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Life Story / Obituary
Bill passed away at home on Oct.13, after a long and courageous battle with heart disease and COPD. He was born to Lieutenant Robert W. Elliott and Shirley M. (Jensen) Elliott in Minneapolis MN on Sept. 3, 1947. The family moved to South Haven MI, his father’s home town, in 1948, where two more sons, Robert W. Elliott (Linda), Derry NH, and Joseph E. Elliott (Lisa) of Sterling Heights MI, and a daughter, Jill A. Eldred, Kalamazoo MI, were born. In June of 1969 he married Janice C. Tetzlaff of Kalamazoo, whom he met in 1965 at Van Buren Youth Camp. He was on the camp staff and Jan was attending a Red Cross Leadership session. After graduating from L.C. Mohr High school in 1966, Bill attended Michigan State University for two years. In September 1968, at the height of the Viet Nam War, he enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Bill lived his life guided by the traditional American values of honor, family, hard work, service, passion and compassion. He attended St. Basil Catholic School in South Haven and the St. Joseph Seminary (Grand Rapids), before graduating from L.C. Mohr High School in 1966. At 15, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout, with Troop 99. He was also a member of the Order of the Arrow, and Explorer Post 88. His energy was endless and passions many. He was a paper boy, gas station attendant, construction worker, retail clerk, and golf course maintenance worker throughout his high school years. All this in addition to being on the football, swimming and track teams; a Class and Senate Officer, and in the robed choir and the Honors Quartet. Not only was Bill the lead in many of the school’s musical and plays, he and best friend Ken Lynam, created a folk group (the “Draft Brood”) that entertained many at South Haven-area venues for several years. His beloved 12-steel string Gibson guitar is now in the loving care of his son, Ben. In his two years at MSU, Bill was on the football practice squad challenging renowned players Bubba Smith, Gene Washington, and George Webster. He also sang with the MSU Men’s Glee Club and was a member of the Student Executive Committee.
After enlisting in the USMC in September 1968, “recruit” Bill was sent to Camp Pendleton, CA. to become a true Marine. He was a platoon leader there and earned the rank of Private First-Class. His hard work, diligence and leadership abilities resulted in his being selected for Officer Candidate School. On his way to Marine Corps Base Quantico VA for OCS, he and Jan were married — and the drive to Quantico was their honeymoon! “The Basic School” there was next. The ultimate purpose of TBS was/is to learn the “duties, responsibilities and warfighting skills required of a rifle platoon commander.” Once again, Bill’s grit, integrity and intelligence resulted in his selection to attend flight school for fixed-winged aircraft. As the Navy was overwhelmed in training new pilots due their losses in ‘Nam, Bill (and Jan) were sent to Craig AFB, in lovely Selma AL. There he trained in the T-37 (“Tweety Bird”) and T-38 (Talon). He earned his Silver Air Force wings in April 1971. To transition to the Navy way of doing things (like landing on aircraft carriers!), Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point NC (commonly known as Cheerless Point) was the next posting. But due to continuous bad weather conditions, and insufficient aircraft maintenance crews, training was delayed by months. Impatient as usual, Bill used his well-known powers of persuasion, and requested orders for a transfer to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, AZ, which were granted. There he trained on the TA-4 Skyhawk (a single-seat, single-engine subsonic carrier-capable attack jet) and earned the coveted gold Navy wings on June 16, 1972. His father, Bob, a WWII PB4Y-2 Privateer pilot, was there to award them to Bill. An overwhelming sense of history, patriotism and continuity imbued this ceremony. In December 1972, we were ordered to MCAS El Toro CA, to become part of VMA-214, the famous (infamous?) “Black Sheep” squadron of Pappy Boyington fame. Bill was in is his glory here. He was now a trained fighter and leader, and had his beloved, hard-earned Navy wings, and was ready to go to war. He submitted many requests to be sent to Viet Nam, but, surprisingly, USMC pilots who had already had a tour there, wanted to go back--they had priority. As the war came to an end, a non-college graduate officer/pilot, was no longer needed. He was able to get just enough flying hours to maintain his readiness and wings, so he deduced that his Marine Corps days would be spent “flying a desk” if he stayed active. His last active duty position with the Corps was Casualty Assistance Officer at MCAS EL Toro. He left active duty in late 1974, but continued his commitment to the Corps by becoming a Reserve Officer until late 1977. A move back to his cherished South Haven became a reality.
There he worked with his father at the Hardt-Elliott Insurance agency, to expand the business to include life insurance. After his father died in 1977, Bill realized that his/our goals did not fit with the agency. So a move to a bigger market – Kalamazoo – was in order. As his first step, he affiliated with a nation-wide life Insurance company for a short time, but soon came to realize that selling ideas was his forte, not insurance. It was then he created BFDA, Ltd., a firm that would be a single source for management consulting, real estate development, and construction management. After building or remodeling several commercial properties in Lansing and Kalamazoo, he trimmed the scope of his work to construction design/build/management, but expanded to add residential projects. This firm was named Elliott Construction Services. In the past several years, he took great satisfaction in working with the Veterans Administration to reconfigure homes for disabled Vets. This work was very meaningful and became important to him.
But of all of his accomplishments, the most meaningful to him were his children, and their children. Ben and Jodi were his greatest joy and without doubt, the most valuable assets he could share with the world. Ben and Jodi are spectacular, caring, honorable, amazingly intelligent and astute individuals, due in large measure to the example he set. Benjamin Joseph Elliott was born in October of 1976, and Jodi Colleen Elliott, in September of 1979. From hour one of their lives, Bill was totally enthralled. He’d sleep on the floor next to their beds when they were sick and included them in anything activity he could. Bill was Cubmaster for Pack 256, and Scoutmaster for Troop 256. He was also a coach for the kids’ AYSO soccer teams, and imparted his values of respect and hard work to all the players. As a coach he had the incredible gift of making every one of his players feel important, cared for and respected. He loved the sport and soon became a certified referee – not only for AYSO but also the Region (high school and leagues). He refereed many high school matches – even after his kids graduated and his quadruple by-pass surgery in 1995. Many of the kids he coached have kept in touch throughout the years – and thanked him every visit for the guidance, strength, and tenderness he showed them. Nothing is a better testament to a man’s character.
Ben’s children are Grace (9), Gwenn (7) and William (5), and they live in Sheboygan Falls WI. Jodi is married to Dr. James Watson, and they have 2 sons, August (almost 4) and Leif (2). Another child is due in March 2017. They reside in Åkersberga, Sweden. We were thrilled to have everyone here with us in late August. Bill’s sister Jill and his brothers Rob and Joe, with their spouses Linda and Lisa, gathered at our home for Bill’s final birthday on September 3, 2016. An amazing scotch, his signature spirit, was enjoyed by all in honor of him.
Graveside services with full military honors will be held at 2:30 PM on Friday, October 28, 2016 at Ft. Custer National Cemetery, 15501 West Dickman Road; Augusta, MI. Those who will be attending are asked to meet in the funeral assembly area at the cemetery at 2:15 PM. Visit Bill's personal web page at www.BetzlerFuneralHome.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo of him and sign his online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to the Semper Fi Fund or Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Fund.
Bill birth family:
Robert W. Elliott – father, died in 1977
Shirley Mae (Jensen) Elliott – mother, died 1995
Robert W. Elliott, Brother; spouse Linda; nephews Robert and Steven
Joseph E. Elliott, Brother: spouse Lisa, nephews Jason and Joshua
Jill A. Eldred, Sister: niece Andrea Ramsdell (Spouse Todd, kids: Isabella, Matthew), nephew Matthew Eldred (Spouse Kim, kids: Andrew, Alayna, Anna
Jan’s brother Leon F. Tetzlaff, spouse Chris
Jan’s sister: Toni A. Rappaport, spouse Gus, niece Heidi Ahler (Spouse Brian, kids-- Reese, Caden)
Jan’s mother: Irene M. Tetzlaff
Jan’s Father: Clare A. Tetzlaff, died 2000