William Jay “Bill” Focke passed away in Southwest Harbor on Feb. 14, 2018. He was born in Dayton, Ohio, May 6, 1938, the son of the late Elmer and Marie Focke of Oakwood, Ohio. He was the youngest of six children. His father, Elmer, was the treasurer of William Focke and Sons Meat Packers, a business founded by Bill’s great-grandmother Bernadina Focke in 1874. The company was known for its German-made sausage and other fine meats, especially its Waldorf sausage, which was a specialty. His mother was Marie Berno Focke, a former Broadway singer and dancer in the 1920s. During her career she was a dance partner of Fred Astaire in the off-Broadway play “Apple Blossoms” as well as the Broadway play “Within Four Walls.”
Bill went to Harmon Elementary School in Oakwood, Ohio. During his high school years his best friend was his cousin, who was also named Bill Focke. To tell them apart, Bill was known around town as Bad Bill Focke while his cousin was known as Good Bill Focke. Bill certainly earned his nickname. He told stories of when he lived just down the street from Orville Wright, the inventor of the airplane. Bill recalled while in middle school on snowy days he and his buddies ran out of the bushes on Ridgeway Road as Orville was coming home from work. They would grab onto the bumper of his car to keep the car from going up the steep hill. Orville would be furious and get out of his car and the kids would throw snowballs at him. Bill said, “I had no idea in those days he had invented the airplane, I just thought he was a grumpy old man who hated kids.” Another story Bill told was the several times he and a friend would get on the trolley car coming out of Dayton and look for a sleeping male passenger. They would then cut the man’s tie off and get off the trolley at the next stop before the man woke up. Bill’s friends recalled once having a dance while in high school and Bill was chosen to provide the meat for the party. He and a group of friends went to the Focke Meat Co. and while they all waited in the car, Bill went inside the factory to get some meat. Soon the door flew open and Bill came running out with a large ham. He was followed by one of his uncles brandishing a large knife and swearing at him. Bill jumped in the car and they all sped off.
Finally his parents had enough of his antics and sent him to St. Aloysius Military Academy for two years. Returning home, he graduated from Chaminade High School in 1956. The following year, he joined the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the battleship USS Iowa, where he spent the next several years as a powder handler and, as he put it, “seeing the bars of the world.”
Bill eventually became a meat salesman for the Focke Co. and when it closed in 1972 he worked for Decker’s Meats and other various meat packing businesses. Eventually, in 1978, he started a bottled water company with his two nephews, Ed and Bob Breen, in the basement of the former Focke’s Meat Co. In 1991, he moved to Mount Desert Island, and only left the state twice, for a wedding and a funeral. His sisters Connie Breen and Mary Cochrane both had summer homes in the area. His brother-in-law Ken Cochrane lived in Somesville. He worked for many years as a sternman on a lobster boat. In the winter, he worked for the phone company in the backwoods of Maine replacing downed telephone poles.
In the mid-1990s, he married his childhood sweetheart, Polly Evans Tonini, who had moved to Maine to be with him. The marriage lasted for eight years but they remained good friends until he passed away. Bill was known for his swing dancing, his good humor and his love of life. He did not have an enemy in the world. He will be missed by all who knew him and loved him.
He is survived by a sister, Ann Stemple of Dayton, Ohio.
Funeral arrangements are pending with burial and Catholic Mass in Dayton, Ohio. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the SPCA of Hancock County, 141 Bar Harbor Road, Trenton, ME 04605.
Arrangements by Jordan-Fernald, 1139 Main St., Mount Desert.
Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.