William Leonard "Bill" Becker, 88, of Lafayette Avenue, died at 4:05 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, at Four Seasons Health Care Center. He was born on March 22, 1924, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to William and Catherine Olsem Becker. He was the youngest of six children.
From an early age he learned and cherished the value of hard work and enjoyed spending time outdoors with friends, swimming, hunting and fishing along the banks of the Mississippi. He attended St. John's grade school and also worked part time for the railroads where his father worked. Bill graduated in 1942 from La Crosse Aquinas Catholic High School where he was a member of the Catholic high school state championship basketball team. Although he enrolled in college, he almost immediately enlisted and was accepted into the Army Air Corps. While in basic training in the United States, he played basketball on an Army Air Corps basketball team, playing local high school teams to raise money for war bonds. At 19, he was stationed on Saipan and then Truk in the South Pacific as a radio operator on a B-29 crew, due to his knowledge of Morse code from his work for the railroads. He rarely spoke of his combat missions.
After he was released from active service, Bill returned home and returned to work for the railroads. He married his high school sweetheart, Joan I. Dugan, on February 5, 1949, at St. James Catholic Church in La Crosse. Seizing upon the post-war boom, and wanting to own their own business, with the assistance of relatives in the restaurant drive-in business, but with very little in their pockets, Bill and Joan decided to settle in Columbus, where they opened an A&W drive-in.
Bill and Joan lived in the back of the drive-in as they started the family business. Joan, a school teacher, also taught to help support the family. For Bill, days began early and ended late, as the couple raised five children while growing the family business, eventually continuing independently as Becker's Drive-In. He was known as “Mr. B” to the countless numbers of customers and over 1,200 employees. He continued to work at the drive-in well into his 80s while also pursuing other commercial endeavors with Joan. He was a loving husband and father who always had something kind to say about others and especially enjoyed a good conversation. He liked to have fun and was an avid card player. He had numerous friends and enjoyed their company, especially Bill and Joan’s long time bridge club. Bill enjoyed traveling with Joan and they also spent part of the winter for many years on Sanibel Island, Florida. Bill was known as "Pa" to his 13 grandchildren, and cherished each one. With Joan, he attended as many sporting events, grandparent days and school plays as they could. Holidays were full of people and love as their home filled with relatives and friends. Pa sat at the head of the table during each meal so he could be a part of every conversation.
Bill was a member of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, where he and Joan sat steadfastly in the front pew. Bill served on the St. Bartholomew Buildings and Grounds Committee for over 20 years. He was also a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus and a lifetime active member. He was a past member of the Harrison Lake Country Club, the Elks Club and the Exchange Club. He was quite active in civic and local political endeavors and was a strong supporter of the Democratic Party, receiving the Bartholomew County Democrat of the Year Award in 2001. He also served as charter member and President of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Merit Board. He was supportive of local public safety personnel and organizations.
He was preceded in death by his parents, brother Paul, and sister Avalda Wildermuth. He is survived by his three sisters, Katherine Blank, Ramona Thompson and Jenora Klawitter, all of Melbourne, Florida.
Bill is also survived by Joan, his wife of almost 64 years. He is also survived by his five children, William "Bill" Becker and Margaret "Mimi" (Nolan) Bingham of Columbus, Cathy (David) Gilmore and Anne (Carl Pebworth) of Indianapolis, and Rosemary (James) Almond of Lafayette. He is also is survived by 13 grandchildren, Frankie Gilmore (Ryan) Williams of Milwaukee, WI, Sam, Lucy and Gus Gilmore, Zack Bingham (fiancée Katie Lux) and Hugh, Maggie and Charlie Pebworth of Indianapolis, Catherine and Jack (Abby) Hageman of Columbus, Joanne Almond of Chicago, IL, and Thomas and Nelson Almond of Lafayette. He is survived also by many Dugan nieces and nephews who made “Uncle Bill” an honorary member of their Irish clan.
A Catholic Mass to celebrate his life will be conducted at 10:00 a.m. Friday at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Columbus with Father Clem Davis officiating. Interment will follow immediately at Garland Brook Cemetery.
Family and friends may call from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. Thursday at Barkes, Weaver & Glick Funeral Home on Washington Street, with a Rosary service starting at 7:30 p.m., and at the church Friday from 9 a.m. until service time.
The family request that in lieu of flowers memorial contributions may be made to Our Hospice of South Central Indiana or St. Bartholomew Catholic School.
Online condolences may be sent to the Becker family and a video tribute may be viewed at www.barkesweaverglick.com.