Robert William Wentsel
Robert William Wentsel was born in North Dakota on December 13, 1924, and he was called Bill or Billy the rest of his life. He spent his formative years living in Grand Forks with his mother, father, and siblings, the 5th of 6 children. Two rivers flowed through town. He says that made for a “Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer sort of childhood” – hiking, fishing, and swimming in these rivers. He also enjoyed the city life and went to the movies as much as he could. Notably, his father and mother owned the first movie theater in Ada, Minnesota in the early 1920’s, but sold it before he was born. The Orpheum Theater is still operational to this day! They went on to own a grocery store and the whole family was involved in working there. Bill and his family moved to California when he was a senior in high school, and he graduated in 1942.
In 1943, Bill was drafted into the US Army to serve in WWII. In 1945, he arrived in France and was soon battling the Germans behind enemy lines in Siegburg, Germany where he survived being shelled with artillery fire and then German snipers. From there they crossed over into Czechoslovakia and captured a city away from the Nazis and occupied it until war’s end. When the European war ended, they travelled to France, where they were embraced with a heroes’ welcome! Next was Japan, finally returning to the US in 1946. He was awarded the American Campaign Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.
Bill worked some hard jobs after the war, saved his money, and bought his dream car: a brand- new 1955 Mercury Hard Top. He had a life-long love of cars and this was probably the one time where he spoiled himself with the car he wanted! He got a job in Trona, CA in the Control Lab. It was there he met and began dating Joy Andrews, a pretty RN who also worked in Trona. As fate would have it, Joy accepted a teaching position at a college in LA, and soon after, Joy had the opportunity to travel to Europe for a one-month trip to see the World’s Fair, so their budding romance was put on hold.
With Joy gone, Bill had decided Trona was no longer where he wanted to be. He got a job at Hughes Aircraft at night and went to school during the day. He sold his beautiful Mercury to pay for school. He began an intensive program in Radio, Television and Electronics and a year-and-a-half later graduated from National Schools in Los Angeles. Bill went to work at Burroughs Corporation after graduation. It was here where he would work for the next 30 years, eventually becoming a Senior Engineering Electronics Specialist. Burroughs was developing large-frame, groundbreaking computers that would become the backbone of large industries such as banking. Early on in his career, Bill developed an idea for how one system he was working on could easily replicate a task. He was commended and sent on to an internal training program to further his education and skills.
In 1958, Bill found out from a mutual friend that Joy Andrews was back in Los Angeles! They reconnected and this is when their love truly blossomed. They went on a number of romantic dates and married in 1959. Joy says “If I had to pick one best decision in my life, it would be the decision to marry Bill!”. A year later they traded in the roles of being fun newlyweds and became parents! The first of five daughters was born in 1960 and the last was born in 1969: Ruth, Patty, Mary, Carol and Lora. He and Joy now had 5 daughters – these were busy years! Favorite vacations while the girls were growing up included Yosemite, Pismo Beach, and frequent trips to Mt. Baldy and Big Bear.
Bill was renowned for being able to fix anything. He had a passion for reading Popular Mechanics. One night in 1977, he said to Joy, “Someone should make a practical electric car.” She said, “Why not you?”. So he did! He took a 1967 SAAB with no engine and by 1980 had
built a 100% electric car from scratch. We all thought this was amazing and will forever put him in legendary status in our minds.
Bill accepted an early retirement in 1986. He never truly retired. He was a doer and a builder. He kept busy with a little side business building and making repairs. Joy got her real estate license and the two of them started investing in real estate, with Bill working on the homes as well. One year he decided to build every daughter a large patio table. He made 6 beautiful tables, one for Joy too! In 1988, the first of 9 grandchildren was born.
Bill was known for his quiet, reserved demeanor, but he loved to laugh. He was famous for his comedic timing and would often provide the unexpected, wittiest remark of any conversation. He was a good listener! He was always gracious and kind. From his nieces and nephews: “He emanated vibes of goodness and calm and was always fun to talk with.”; “A wonderful example of a reserved “everyman” who was anything but common to his extended family who knew him as the best possible husband, father, grandfather and Uncle!”; “I always thought Uncle Bill was a genius because he built that electric car way before there were electric cars.”
Bill and Joy enjoyed volunteering, delivering Meals-On-Wheels to homebound people, serving their church, singing in the choir, and preparing communion (even at age 95!). Bill loved to travel with Joy. In 2019 and 2020, he was still taking Joy on vacations, driving a couple of hours to Palm Springs, as well as going on cute romantic dates down the coast.
Bill was an avid reader. He read the newspaper cover to cover every day right up to the end. He loved learning and discovering about the world. His National Geographic subscription never lapsed!
The love of Bill’s life was Joy and he doted on her! He survived 8 days past her 94th birthday and 4 days past their 61st anniversary. This was definitely intentional! Though he was in pain and suffering, he thought of the perfect gifts for her for these last two milestones and arranged for her to be surprised.
Bill passed away at home as the sun set on September 9, 2020, at 7:04 pm. The last of his five daughters arrived just before the sun went down. It was characteristic of him to wait until Joy and all of his “girls” were together by his side. At that moment, Taps began playing at Camp Pendleton rising up the canyon to their home in San Clemente. It was beautiful timing, a symbolic reminder of his service in WWII.
Bill lived a long, full, and beautiful life, just 3 months shy of 96 years old. Fully mobile, active, and driving, he handled all of his affairs until the cancer took over a few months ago. Bill will be missed tremendously. Bill adored his family and always put them first. He is survived by his wife Joy; his daughters, Ruth, Patty, Mary, Carol, and Lora; his grandchildren, Lauren, Nathan, Billy, Kamron, Hannah, Aidan, Kian, Allanah and Jake; his great grandchildren, Betty and Beau; and his sons-in-law, Erick, Kevin, Scott, and Scott.
In remembrance of Robert William Wentsel’s life, the family asks that any charitable donations be made to Homes for Our Troops. hfotusa.org or your favorite Veteran’s Charity.
Meeting ID: 924 8659 8841
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