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
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 dont 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
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 Id 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
I don't think there is anything more challenging in the world, if you survive. Its
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
didnt 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 housesin fact, 32 housesand a couple pieces of commercial property. I
managed those as an investment and dovetailed into my selling with Professional
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
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 granddaughters jaw dropped; she couldnt 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. Thats
"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.
to return to the Bill's flight of the MIG-29