hosted because the house was too smoky.

At age 50, he became a vegetarian and continued that until age 70, when he went back to meat figuring he wouldn’t live that much longer. He lived another 26 years, and looked so young that he and I would sometimes be mistaken for brothers.

His great health included great strength. Once, when I and my friends Dan, Bob, Jay, and Jim, all strong and 18 years old, were struggling to move a refrigerator down the stairs, my dad shook his head, placed it on his back, and carried the refrigerator down the stairs by himself.

When us 18-year-olds started raiding the refrigerator with regularity to take his Miller beer, my dad didn’t say anything to the guys in reproach. He merely switched brands to Blatz or Fox De Luxe, beers so bad-tasting that even 18-year-olds wouldn’t drink them.

When I was in high school, my dad told me to take a typing class, because, quote, “when you get drafted, they’ll put you in an office instead of a rice paddy,” unquote. I never got drafted, but with the typewriter my folks bought me I started my career as a writer.

Because of his experience with the Great Depression, My dad not only always had some business going on the side—selling Christmas paper, clock radios, lamps, baked goods, you name it, but he always figured out how to save a few dollars—even if that meant driving to Indiana to save a few cents on bananas.

For a time he invested in rental properties, but unlike the typical landlord, he always bought food for his poorer tenants and gave it to them for free when he visited. As a truck driver, he also sometimes took furniture people no longer wanted over to Cabrini-Green and gave it to people for free.

Anne met my dad in the early 1980s and gave him the nickname Big Bill, and he loved it. Since I and my dad generally communicated by yelling, Anne was a bit intimidated by him, but she discovered that he was incredible tender-hearted to her and everyone.

Anne says my folks were the best father-in-law and best mother-in-law that anyone could possibly have, like a second set of parents. She felt more like a daughter than daughter-in-law. She broadened my parents’ view of the world, and they did the same for her.

Anne says, quote, “As an Aquarius, he was incredibly loving and loyal as well as wonderfully kind and quirky. I loved him so much and enjoyed his wacky sense of humor,” unquote.

When Anne and I lived in Lake View after my folks had moved out of the neighborhood, they would use our apartment as a home base while we were at work. They would take it upon themselves to clean our apartment.

Whenever we were out of town, we could rely on them to come to our place every day to feed the cats and get the mail.

And every time we moved, they packed up our boxes for us while we were at work. We never knew how hard it was to pack until we had to do it ourselves.

My folks were great hosts for every holiday until they became too old, and Anne was happy to take over as hostess. They always appreciated her cooking and everything she did to make the holidays fun.

My folks had fun. They hosted great parties and went on great vacations. North Carolina was my dad’s favorite vacation spot.

My dad’s lifelong hobby was feeding the birds, and that became a social focal point at the Autumn Green retirement facility for the residents as they started to join him. He continued feeding the birds at the Manteno Veterans Home, where Anne and I visited him every week, up until his last few days.

From the time he retired in 1987 until my mother’s passing in 2014, they pretty much spent 24 hours a day together unless he was working out in a health club or helping out occasionally as a driver for the Gazette Chicago newspaper, based here at Notre Dame.

In their later years, my parents spent a lot of time with my aunt, Mary Smolen, and took care of her during her final illness.

My dad was the favorite person of Mary’s cat, Candide, who later became our cat after Mary went in a nursing home. Candide wouldn’t sit on anybody’s lap but my dad’s.

My parents were married for 59 wonderful years.

After my mother’s passing, with my dad in his 90s, he needed more help, so we spent more time with him and enjoyed every minute thanks to his positive personality.

Others helped as well, particularly our friend, Susan Fong. He loved you, he loved you all, and loved his other family members. One of the highlights of his last year was receiving a visit from his nephew, David, and David’s wife Joan.

After an illness in 2017, he moved to the Illinois Veterans Home in Manteno, IL, where he quickly became popular with the staff because of his storytelling ability.

While other oldtimers barely touched their food, my dad would eat heartily, consuming half of a chicken at a sitting regularly. When the Honor Flight recruited members from the Veterans Home to take the flight to Washington, DC, My dad was the only one from the home who actually went, in August of this year, and he loved it.

Many years ago, Anne bought me a t-shirt that said “Child of normal parents” on it. But the amount of love they showed to Anne, me, family, and friends was not normal—it was extraordinary.

In addition to his love of country; in addition to helping the downtrodden whenever he could; my dad showed his love to all of us.

Thank you to everyone here for the love you’ve shown to my dad and our family.

Now my dad, who outlived everyone he knew in his generation, is back with my mom and all their relatives and friends in heaven.

Goodbye, ma. Goodbye, dad. You lived good lives. We are so grateful for all you do for us. And, we will always love you.