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William A. Merritt
September 22, 1935 ~ December 26, 2023 (age 88) 88 Years Old
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William Albert Merritt, of Hume and long-time Newman area farmer, and my dad, passed away December 26, 2023. He was 88 years old.
Bill, or Uncle Bill as he was known to dozens of nieces and nephews, was born September 22, 1935, in Woodburn, Kentucky (Warren County), and moved to Illinois with his folks, Elbert and Mary (Sampson) Merritt, as a toddler. He attended Newman High School and met the love of his life, Evelyn Nadine Eads, at the junction. They were married in November 1953, and dad went into the Army. After being honorably discharged, the couple moved to Lake Wales, Florida, where dad worked at the Donald Duck orange juice factory while his bride pursued cosmetology.
Dad and mom missed home and returned to Illinois, and dad went to work helping his dad with farm work. Dad farmed for the Thompsons, Parrs and Edith Santis, then later for himself. All told, he farmed roughly the same hunk of land for more than 50 years.
Dad didn't have many hobbies, as the hobby he loved most was farming. There were things he enjoyed like the covered bridge festival and going out to eat, but the man was a farmer through and through. He loved farming, and he especially loved growing corn. An old boss of mine at the local fertilizer plant, a former Marine by the name of Terry Catlin, once said, "Man, your dad loves growing corn." The only hobbies he really had were keeping his vehicles clean and mowing the yard, and he was fanatical about both. If you ever drove by the car wash when it was about 12 degrees and wondered who would be washing their car in such weather...yup, that was dad. No doubt about it, he was one of the hardest workers I've ever known.
While I don't know if it qualifies as a hobby, dad was a talker, and he could chat with the best of them. We talked at least twice a week after mom passed away in 2016, mostly about farming and politics. He was a lifelong Republican, having voted for a D just once -- JFK -- so we had a lot to talk about but little to agree on. I'm not really sure how I knew anything about it given that I was 6 years old and Walter Cronkite was my only source of information, but I remember betting dad a quarter that Hubert Humphrey would win the 1968 presidential election. Remember it clear as a bell, right there in the kitchen of the "little house." Humphrey of course lost, and a few years later, dad was really excited to get a chance to see President Richard Nixon at the Illinois State Fair. It was August 1971, inflation and the war in Vietnam were raging, and Nixon was giving a speech at the Livestock Pavilion. The crowd was huge, and dad just flat did not understand why some people -- "damned hippies" -- wanted to throw eggs. Three years later, just about to the day, Nixon resigned. I later gave dad a copy of "Leaders," as Nixon was a wonderful writer and a great story teller, but I'm not sure he ever read it.
So no, my dad probably wasn't the most exciting guy by some standards, he wasn't flashy or anything like that, he maybe wasn't even always agreeable. But he was a pretty good guy who would help you if he could. And he did help a lot of people with a few bucks here, a tank of gas, a place to stay. He was rock solid and dependable and loyal, and true to his word. He was also a pretty damned good dad, completely devoted to me and mom, and I'm going to miss him greatly.
William was preceded in death by his parents, his wife of 63 years, Evelyn, and his younger brother, James. He is survived by his son Stephen -- me -- his grandson Gabriel, and many nieces, nephews and in-laws.
Visitation will be held from 10 – 11 a.m. Thursday, January 4, at Joines Funeral Home in Newman with services to follow at 11 a.m., Ted Shearer will officiate. Burial will follow at the Pleasant Ridge Cemetery.
Memorial donations may be made to the Alzheimer's Association or the Shiloh Chapter of Future Farmers of America.