Wilhelmus (Bill) Waanders, 89, died July 13 after a short battle with an aggressive form of leukemia. He had overcome a previous cancer some 9 years earlier, and was always grateful to his physicians for his medical care.
When Bill Waanders walked into a room, he was hard to miss. He was six feet three inches tall with white hair, an infectious smile, a Dutch accent, and a zest for life.
Bill was born in Amsterdam, Holland on March 27, 1931 to Wilhelmus Waanders (Wim) and Jans (de Weert). Bill had many tough stories about the living through the German occupation during World War II, especially during the harsh winter of 1944/45, when there wasn’t enough food. He knew that the Allies helped the Dutch people by dropping food that spring. Years later, when he and his brother visited the Normandy beaches they happened to meet two Canadian pilots who had participated in that food drop. Meeting them was an emotional moment for all of them.
After serving two years in the Royal Dutch Air Force as a maintenance base squadron leader, he was discharged in 1952. He received his degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1953. His first job was with Curtis-Wright, an American company responsible for airplane engines. He loved the American business style that allowed employees freedom to use their talents, and that led to his decision to eventually move to the United States. He married his first wife, Maria on December 3, 1954. Their first child, Marianne, was born February 4, 1956, and their second child, Peter was born January 20, 1958.
In 1964 at the age of 34, Bill and Maria moved to the U.S. Maria’s 2 sisters had married GIs, and were already living in Missouri, along with her parents. Because of President Kennedy’s Project Apollo, Bill was able to easily obtain a visa, since the United States was in need of engineers.
The Waanders’ settled in Butterfield, Missouri, where Maria’s family was located, and Bill got a job at Dayco Rubber company in Springfield, Missouri, his one and only job in the U.S., where he had a very successful career. He was proud of inventing the serpentine belt while working there. He was always quick to give credit to his team of four too, but it was his idea. Obviously, this product made a lot of money for the company, and Bill was promoted. He often described himself as a “trouble-shooter” in his job, more than an engineer. Ultimately, he became an executive for the company, and traveled internationally, including to the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War, to sell their products and start overseas factories. Bill wrote a booklet about his fascinating life in order for his grandchildren to know their heritage called “The Wandering Waanders.”
After his first wife Maria, who had had some ongoing health problems, died, Bill married his second wife, Geraldine Whitesel and became step-father to Connie Brockert. They lived in Dayton, Ohio and later retired to Olathe, Kansas to be close to family. They were married for 33 years, before Geraldine passed in July 2005.
In 2010 Bill married Diane Farley. Bill and Diane enjoyed the last years of his life laughing, traveling, and spending memorable times with friends and family. He would frequently tell people how lucky he was and what a good life he had.
Bill was preceded in death by his first wife Maria and his second wife Geraldine. He is survived and will be dearly missed by his wife Diane; his brother Hans (Ebelien) Waanders of Bergen, Holland; his children, Marianne (Steve) Estes of Atchison, KS; Peter (Carolyn) Waanders of Richfield, OH; step-daughter, Connie Brockert of Overland Park, KS, 8 grandchildren; Kate Cochran, Allie Waanders, Matt Waanders, Alex Estes, Mandy Legler, Jeff Brockert, Dan Brockert, Jacquie Rollins, and nine great- grandchildren.
A limited service was held July 18, 2020 at Church of the Resurrection. In lieu of flowers, any donation in Bill's memory can be made to Harvester’s International.
friend ,Lenexa ,Kansas
It was our privilege to know and enjoy Bill's friendship for many years. We always enjoyed his reflections on life and how much he enjoyed people, especially family. He had many talents and interests.
We are happy that he had a good life and built up the people he came in contact with. His Christian witness was always true.
Friends ,Kansas City ,Missouri
We met Bill and Diane at Unity Church of Overland Park, and feel honored to have had a little time together with them. Our only outing was over an impromptu lunch after church one day several months ago. We were touched by the warmth and strong connection we felt with both of them as we talked and shared about our lives. It felt like a divine appointment, and we looked forward to getting together again. Bill will be missed by many. He was a very special person. His spirit is strong and his influence will live on in his family and friends who knew him.