William O. Renner
William "Bill" Renner and Denise ¿Toots¿ Renner pose for this undated photo. (Submitted photo / November 10, 2012)
Bill saw higher education as a ticket to a better life, and after graduating from Hagerstown High School in 1935, went on to earn an engineering degree from the Detroit School of Engineering, then additional degrees in Colorado and Wisconsin.
“He did it on his own,” said longtime neighbor Laura Bowers of Hagerstown.
Bill’s background in mechanical engineering gave him the opportunity to work at Fairchild Industries after earning his bachelor’s degree. In between breaks for more college, he worked at Pangborn and for a short time at Fairchild before settling in for a 32-year career at Grove Manufacturing.
Bill retired in 1985 at age 69 as executive vice president of engineering. He traveled all over the globe for Grove to the sites of crane accidents.
It was his job to reconstruct the accidents to determine the cause, said Joan Bowers of Hagerstown, a longtime neighbor who thought of Bill as a grandfather.
At the age of 6, Bill first meet Denise Weller, who lived in his West End neighborhood and was three years younger.
Bill took her for a ride on his bicycle, and after he accidentally tipped her off the bike, Denise’s father said he didn’t want her going anywhere near Bill. She didn’t pay much attention to him after that.
It was about 18 years before Bill ran into Denise at a West End pharmacy getting a soda. He bought them both sodas, the start of a long love affair.
The couple dated for about six years before getting married. Bill was 30 and wanted to finish his education and be able to afford a house before settling down.
Denise’s parents didn’t approve of Bill, Laura said. The day Bill and Denise got married, Aug. 20, 1946, she told her mother she was going on vacation with Bill. Her mother objected since they weren’t married.
The couple got married at Washington Square United Methodist Church in Hagerstown, then headed to Wildwood, N.J., for their honeymoon. Denise, whom Bill lovingly called “Toots,” called her mother to let her know they had gotten married.
Denise’s father had passed away before she got married. It would be another year until Toots, a timekeeper at Fairchild, moved into the Virginia Avenue home that Bill built in 1947 because her mother couldn’t afford to live on her own.
Toots finally told her mother she was moving in with her husband and that she was welcome as well. Denise’s mother lived with the couple for the rest of her life.
Bill was born with an intestinal defect, and his parents were told he wouldn’t live beyond the age of 10. Instead, he was the last surviving member of his family.
He served in the U.S. Army during World War II for a year. He never served overseas, but his job was as a flight engineer with logistics, working as a co-pilot as planes were moved around the country, said Stanley Taylor of Hagerstown, who was friends with Bill for 35 years.
Intestinal issues resulted in Bill being discharged so he could have surgery and because he couldn’t eat the military rations provided.
Bill and Toots never had children. Instead, they helped families in need in the community, and also shared a soft spot for animals, especially the Boston terriers they had over the years.
“What he made, he spent back on other people,” Joan said. “They were very loving, giving people.”