Anyone who has ever been to a Bingo game will know that the players take the game very seriously. Try talking to one of the ladies with 50 cards in front of her while numbers are being called, you might lose a limb or even get knocked out.
On Feb. 16, the American Legion in Leadington actually cancelled their Saturday night Bingo game. It wasn’t because of the weather, illness, or an issue with the building, but to remember a man – a man loved by everyone his life touched.
“There will be no line at the kitchen, the bathroom doors will not be swinging, and we will not be getting it on in Loving Memory of Our 'Hero' Bill Hoppe," was the post on the auxiliary's Facebook page that weekend.
It’s not every day that you run into a true local hero, but those who have had the experience of knowing William “Bill” Hoppe know that he was, in fact, well-known and well-loved by a countless number of people across the Parkland.
Wayne Byrd is the current commander of American Legion Post 39 in Leadington.
“Bill was one of the best men I ever worked with. He was dedicated. It was a big loss when we lost Bill,” said Byrd.
Bill died Feb. 12 at the age of 82. He retired from the U.S. Army after 22 years active federal service. He fought in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He was retired from the state of Missouri where he worked as a system analyst and also served as a Special Roads District Commissioner for St. Francois County.
He was a member of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, a life member of the Bismarck VFW, a life member of the American Legion Post in Park Hills, and a founding member of the Mineral Area Elks Lodge.
Bill was preceded in death by his parents and his wife, Phylis (Weston) Hoppe, one daughter, Elizabeth, and two brothers and he is survived by four children – Chuck, Catheryn, Rebecca, and Shannon, five grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.
These are the facts that a two paragraph obituary will sum up for most people. For someone like Bill Hoppe, there is much more than just a few measly facts in an obituary. There was more to Bill than his memberships, his work history, and his relatives. Someone like Bill reached people far beyond the walls of his home, the ties of his family, and the limits of a city.
When Bill was a small boy, his parents divorced and his father was awarded custody of him and his younger brother, Charlie. This was uncommon in the 1940s for a father to raise the children. While their father was building a home, Bill and Charlie stayed at the St. Louis Presbyterian Home for Children.
While working on the house, Bill’s father fell off the roof and later succumbed to his injuries. The two boys spent the next seven years in the orphanage until their maternal grandmother, Mary Bone, finally persuaded their guardian to allow her to raise them. As early teens, Bill and Charlie came to live with her in Esther.
Bill went to school, did his chores, and worked part time as a clerk at a downtown Flat River store. When he was a senior in high school, Bill met Phylis when he was laughing at her for falling off the bus.
After graduating, Bill served in the U.S. Air Force where he was involved in the tail end of the Korean War. In 1958, while home on leave, Bill ran into Phylis again, who had graduated the previous year, and spent a year in the Air Force as well. Both Bill and Phylis were the eldest in families with a large group of children. They married in August of 1958. Once married they moved to Chicago and their first child, Elizabeth, was born in 1959.
The family lived in Colorado Springs for a period of time, where their son William was born in 1961. Bill was deployed to Vietnam four times during which Phylis would come back to Flat River with the children. In 1962, Bill was stationed in Italy and Phylis and the children moved with him overseas. Their third child, Cathy, was born there in 1963. They then moved to France and then came back stateside to North Carolina in 1964, where their fourth child, Becky was born.
The family moved back to Colorado Springs, where Bill worked as a system and data analyst for the U.S. Army. The family again moved overseas to Germany in the late 1960’s and after a three-year tour, moved back to the United States, settling in Kansas.
In 1974, Bill and Phylis came back to the Parkland to retire. It made sense – family was here and they wanted their son to have a strong school system to prepare him for his military career. In August of 1975, Bill and Phyllis had a grandchild, Shannon, who they would raise as their own fifth child.
Bill continued to work data systems analysis, this time for the Missouri Department of Mental Health. In 1983, Phylis became seriously ill and was diagnosed with systemic lupus. She would no longer be able to work or do many normal daily tasks. “Pully gave and gave the first 25 years of our marriage, it’s my turn now,” was Bill’s response.
After retirement is when Bill changed to another facet in his life, the one that he perhaps most well-known for – volunteerism.
Bill joined the VFW Post 6947 in Bismarck and the American Legion Post 39 in Flat River. When the Mineral Area Elks Lodge started in Desloge, Bill became a charter member. Bill knew that volunteering was good, but he also knew that it required money to power them.
The family said that as far back as they can recall, Bill was assisting with fundraising in many different organizations. Bill became involved in many veteran organization oversight committees for the Veterans Administration, including serving as “40 & 8” Representative at John J. Pershing Hospital in Poplar Bluff until just before his death. The 40 & 8 is described as the “national honor society” of the American Legion.
Bill often spoke at local classrooms on the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Debbie Bradley, a counselor at Central High School said, “Bill Hoppe had a passion for Missouri Boys State. He was a great resource to me as a high school counselor at Central for many years. He helped connect me to organizations who gladly donated money to sponsor Central students. I knew I could always call on Bill for help.”
Jeff Cauley, a teacher at North County High School said that he taught the novel “Fallen Angels” to students in his classroom and he wanted to find someone who had experienced Vietnam first-hand to talk to his classes. Bill was suggested and agreed to come in and talk to the students.
“My students were amazed with this man. Bill Hoppe was a commanding presence and when he spoke, people listened. Bill’s contribution to that unit of study was invaluable,” said Cauley.
Bill ran for office on the Special Roads District Commission and won the seat. He was astonished, after being sworn in, to learn that although there were funds available, no work had been done. Long-time friend and former Daily Journal staff writer Leroy Sigman quoted Bill as saying, “I don’t know what we are going to do, but we are going to do something – even if it’s wrong!”
And they did. Bill was serving as the current president of the Special Roads Commission and they were planning to replace another old bridge at the time of his death.
On June 23, 2005, Bill’s life changed forever. His partner, his best friend, and his love passed away at the age of 65 after succumbing to complications from lupus. In 2014, Bill had the ominous duty of burying a child, his oldest daughter, Elizabeth. Just over a week after her funeral, Bill suffered a heart attack.
Animals were always a fixture in the Hoppe household. In 2013, Phylis’ pet had to be put down due to old age and in February of 2014, the Farmington FPAC hosted Heidi, a malamute mix. Little did Bill know, but Heidi would soon become his best friend during the remainder of his life.
The summer of 2018 proved to be a difficult time for Bill. On a mid-June morning, Bill stepped out on the porch with Heidi and she took off, jerking him forward and causing him to break his hip. The scans on his hip actually brought some lucky news as the doctors were able to detect two aortal abdominal aneurysms. The surgeries on his aneurysms and hip went well, but the hard part came next – rehab at age 81.
Late that summer, both John McCain and Burt Reynolds died at the age of 81 and Bill joked, “I gotta get to 82 … quick!” In August, Bill got on a flight to the East Coast to see his grandson’s wedding.
Bill rehabbed and was back to district American Legion meetings in no time, hosting the 40 & 8 Party in December, and attending Saturday night Bingos. Bill enjoyed St. Louis Cardinals and followed the Cardinals closely throughout the season. Bill also enjoyed Sunday afternoon football games.
The family said Bill was probably the biggest flirt in three counties, but never wanted to make someone uncomfortable. Phylis is noted as saying, “it never bothered me, he’s harmless, and I know who he goes home with.”
Some of Bill’s famous quotes, according to relatives, were “Be safe and try to have some fun along the way,” “Do it now because you never know when you’ll get another chance,” and “You write it – I’ll sign it” (when talking to his children about a note needed for school).
When asked about Bill, Sheriff Dan Bullock said, “Bill was a long-time friend of mine and the department. He was a big supporter of the Shop With a Cop Program and anything that involved taking care of kids. He will forever be missed by me and the entire sheriff’s department.”
Friends and family are grateful for his service to our county, his service to the community, and for his legacy that will touch lives for years to come.