William Robert Woodall
William “Bill” Robert Woodall, a retired engineer who worked at Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. for more than 45 years, died Tuesday of heart failure at Ohio Living Rockynol. He was 94.
Mr. Woodall was a true Renaissance man: He was a pilot, a poet, and an inventor who held several patents. He read widely, sometimes held contrarian views and loved to tell jokes, especially if he could employ his knack for British dialects. A life-long Cleveland Indians fan, he had hoped to see the team finally win a World Series during his lifetime.
He was born in Barberton on April 27, 1926, to the late Benjamin Roy Woodall and the former Dolly Shatto, two transplants from West Virginia who met and married in Akron after World War I. He grew up in Kenmore and spent many summers with relatives in West Virginia, where he helped on their farms and built boats with his cousins.
From an early age, Mr. Woodall was captivated by airplanes and the romance of flight. In 1937, when Amelia Earhart and her airplane disappeared over the South Pacific, the nine-year-old Mr. Woodall built a crystal radio set and listened nightly in hopes of finding radio signals to aid in the search for the world-famous aviator and her navigator.
He’d known for years that he wanted to be a pilot in the U.S. Navy, and during his junior year at Kenmore High School in 1943 a friend told him about the V-5 Naval Aviation Cadet program. He obtained enlistment papers and applied. He took an exam at Kenmore that was a precursor to the SAT college-admissions test and was among the 10 percent who passed. He was sent to Detroit for further testing. In February of 1944, he was sworn into the Naval Reserve as an Aviation Cadet V-5 and ordered to return to Kenmore to complete his senior year.
After graduation, he reported to the Naval Training Unit at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, where he became a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.
Mr. Woodall learned to fly as the Navy deployed him to various posts across the country to complete his training. He completed his college courses and graduated from Ohio Wesleyan in 1948. He always regretted that he had not had a chance to fly combat missions.
In his final months at Ohio Wesleyan, Mr. Woodall met the former Frances Carolyn Ewing, whom he married. He got a job at Firestone, where he’d worked in high school. The couple settled in Firestone Park and had three children. Although the marriage ended in divorce in 1964, Mr. Woodall remained a devoted, involved father who saw his children at least twice a week.
Two years later, Mr. Woodall married Audrea Yoe Heimbaugh. He joined her household in West Akron and became the stepfather to her two sons. The couple built a house in Bath, and the family moved there.
Mr. Woodall spent his entire career at Firestone/Bridgestone, where he designed passenger tires, aircraft tires and racing tires. He worked with Indy 500 legend Mario Andretti and accompanied driver Art Arfons to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah when Arfons was attempting to set the world land speed record.
Always an avid reader, Mr. Woodall shared his love by reading books aloud to his children at the kitchen table after dinner. In his later years, Mr. Woodall began writing poetry. He loved working jigsaw puzzles and built model airplanes and ships, constructed gliders of balsa wood and tissue paper and enjoyed flying radio-controlled planes with his children. He also built pedal-controlled wooden airplanes as riding toys for his grandchildren.
But Mr. Woodall’s greatest accomplishment was constructing and eventually briefly flying a full-sized replica of a Sopwith Triplane using blueprints he obtained from the British company that had manufactured the single-seat fighter aircraft with three wings for the Royal Naval Air Service in World War I.
The project started in the basement of his home in Bath, progressed to his two-car garage before Mr. Woodall moved construction to a friend’s barn and ultimately a hangar.
After completing work in 1989, Mr. Woodall took the plane to several air shows, including the annual show in Dayton. For the last several years his Sopwith Triplane has been on display at the MAPS Air Museum in North Canton.
A private pilot, Mr. Woodall enjoyed taking family members, friends and their children for short flights. For several years he was involved with a pilots’ group in Wadsworth that flew small aircraft.
Mr. Woodall had been an active member of Faith Lutheran Church since 1966 and was a regular participant in its book club. In his neighborhood in Bath, Mr. Woodall was known for his kindness and his willingness to help others. For several years, his neighbors returned the favor by gathering on his birthday to help him with yard work and then throwing a lunch party. Declining health prompted him to move to an independent living apartment at Rockynol last August.
Mr. Woodall is survived by his three children, Martha and Bob Woodall and Mary Woodall-Jappe (Carl); stepsons, Charles and Kenneth Heimbaugh; nine grandchildren; one great grandson; sister, Lois Chapman and several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his wife Audrea, partner Jean Powell, ex-wife Frances Freeman; and brothers Verlin and Roy.
Funeral services will be held 11 A.M. Saturday, August 1 at Faith Lutheran Church, 2726 W. Market St., Fairlawn, 44333. Masks and social distancing rules will be followed. The service will be live-streamed and can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/faithlutheranfairlawn/live/. Burial at Greenlawn Memorial Park Cemetery will be private. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to Faith Lutheran Church or to MAPS Air Museum, 2260 International Parkway, North Canton, OH. 44720.
Services in care of The Billow Funeral Homes & Crematory, 85 N. Miller Road, Akron, OH 44333.
(Billow FAIRLAWN Chapel)
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