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Bill Dills was a man of action.
He didn’t seek fame or even want credit for pushing Grant County along. He preferred to stay behind the scenes.
Grant County lost a firm believer in the community when Dills, 84, died on May 15 at his Dry Ridge home. His wife, Ruth, also 84, died the day before.
When Dills was named Grant Countian of the Year in 2008, he was almost shy about being interviewed.
He said his philosophy was simple, that people were put on this Earth to try and make a difference and that’s the way he lived his life.
When there weren’t enough buyers at the 4-H/FFA Livestock Sale of Champions at the Grant County Fair, Dills went out and found some.
That humble, down to earth and gentle spirit served him well in his career as tobacco buyer, bank president and community-minded citizen.
“Whatever I’ve done wasn’t to get noticed. I did it because I wanted to,” Dills said in an interview in 2008.
Dills began his formal education when he ran away from home at 4 years old and followed his father to a one-room schoolhouse.
When his father, Walter, the lone teacher, couldn’t shoo him away any more, he let him stay.
While growing up, Dills was active with the 4-H program and animals on the family farm. He raised hogs.
In the eighth grade, his family moved to Williamstown, where he graduated from Williamstown High School when he was 17.
His first job was working at the Ford Garage earning 10 cents an hour. He had to work 7 days a week. Eventually he got a raise, but was lured away by the promise of making more money at Hulett Hardware where he earned $15 for a six-day work week.
Opportunity knocked and he left there to go to work for the Dairy Herd Improvement Testing Association through the University of Kentucky, where he spent his days traveling to various farms and figuring out how much milk each cow produced.
He worked at that job while attending UK where he started out studying law. He quickly decided that he’d rather see the world and at 18 joined the Merchant Marines where he visited places such as Aruba, Argentina, French West Africa, France and England.
Once while skating at the rink located where Auction Gallery is now, Dills noticed Ruth, whom he eventually married on June 15, 1946, just 15 days after he left his Merchant Marine ship.
Dills returned to the University of Kentucky and began working for Liggett Myers Tobacco Company. He was eventually transferred to Lake City, Fla., and Clinton, N.C.
In 1952, Dills was drafted. He served his country stateside where he was assigned to accounting at Fort Meyer, Va.
On a quiet day, Dills could hear taps floating through the air from Arlington National Cemetery, which was only a short distance from his home.
That’s one of the reasons that Dills was in favor of donating land for the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery. He also served as a member of the Grant County Industrial Authority, which worked with the Grant County Fiscal Court and Grant County Tourism to bring the cemetery to Williamstown.
From 1958 to 1984, he worked as a tobacco buyer in Carrollton.
He and Ruth eventually bought stock in the Grant County Deposit Bank, which was left to Ruth’s mother by her grandfather, Squire Points, a founding member of the bank.
In 1976, he became a member of the bank’s board of directors and in 1986 was named president. In 1988 he became chairman of the board and worked in that capacity up until a few months ago when poor health forced him to stop coming daily to work.
For years, Dills was strong supporter of the Grant County 4-H/FFA Livestock Sale of Champions where he bought animals on behalf of other businesses.
“I just got tired of seeing one child get $20 for their animal and the next one get $100, so I go out and get bids. I hope I’ve helped the program,” he said, in a previous story published in the Grant County News..
Other notables in Dill’s life include a stint from 1958 to 1962, when he served as mayor of Dry Ridge, as well as fire chief in Dry Ridge for 20 years. He’s been active with the Dry Ridge Kiwanis, the Grant County Chamber of Commerce, board of directors for Grant County Hospital and the Grant County Industrial Development Authority.
The Dills family donated funds for a pavilion to be built on the site of the new Grant County Fairgrounds in Williamstown.
Others who worked with and for him through the years, recognized his gentle spirit.
“Mr. Dills seized every opportunity he could find to encourage other people to get involved with the community and he certainly got my attention back in 1988,” wrote John DiGirolamo of Williamstown, in the letter he submitted for Dills’ Grant Countian of the Year nomination. “His inspiration and support were instrumental in my opening of The Country Grill. I’m forever grateful . . . and the rest is history!”
“Whenever I think of Bill, the word integrity always comes to mind. I have served with Bill over the years and have found him to be a man of his word and he always has the community’s best interest in mind,” wrote Jim Brown, former owner of Grant County Farm Supply.
Dills doesn’t see himself as having done anything extraordinary or special.
“I don’t plan to retire anytime soon,” he said in 2008. “As long as there is a challenge out there, I’m going to keep on trying and if I can contribute to something that’s what I’m going to keep trying to do.”