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An Interview With Bill Witschey

By Staff | Mar 25, 2020

Bill Witschey stands beside a table of his favorite books.

Bill Witschey was born at their Fifth Street residence in New Martinsville on August 8, 1931. He is the eldest of five siblings followed in order by Walter, Wayne, Warren,- and Lila. At the age of 88, his posture is still ramrod straight and still shows up for work every day at the family business, Witschey’s Market.

His education began at Pride of Green at Turkey Run Elementary for his first three years. He continued at Mt. Hope, a one-room school-house in Tyler County with one teacher for eight grades. He remembers that discipline was absolute and the education was great. Eleven year-old Bill was entrusted to get there earlier than his classmates and start a fire in the only heat source, a pot bellied stove. Before going to school, he tended two barns of cattle. He remembers that some students would take a gun to school and on the way home would supplement the family’s food supply by shooting a squirrel or two. He walked 2.9 miles on a rutted and sometimes snow covered road to catch a bus that took him to Magnolia High School. At the age of 16, Bill graduated from MHS in 1948.

Upon graduation, he talked his way into a job on the Ohio River Sand & Gravel Company as a deckhand. He started immediately and worked from 6 pm to 6 am for seven days a week and never missed a day. For his 84-hour work week, he made over $80 dollars a week which was big money in 1948. When the dredge boat was brought in at Christmas, he had to find another job. He moved to the Shadyside Inn which was located close to where Talkington’s Gun Shop is today. It was a roadhouse with food, pinball machines and jukeboxes. He worked from 8 pm to 8 am seven days a week. He received 50 cents a day and got to keep his tips. That was where he learned to wait on people. His work career continued when Carbide was being built at Hastings and some men came into his father’s store looking for truck drivers. Bill became a truck driver for Criss Transit Mix Concrete Company.

On June 26, 1950, two days after the Korean War started, Bill walked downtown to enlist. The recruiting officer, Vane Wells, told him, “Bill, go back home. This thing just started and there’s not a person in the country who knows what’s going on right now. Stay at home until after the Fourth of July and then come see me.” After the Fourth, he enlisted with 5 other recruits from Wetzel County: Lee Winland, Elwood Beegle, Kenny Priest,- all of whom were from New Martinsville, along with Sam George and Bob Morris from Jacksonburg. He was sworn into the Air Force in Fairmont, rode the National Limited to St. Louis and from there took the Texas Eagle to San Antonio, Texas. After basic training, he went to school for 47 weeks and was made an instructor. In February 1952, he was on a ship to Bremerhaven, Germany where he spent the next 28 months as a staff sergeant in the Air Force Security Service. Bill’s brothers Wayne, Walter and Warren also served in the military.

In June 1954, he returned home and partnered with his father and brother Wayne in the grocery business.The 1950s & 60s were difficult times for a small grocery store and it was sometimes difficult for Bill to get paid. He knew the business had to expand to survive but because of a negative net worth they had been turned down by 12 banks and the U.S. Small Business Administration . On Saturday, December 2, 1966, Bill made a trip to Moundsville to visit then Congressman Arch Moore who was on the SBA committee. Congressman Moore spent over an hour with him, gave advice on resubmitting his application and promised to “bird dog” the proposal through the bureaucracy. The new loan application went through like greased lightning. Bill was forever indebted to his congressman. On October 1, 1968, Witscheys Market moved to its present location. By May 1972, the store had doubled in size.

Bill Witschey and Wilda Carney were married 63 years ago and,-except for an occasional trip she’s made to take care of grandchildren, they’ve been inseparable. He credits his success to her support. A letter Wilda wrote him on one of those babysitting ventures illustrates the love and respect they have for each other:

February 5, 2001,

Dear Bill,

Congratulations on your Distinguished Citizen Award. No one deserves it more than you.

Bill, you really are an Honorable Man, honest, faithful, compassionate, loving, always able to see the little spark of goodness in everyone. You have an enormous amount of kindness and understanding not only for your family but for the public you deal with everyday.

I have always been proud of you and have always looked up to you. Proud to be seen with you and the way you never meet a stranger.

Bill, you have every right to be proud of yourself. Remember how little you started with and look where you are today and all the people who have prospered because of you. I hope you have a very delightful evening. I will be thinking of “You”. I know Harold and Ethel will be smiling down on you tonight.

Love You Always,

Wilda

The Interview:

Who would you consider your greatest influence? My parents, Harold and Ethel, and my wife, Wilda

What did you learn growing up during The Great Depression? How to live off the land.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a business? Think long and hard about it. You must be 100% committed. It’s called being “all in”. You must be involved every day and call all the shots. Remember, it’s better to take in laundry than to take in a partner.

What was your first car? I was 34 years old when I bought my first car, a 1965 Chrysler New Yorker. The total price was $3,920 and I thought I’d taken on the national debt.

What is an experience you still have on your bucket list? To fly under the New Martinsville Bridge.

What skills should every person have? Be a good listener and know how to manage your money.

What is your secret to staying young? Staying active. Coming to work every day. Having a good woman take care of me.

What adventure most changed your life? Enlisting in the United States Air Force when The Korean War started.

What advice would you give to the younger you? Be prudent. Prepare for the future. You’ve got a long life to live.

What is your secret to remembering people’s names? Introducing myself, asking their name and repeating it.

What is the key to a good marriage? Having a good, tolerant and cooperative spouse. And that goes both ways.

Do you have a health tip to share? Thank the “Big Guy” every day. It’s good for your health.

What are some lessons you learned from your mother and father? To my knowledge, dad never took a day off. He worked seven days a week all of his life. Twelve-hour days were normal. Therefore, he taught persistence. He truly believed the old adage-success is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. My mother would say to me, “Billy, if you give one, you will get back two”. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Work hard. Be honest, reliable and dependable.

You are an inveterate reader. Please recommend some of your favorites.

The Pioneers by David McCullough

The Coldest Winter and The Best and the Brightest both by David Halberstam

Bill Stewart – In His Own Words by Susan R. Jones

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

-Interview by John Yevuta