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Bill Span
An Uncommon Leader
reprinted from the alumni magazine
of Washington & Jefferson College

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   Tel: 757 490-0800

  

 

Bill Span

An Uncommon Leader


Washington and Jefferson College graduates uncommon leaders and one of them, William Span '50 has been honored for a lifetime of achievement with induction into the Ambridge Hall of Fame.

A standout in football, track and gymnastics at Ambridge High School, Bill graduated from Ambridge in 1946. That summer he recalls, "I was offered several scholarships to college, including Boston College and the University of North Carolina and I hadn't made up my mind. It was late in the summer when coach Henry Luecht came over to talk to me about W&J.

"The timing was right for me to make a decision, so I picked W&J and enrolled on an athletic scholarship." Fall football practice started two weeks before the season opener and Bill says,
" I was lucky enough to make the first as a freshman and played all four years on the first team, along with Dan Towler, Walter Cooper and those players."

Looking back at his playing days at W & J Bill says his best memories are of his freshman year. He recalls, "We gad a 6-2 record and it was one of the first post-World War II teams that
W & J fielded. I was 18 at the time, well actually 17, and playing varsity ball with guys like "Amy" Lewis who was almost twice
my age, and guys who came back from World War II, like "Ace" Heberling.

"It was quite a challenging thing because they had all that maturity and I was able to learn a lot from them," he says, "I felt like a young kid on the block but I fit in because of my attitude in wanting to excel and do well. So, that first year I think was the best - being able to make the varsity team and playing alongside those guys.

Bill believes that, had it not been for a couple bad breaks the 1946 Presidents might have gone to a bowl game. "We lost to Lafayette - I think it was 7-6 - and lost one other game, but we beat some pretty good teams."

As an aside to the 1946 season, Bill recalls that, in the early 1960's he was instructing at Ohio State in the NROTC program, and met with Woody Hayes, then the head coach of the powerhouse Buckeyes. Bill remembers, "Woody said to me, "Bill Span. You played for W & J. I said 'How'd you know?', and he replied. "Well, I'll never forget that game because you people snapped Denison's 32 game winning streak.' He was the coach at Denison at the time, and that loss really upset him.

"He named every member of the W & J team and recalled the play that Towler scored the touchdown on. I thought it was remarkable that, with all the Big ten teams, the Rose Bowls and the national honors, he remembered W & J ending his 32 game winning streak. It was unbelievable"

As an 18-year old playing football at W & J, Bill says, there was never any question in his mind that Dan Towler, who went on to a stellar career with the Los Angeles Rams would someday play professional football. "Dan was the most heavily recruited football player in the country at that time," Bill notes. "People said that Pitt would have offered him the Cathedral of Learning if he had gone there. Yes, I don’t think there was any doubt about it;
he had all the ability in the world."

Bill, who also pole-vaulted and threw the javelin and the discus at W & J went into flight training with the U.S. Navy after finishing his undergraduate degree work, and spent 26 years in the Navy, flying 289 combat missions.

The decision to enter the Navy was not a hard one, Bill says. "When I was a young kid I always used to fool around with model airplanes. They fascinated me. I would build them and look up at the sky and wonder what if would be like to fly. I saw the movie "Dive Bomber" about Navy pilots flying off of an aircraft carrier, and that seemed to be almost as exciting as football. I said to myself, "I think I’d like to do that."

"And I did. It was one of the greatest experiences in my life--flying off a carrier in bad weather, at night and on combat missions,
I don't think there is anything more challenging in the world, if you survive. It’s just unbelievable."

As a Captain in the U.S. Navy, Bill made more that 1,000 carrier landing, earned two Silver Stars, five Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Bronze Star. He also received two U.S. Navy commendations, the Vietnam Air Cross of Gallantry and several other awards and decorations.

The combat action that led to receiving a Silver Star in Vietnam involved a raid on a missile site. He recalls, "I had fired two shrike anti-radar missiles at the site. I was under attack myself and evaded several surface-to-air missiles that were fired at me, then continued to the target." After observing that the missiles had hit the SAM site he pulled up over the target and dropped his remaining bombs on the site.

The requirements for getting the Silver Star, he explains, are target worth, accomplishing the mission and being fired upon. "Since I came back with several holes in the airplane, I satisfied all those requirements, " he says.

Bill retired in 1977 as a Captain, but he didn’t remain idle for very long. He explains, "In 1977 I got into real estate as a real estate associate with Professional Realty in Virginia Beach, then I had bought several houses—in fact, 32 houses—and a couple pieces of commercial property. I managed those as an investment and dovetailed into my selling with Professional Realty."

Four years ago Bill launched KevCor Corp., a utility construction company named after his youngest son (Kevin Corporation) and runs the company as owner and CEO, with his son. "We do utility construction work, including pipe sewers, water lines, and so forth, in the Tidewater are. Our project have included the new Virginia Beach Judicial Center, several of the high schools, several governmental properties around, and some of the Department of Transportation work on the highways."

Bill and his wife Irene visited W & J campus last summer with their granddaughter Kim, and they stopped in one the offices. "When I walked in the door, the secretary looked at me and she said, ‘Bill Span, Virginia Beach.’ My granddaughter’s jaw dropped; she couldn’t believe it. She asked, ‘How did you know?’ and the secretary replied, ‘I was very well trained by Joe Leckie.’ To an alumnus, it means a lot to be remembered. That’s long lasting.

"How often do you get to meet an All-Time, All-American football player like Pete Henry? Or play football with someone like Dan Towler? W & J has a lot of history to it. It had a lot to offer."

Bill resides in Virginia Beach, VA, with his wife Irene,
a Washington High graduate. They have three sons.


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