Heroes from Home: Ferdie Williamson

Heroes from Home
This is one of a continuing series the Mahomet Daily will publish about the ordinary men and women from the community who have done or accomplished extraordinary things in their lifetime. We encourage readers to submit nominations for other deserving individuals who deserve consideration. We are delighted to tell the stories of these persons who have contributed so much, often without the recognition they were due.
Wilfred Williamson was born in 1921 and lived most of his life in Mahomet along East Oak Street.
He knows why he was given his first name, but the reason behind his nickname — Ferdie — is less clear.
“My mother was a teacher before she was married,” Williamson said. “She named her kids after her favorite students.”
A neighbor was responsible for the nickname.
“Ralph Pugh gave it to me when I was 9 years old,” Williamson said.
It is how he has been known for most of the next nine decades.
“My mother called me Wilfred,” Williamson said, “but she was about the only one.”
His mother’s other favorite students — Ferdie’s siblings — were Lois, Maurice, and Alma.
While in high school, Williamson was a member of the Mahomet basketball team.
He was a three-year starter, but he remembers more about how he got to the games than the contests themselves.
“I took players to the (out-of-town) games,” he said. “We had a ‘28 Buick.”
In his era, schools didn’t have activity buses to transport players to games.
It was up to the players or their parents to get them to the games.
Sometimes, games had to be postponed because of road conditions.
Ice and snow were not the only culprits.
Many roads were not paved, and periods of heavy rain meant that dirt roads could become impassable.
Stability was not a part of the basketball program when Williamson played.
“I had four coaches in four years,” he said.
Before that, he was one of two seventh-graders who played on the 1934 eighth-grade team that qualified for the state tournament.
“We won the first game (at Morton) and got beat the second,” he said.
Earlier this decade, the long-time owner of Williamson Plumbing and Heating relocated from Mahomet to the Farmer City Rehab Center.
On a recent weekday morning, as he spent time with daughter Carol Glazebrook and a reporter, other visitors made their way to his room.
He immediately recognized Eileen and Larry Waters.
“I never thought I’d live long enough to see 96,” Williamson said.
His high school graduating class (of 1939) had 16 students. Williamson may be the final survivor.
“As far as I know I am,” he said.
During his years of semi-retirement, he found time to attend some high school basketball games. What he saw on the sidelines was interesting.
“More cheerleaders than what were in my class,” Williamson said.
As a 20-year-old, Williamson was drafted into the Army in 1942 and took the train to Chicago that
“I thought I was going for my physical,” he said.
“I didn’t get back (home) until 1945,” he added. “Thirty months I was gone.”
His journey took him from Champaign to Chicago to St. Louis to Cheyenne, Wyo., before he wound up in Fort Lewis, Washington.
From there, it was back across the country to New Orleans (a trip which required four days and five nights), where his overseas deployment was then delayed.
“We couldn’t ship out for a month and a half,” Williamson said. “There were too many German subs in the Gulf of Mexico.”
He spent two years in Trinidad, mostly working as an automotive mechanic “until they found out I could type,” he said.
“I got malaria,” he added. “At least I think I did.
“I never did go to sick call. You had to climb in the back of a truck and I was too sick.”
He dealt with his condition in one way. “Aspirin,” he said.
Trinidad wasn’t one of the most memorable locations that Williamson has visited.
“It was pretty dirty,” he said. “Not a pleasant place to be, but we got by.
“It was all swampy, jungle around the camp.”
In May 1945, Williamson came home on a 30-day leave.
“Then it was extended to 45 days,” he said. “Then the war ended.”
That was good news, except for one detail.
“I lost a lot of stuff in my footlocker (back in Trinidad),” he said.
He spent the final six months of his commitment at Fort Sheridan, near Chicago.
Former serviceman Williamson has a special fondness for Veteran’s Day. It’s also his birthday.
As he finished high school, Williamson wasn’t necessarily thinking of following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who operated the family plumbing and heating business.
“I was going to go to college and be a bookkeeper, Williamson said.
His father told him they needed his help first for a year.
“It was a long year (from 1939 until 1942) and then I worked for Uncle Sam,” Williamson said.
While home on leave, he met the young lady who would become his bride, the former Doris Deaton.
They were married on Oct. 7, 1945.
“That’s why I didn’t go to the U of I,” Williamson said.
His desire to do bookkeeping work, however, didn’t go unfulfilled.
He handled those duties for years for the family business.
Some people live in a community.
Other people are a part of a community and immerse themselves in it.
Williamson became one of the central figures in the growth and development of Mahomet.
When the Community Bank of Mahomet was started (in 1959), Williamson was one of five members on the Board of Directors (along with James Campbell, A. O. Jahr, James Parker and Joe Pugh).
“We had to talk people into investing,” said Williamson, who was the bank president for a quarter of a century.
As the organizing phase continued, he said, “We had to make several trips to Springfield.”
Williamson is also a charter member of both the Mahomet American Legion Post 1015 and the Lions’ Club as well as helping to start the Cornbelt Fire Protection District in 1953. He served as President for a few years.
“There were 30 of us (in the Legion),” Williamson said. “My dad (Guy) couldn’t be a member because he was already a member of Fisher (which was already in existence).”
Williamson and his wife (who died in 2001) raised three children, all of whom graduated from Mahomet-Seymour High School: Carol, Tom, and Jane.
Tom continued in the family business and is now joined by his son (Guy), who is the fifth generation
plumber at the operation which is the oldest continuous family-owned business in Mahomet. The business was started in 1914.
It wasn’t until Ferdie Williamson was a teenager that he lived in a home with indoor plumbing.
“We got indoor plumbing when I was (a sophomore) in high school,” he said. “Six of us lived there in that four-room house.”
That home was beside the only two-lane highway that passes through town. When Williamson was growing up, that was Rt. 39 (now known as Rt. 150).
Williamson never considered not making his home in the community where he was reared.
“It’s nice to be where most people know you,” he said.
And that’s true even if they might not know his first name is Wilfred.
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