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William VonBehren


William VonBehren was one of the longest lived residents of Minonk. He died in April 1996 at the ripe old age of 101. He remained remarkedly alert and agile up to the end. He was living by himself and driving his own car until 6 months before his death.

His old age was not the only thing that made Bill VonBehren unique. He was an inveterate conversationalist. His hobby was talking to people. If he saw a stranger in a Minonk restaurant, he would invariably go up to the stranger and ask him were he was from and where he was going just to start a conversation. The simple pleasures in life was all he needed. Many think his longevity was due to his moderation. He never overdid anything. In fact, his nephew Dave Uphoff coined the term "Uncle Billyism", which is a condition in which one carries moderation to an extreme. A good story and a laugh was entertainment enough for him. His favorite retort to anyone asking him if he lived all of this life in Minonk was "Not yet".

Bill was born on a farm 2 miles west of Minonk in 1894. He learned hardship at an early age. He watched his father die on the kitchen table in 1905 from gangrene after the doctor had amputated his leg. He was forced to work the farm along with his older brother Fred in order to make ends meet for the family which also included another brother Louis and a sister Mina as well as his mother. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade in order to work the farm fulltime.

He met his wife Fanny Uphoff in the Vissering Mercantile Store where she was with her mother shopping. He asked her for a date and eventually she became his bride in 1919. They settled down in a farm east of Minonk where he worked as a tenant farmer for a few years. Bill started farming when horses were still used and corn was husked by hand. Later he would lose two fingers in a corn picker when farming became mechanized.

Bill and Fanny had a child that was stillborn a year after they were married. They never had any more children. All of his life Bill loved being around children and kidding them, possibly because he never had any of his own. He became a second father to his nephews, the Uphoff boys, who lived down the road from him.

Bill was a lifelong lover of baseball. In his youth he played pickup games. In the early 1900's different teams would congregate from the Minonk area and play games against each other every Sunday. Bill was a pitcher. He would admit that he wasn't the best pitcher around. The best pitcher in his day was Alfred Ioerger from Woodford. In his later years he could recall specific games from 80 years ago. His memory seemed to improve with age.

Bill farmed most of his life on a tenant farm owned by Austin Lindley one mile southwest of Minonk. Austin had 10 kids which also provided Bill with entertainment. Farming during the Great Depression, Bill hardly ever bought new equipment. All he needed was a pliers and baling wire and he could keep any piece of farm equipment running. While he was normally a mild mannered person, sometimes he would cuss a blue streak if he couldn't get a machine to work properly.

Coming from humble origins and being born in the 19th century gave Bill a different perspective on economics. He never understood the concept of inflation. He thought that a hamburger should still cost a nickel like it did in the 1920's. One time he and his wife Fanny stopped at a restaurant in Rolla, Missouri on a trip west. Bill objected to the price of chicken on the menu and so ordered a bowl of corn flakes instead. Fanny ordered the chicken but when the meal was served Bill ate most of Fanny's chicken.

Bill was also old-fashioned in the way he drove. He hardly ever exceeded 45 mph on the highway and never over 15 in the city. Everyone chuckled at the bumper sticker on his car that read "I might be slow, but I'm ahead of you."

Bill retired from farming in 1960. He and Fanny moved to Minonk at 207 West First Street. He became a fixture at the local coffee shops and enjoyed 36 years of retirement. His wife Fanny died in 1983.

While Bill may have been frugal in his personal finances, he was always willing to help those less fortunate than him. He gave money to Boys Town in Nebraska for years and gave money to the local food pantry in additional to helping out his relatives in time of need. His giving was always quiet and not public.

Bill VonBehren at age 100.

Bill and Fanny (Uphoff) wedding picture in 1919

Frank Knapp and Bill VonBehren in 1911 when Bill was 17.

Bill's health and longevity was legendary. At middle age he wore glasses for reading. However, as he got older his eyes changed so that he could read again without glasses. One time at a dinner party he was the only one who could read the print on a spoon handle to identify the brand.

While Bill's life did not include honors and awards or material signs of success, he lived a successful life. He achieved happiness by not wanting too much or expecting too much. His greatest pleasure was interacting with others. Everyone had affection for "Uncle Bill". Even at the age of 101 he was not ready to die. He enjoyed life.