William F. Bike, adventurer of the 1930s and 1940s, decorated World War II veteran, dies at 96
William F. Bike, adventurer of the 1930s and 1940s, decorated World War II veteran, native and longtime Chicagoan, Teamster, and husband and father, passed away at age 96.
Born on Feb. 7, 1923, as the fifth of six children of Frank and Margaret Bike and reared in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood, Mr. Bike worked in his family's bakery as a youngster. The Great Depression forced the bakery's closure, and after completing his sophomore year at Lane Tech High School in 1939, he decided to take to the road "so his family would have one less mouth to feed," said his son, William S. Bike.
Mr. Bike traveled across the United States, hitchhiking and hopping on freight trains. Historians estimate that more than two million people "rode the rails" during the Great Depression.
"He had lots of adventures like Jack Kerouac or the characters on the later TV show Route 66, joining the Civilian Conservation Corps, getting odd jobs, and learning a lot of skills along the way—such as construction and auto repair," William S. Bike said. "In Texas, he spent a night in jail for vagrancy, and somehow the word got out that he was a desperado, so everyone in the town came by to meet him."
California had sealed its borders during the Great Depression to keep immigrants from other states out, but Mr. Bike snuck into the state by hitching a car ride with a Californian returning home. Because he was a teen, police assumed he was the driver's son and waved the car through.
Settling in Los Angeles and obtaining work in a restaurant and then a factory, Mr. Bike was on a Los Angeles streetcar on Dec. 7, 1941, when word came that the United
States had entered World War II. That week, he signed up to work as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army constructing air bases in Alaska.
Conditions in Alaska were so stark that Mr. Bike and his colleagues had the sled dogs sleep with them in the men's sleeping bags so they could all keep warm.
After the air bases were built, he joined the armed services as a sailor in the United States Merchant Marine, the branch of the military that had the highest casualty rate in World War II. Because of his background as a baker, the Merchant Marine assigned him to be a cook on various ships.
Completing two years in the Pacific with the Merchant Marine, he ended World War II in the U.S. Army, finishing his service in 1946. He was decorated with a Good Conduct Medal and World War II Service Medal.
"My dad was a triple veteran of World War II—civilian employee of the U.S. Army, and member of the Merchant Marine and the Army," William S. Bike said.
After the war he decided to return to his home state and built a house by himself in Lockport, IL.
A few years later he returned to Bucktown and went to work as a driver for Checker Taxi Chicago. In his home neighborhood, he met a Bucktown girl, Jean Smolen, and they were married in 1954 at St. Hedwig's Roman Catholic Church. They had their son, William S. Bike, in 1957.
Mr. Bike bought a truck in 1959 and went to work as a driver for Peerless Enameling and Japanning Co. He worked as a truck driver for the rest of his career, later working for Nick Totoni & Sons Trucking and Stockyards Packing Co. In the latter two jobs, he was a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
On June 29, 2019, Teamsters Local 700 honored Mr. Bike for his World War II service and his service to the Teamsters at the conclusion of its Tribute to Veterans Motorcycle Ride in Oak Lawn, IL.
"He always had some side business going, too—selling Christmas paper, clock radios, lamps, baked goods, you name it," William S. Bike recalled. After Mr. Bike retired as a truck driver in 1987, he worked part-time in circulation for the Gazette Chicago newspaper and invested in some rental properties for a time. "He liked to help out the poorer tenants by buying them food and giving it to them for free," William S. Bike said. "He also loved to feed the birds and did so throughout his life."
Mr. Bike and his wife, Jean, lived in the Logan Square and North Center communities of Chicago before moving to River Grove, IL. In Logan Square, they were members of St. Sylvester's Roman Catholic Parish. They later moved to the Autumn Green at Wright Campus retirement community on Chicago's Northwest Side.
"From the time my dad retired in 1987 until my mother's passing in 2014, they pretty much spent 24 hours a day together unless he was working out in his health club or working at Gazette Chicago," William S. Bike said. "In their later years, they also spent a lot of time with my aunt, my mother's sister, Mary Smolen." Mr. and Mrs. Bike were married for 59 years.
He and his brother, Richard Bike, who passed away a few years ago at age 92, were lifelong best friends.
In 2017, Mr. Bike relocated to the Illinois Veterans Home in Manteno, IL. In August 2019, Mr. Bike visited Washington, DC, through Honor Flight Chicago and enjoyed seeing the war memorials and particularly the National Air and Space Museum.
He was a member of the American Legion.
Mr. Bike was known for having great health. "When I was a kid, we had our meat and potatoes, but he insisted on fresh fruit or fresh vegetables with every meal," William S. Bike said. "He even became a vegetarian from about the time he was 50 to when he turned 70. He looked so young, we would be mistaken for brothers sometimes."
"Big Bill, a nickname I gave him soon after my husband and I married, was like a second father to me," said daughter-in-
Son William S. Bike is the author of several books and recently retired from working for 24 years for the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, serving as director of advancement communications. He continues to work as associate editor of Gazette Chicago and as a freelance writer for Central Park Communications, https://www.centralparkcommunications.com/
Mr. Bike died at the Illinois Veterans Home in Manteno on Sept. 24 after suffering a stroke a few days earlier. He is survived by his son, William S. Bike; daughter-in-
Services will be held at Notre Dame de Chicago Roman Catholic Church, 1334 W. Flournoy St., Chicago, on Saturday, Oct. 26. Visitation will be from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the church, with Mass at 10:30 a.m.
Memorials in his name may be made to Honor Flight Chicago, 9701 W. Higgins Rd., Rosemont, IL 60018, honorflightchicago.org, or Austin Special Chicago, 5318 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, IL 60630, austinspecial.org. Austin Special is an agency that assists handicapped adults.
William S. Bike