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Jefferson City man has had several brushes with history

Friday, June 12, 2009 | 12:05 p.m. CDT; updated 3:47 p.m. CDT, Friday, June 12, 2009
Bill Stine, who grew up in Jefferson City, has seen a lot of the world thanks to a career in the Air Force. He moved back to Missouri in the late 1980s, where he now sings, performs on stage and studies local history.

JEFFERSON CITY — Bill Stine experienced a moment of deja vu last May when he heard the voices of the Monticello Men's Chorus — he's one of the singers — echo inside the cavernous Missouri Capitol.

Fifty years earlier he stood in the same spot with his fresh-faced high school choir as they sang Christmas carols, one of Jefferson City's most beloved traditions.

"I led the procession. It was an experience like you never (would believe)," Stine chuckled. "Back in the fifties, it was filmed live by KRCG-TV, and they had the huge Klieg lights we had to walk past."

With his 50th reunion scheduled this weekend, it's not surprising faded high school memories are resurfacing.

Although it might be a strange experience to find oneself standing in the same spot once again, Stine has not lived a static life and did not always remain a hometown boy. During his first departure, he attended college in Rolla, where he earned an electrical engineering degree in 1964.

Stine's own life features some curious Forrest Gump-like brushes with fame.

One of his first jobs was in Wisconsin, where in 1965 he worked with a team of technicians under Seymour Cray, the "Father of Supercomputing,"on the world's largest scientific computer.

"He stood over me and asked, 'Do you know what you are doing?'" Stine recalls. "I said, 'Yes. I think so.' That was the end of the conversation."

Stine also met Hyman Rickover, the four-star admiral known as the "Father of the Nuclear Navy." Stine saw Rickover at Knolls Atomic Power Labs in New York, where the computer team did design calculations in the late 1960s.

In 1967, faced with the Vietnam War, Stine attended the Air Force's Officer Training School. It was an experience that led him to a military career, one that allowed him to live in communities across the U.S. and in Germany.

While in the Air Force, Stine saw Charlton Heston play tennis at the officers' courts in Los Angeles, and he saw Burl Ives pass through the Los Angeles Airport. "I was surprised he carried his own luggage," Stine said.

He also met Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, at Los Angeles Air Force Station in California in 1969. "He had the strangest Hungarian accent," Stine remembers.

One vivid memory that has stayed with him was the day the Air Force test-fired a Minuteman Missile carrying a payload, an "emergency rocket communication system" he designed.

In a doomsday scenario, the payload "was the command to bomb the Russians," he explained.

The rocket was tested in Utah, a place Stine enjoyed. Not only did he listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but he learned to ski while living there.

"Which is how I saw Marie Osmond," he said. She was in one of the other chairlifts.

After 20 years in the Air Force, Stine retired in the late 1980s and returned home to care for his mother.

Here, he picked up his old hobbies.

A history buff, he helped write some of the Convention and Visitors Bureau's brochures. People familiar with them might remember his essay, "The Battle That Didn't Happen," describing Jefferson City's role in the Civil War.

He's also intrigued by his own family's contributions to Jefferson City.

His great-grandfather, Frederick Buehrle, was a worker at Lohman's Landing. His grandfather was a bricklayer who contributed to architectural gems such as the Lohman Opera House. His father was a purchasing agent for Tweedie Footwear Corp. Stine himself spent at least one summer sweating profusely at the factory.

He's been a steady supporter of the city's Lewis and Clark activities. And he's a regular singer in several choirs, including the Monticello Men's Chorus and Jefferson City Cantorum.

You may have also seen him on stage in "Fiddler on the Roof," "Brigadoon" and "The Wizard of Oz." (Incidentally, he appeared in "Brigadoon" in high school.)

"It's pretty amazing that, since high school, so many things have stayed the same," he said. "Including my voice. I'm surprised it's still in good enough shape to sing."

His most recent brush with fame happened when he sat next to author William Least Heat-Moon at a Missouri State Archives lecture.

"He's who got me interested in Lewis and Clark, with his book, 'The River Horse,'" explained Stine.

Most recently, Stine's been working to publicize several intriguing but relatively little-known historical sites by posting them online. To date, he has 11 "way marks" listed at waymarking.com.

They include: a handful of statues, time capsules and trail markers related to Lewis and Clark's trek; the Champion Burr Oak in Boone County; the Soldiers Memorial at Lincoln University; the Rock Island Railroad Bridge near Freeburg; and the Jefferson City Hall flag.

"I'm a native ... born at St. Mary's Hospital," he said. "I've always thought, of all the places I've been, Jefferson City is very interesting."

 


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