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Association mourns loss of Checkerboard editor Bill Meyer

Funeral services for Checkerboard editor Bill Meyer, 81, were held Nov. 17 at Valley United Methodist Church, Marion KS.

Meyer was injured in a fall at his home Nov. 13 and died Nov. 14, 2006, at Wesley Medical Center, Wichita KS.

He was the retired editor and publisher of the Marion County Record and president of Hoch Publishing Co. Inc., which also publishes the Hillsboro Star-Journal and Peabody Gazette-Bulletin.

The Rev. Phil Smith officiated. Janet Post sang and played "Home on the Range," Keith Collett sang "America the Beautiful," and Laura Williams played a prelude and postlude of favorite songs. Mourners numbered more than 200 and included leading journalists from throughout the state and veterans from around the nation.

Burial with military honors was at Marion Cemetery. Stewart Boone of 99th Infantry Division Association sounded Taps after a three-volley salute by a firing squad of local veterans. A reception followed at Marion Country Club.

Born Aug. 6, 1925, to Otto and Ruth (Jones) Meyer, Bill Meyer was raised at Cassoday in the heart of Kansas' Flint Hills, attended community college at El Dorado and enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps, Army Specialized Training Program, at age 17.

When ASTP closed in March 1944, he trained to be a radio operator / artillery observer at Camp Roberts, Calif. Upon graduation he was sent to Camp Maxey, Texas, where he was placed in the ammunition train of the 371st Field Artillery, 99th Infantry Division.

He went to England in September and to France in November. He was in the Battle of the Bulge and crossed the Rhine at Remagen, the Erft Canal, and the Danube. He also helped liberate concentration camps in Bavaria.

Frozen when his unit was surrounded on a firebreak trail between Nidrum and Elsenborn, Belgium, the night of Dec. 17, 1944, he was an ammunition train soldier working from rail points in the rear to the front lines in combat.

He later was transferred to the 4th Infantry Division (C Battery, 42nd Field Artillery) as an artillery observer / radio operator. He came back to the United States in June 1945, enjoyed a 30-day furlough, and was stationed in Camp Butner, N.C., where amphibious equipment was issued. Troops there were slated for the invasion of Japan. After the first atomic bomb was dropped on his 20th birthday, Aug. 6, 1945, he was granted a medical discharge in September 1945.

PFC Otto W. Meyer Jr. (17 176 684) was no hero but served among them. He received the highest award of the Belgian government, French and English decorations, and several from the U.S. Army for meritorious service. He also was appointed a Kentucky Colonel for life and an honorary Kansas Colonel and was offered a permanent commission in the U.S. Army when war started in Korea. The Army offered to waive his disability discharge (10 percent at that time) if he would go to Korea. He declined. Eventually his disability worsened, and he was rated at 100 percent disabled for injuries from being frozen.

He returned to El Dorado after the war, received his associate's degree at community college, and enrolled in journalism at KU. He held a staff position on the University Daily Kansan, was inducted into Sigma Delta Chi journalism fraternity, and received a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Since then, 1948, he was at the Marion County Record and eventually became co-owner of Hoch Publishing Co., which publishes the Marion, Peabody, and Hillsboro newspapers, and also editor of the World War II newspaper, Checkerboard, a publication of 99th Infantry Division Association.

On Sept. 11, 1949, he married Joan Wight at Valley United Methodist Church, Marion. She was the daughter of Ollie and Mercil Wight, Marion, and it was her mother's birthday. Bill and Joan worked together in the newspaper business for more than a half century.

For 20 years (until 1968) he not only was associate editor, reporter, advertising salesman, and business machine sales manager for Hoch Publishing but also served as Kiwanis president, Kiwanis secretary and School Board president, among other things helping preserve the historic Hill School in Marion as the oldest Kansas school building in active use.

He was a prime mover in establishing Marion County Hospital District No. 1, which preserved St. Luke Hospital, and was its first president. He was instrumental in arranging for construction of Marion Reservoir, the Marion flood control dike and diversion channel, the Marion stadium, Marion's first skilled nursing home and numerous other civic improvements and projects, including the location of Butler Community College in the Bown-Corby Building in Marion, the fountain in Marion's Central Park and the James Ryun endowment that continues to provide full financial support for a Marion County resident in medical school.

In his spare time in his early years in Marion, he drove a school bus for additional income. He also worked as an ambulance driver and licensed funeral director for 20 years.

He traveled in Europe, Mexico, Canada, and China. He also helped administer national 99th Division conventions of up to 1,200 people, and has taken people on 30 tours to European battlefields. He was honored by 99th Infantry Division Association numerous times.

He received the Leader of the Year Award from Kansas State University, received the Service Award of the Kansas House of Representatives, and was received the highest honor of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, the Cervi Award for lifetime achievement.

He was honored in 2004 by being placed in the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame after winning each of the Kansas Press Association's top awards for lifetime service, including its Master Editor, Mentoring and Community Service Awards.

At the time of his death, he was a director of Central National Bank, Kansas State Historical Society, Kansas Newspaper Foundation and 99th Infantry Division Association; on the executive committee of Congressman Jerry Moran, and a trustee of the William Allen White Foundation at the University of Kansas.

At one time he was an adjunct professor of media law at Wichita State University. He also was an active lobbyist for more than 10 years for Kansas Press Association. During that time he was successful in legislative efforts benefiting newspapers and the people of Kansas. He was president of Kansas Press Association one year, for two years was president of the William Allen White Foundation and served on the state blue ribbon commission that drafted the Kansas' pioneering judicial reorganization.

He appeared on national television several times, twice on Newshour with Jim Lehrer and many times on the History Channel, once on CBS, and twice on ABC. He was a consultant for major networks, movie producers and news services regarding World War II in Europe, especially the Battle of the Bulge. They took him to a meeting in Luxembourg as a consultant on Bulge history, and he was a guest of the German government on a tour regarding World War II.

Locally, he also was a member of American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Centre Lodge, Midian Shrine and other Masonic bodies.

Along with his wife, Joan, he was proud of their son, Eric, a former Milwaukee Journal editor who now is a journalism professor and assistant dean at the University of Illinois, and of their grandson, Nate, who received a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at MIT and master's and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering at Princeton and now works as a researcher for the Department of Homeland Security at Sandia National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.

He likewise was proud of their grandson's wife, Elizabeth, who also holds a master's degree in chemical engineering, and of their great-grandson, Henry, not quite 2 years old.

He also was enormously proud of the loyal staff at the newspaper office — friends and fellow workers who were much more than that.

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