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December 19, 2013

Delhi 'stalwart' Wilbur Oles mourned by friends

By Cheryl Petersen Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — To those who knew Wilbur S. Oles Jr. of Delhi, who died Wednesday, he was “Bill.”

“We were graduates of Delaware Academy,” said Clara Stewart, who grew up with Oles and his brothers in Delhi. “When Bill was a 4-H counselor at Camp Shankitunk, he met Betty, his future wife. They were very active in the community.”

“It’s nice to reminisce,” said Peggy Baldwin, daughter of Bill and Betty Oles. “Mom died Oct. 4, and now with Dad gone, the impact of their characters is felt ever more powerful for us four children, the grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren.” 

Baldwin remembered her father as “worker and a community leader, who could come home and be 100 percent dad,” who was “able to juggle, without a struggle, family, community service, and his love of country. ... He was happy, fun, adventurous, and very respectable.

“When we were kids, I remember Dad would come to the sports games at school and climb up towers to take pictures of the players,” Baldwin recalled. “I was so proud of him up there.”

Baldwin said her family ate dinner together every night, where her father would ask about “everything we were doing, and in everyone, even our friends. We talked about community and the importance of education,” she said. 

Virginia Hoyt of Delhi said, “Mr. Oles was a very public person. He was the adult we looked up to. He was our Sunday school teacher. Bill was one of few left from that stalwart generation of committed individuals.”

“Bill was of the Greatest Generation,” Delhi Town Supervisor Peter Bracci said from his home in Delhi. “A fabulous, fine man, super community-minded.”

A few years ago, Bracci met with Oles to record the veteran’s World War II experiences. The older man nodded off at one point and awoke saying, “It’s terrible, the bodies are all around.” 

Bracci and Oles soon realized that Oles was reliving his experience on D-Day. 

“Bill was in charge of operating a boat on D-day,” explained Bracci. “But those terrible memories were replaced with hope. Bill came back from World War II with a commitment to family and community.”

In the early 1950s, Oles and other veterans joined community members to build a community swimming pool. 

“The veterans rolled up their sleeves and built a pool, after getting some donations,” Bracci said. The Delhi pool was popular until its closing in 2003. Oles had been among those working to get a new aquatic center built. 

“He wanted to live to see the new pool built, but the bureaucracy of today makes for slow going,” Bracci said. “It’s fitting that the new Delhi Pool, when finished, be named in honor of Wilbur S. Oles Jr.”