By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Byron Deill died last year on Oct. 12 at age 88, but his mark will remain for decades on the city of Pittsburg.
Perhaps more importantly, his widow says, his mark will remain on a third generation of the family.
As owner of a construction company, Deill built landmarks that I drive past on almost a daily basis. On the campus of Pittsburg State University, there’s Weede Gymnasium, the McPherson nursing education building, Dellinger Hall, Axe Library and the press box at Carnie Smith Stadium.
To the south, there’s George Nettels Elementary School and two entire neighborhoods of houses in Deill’s First Addition and Second Addition.
And commercial properties: the first Wal-Mart in town (now occupied by Hastings and other businesses), Dillons, Ace Hardware, Kansas Teachers Credit Union, Commerce Bank.
And churches: First Christian and the Church of God.
And a whole slew of buildings in other Southeast Kansas communities.
But I didn’t know that — and had never really thought about the man behind those buildings — until I received the agenda for Tuesday night’s City Commission meeting.
It included a proclamation that Mayor John Ketterman will read: The day officially will be recognized as Broadway Lumber Day in Pittsburg.
Deill founded that company 60 years ago, on Sept. 30, 1952.
I called to visit with Deill’s daughter, Susie Boldrini, 56, who grew up in the business and now plays a role in its daily operation. I figured she could tell me why the business was so successful. She told me that, plus the list of things he’d built, and I was amazed.
“At the time he started the company, we were one of 14 lumber companies on street corners all over Pittsburg,” she said after taking a few minutes to finish helping a customer. “We’re the only one of the 14 left. We’re also the only home-owned, home-operated one in town.”
Customers are always first there, she said.
“We have three generations of families that shop here,” she said. “It’s all about relationships. Dad taught us that.”
As it happens, Deill and I share a birthday, April 28 — although he was born a few years earlier than me, in 1923. He graduated from McCune High School and attended PSU for two years, majoring in business.
While in college, he met the love of his life, Mary, who turned 87 last week. I had a delightful conversation with her Friday afternoon.
“I’m really proud we’re on the third generation now,” she said.
Besides Susie, the couple have another daughter, Nancy Deill Johnson. Each daughter has two children. Susie’s sons, Byron, 31, and Warren, 29, work at the store; Nancy’s children live out of state.
“I am so thrilled that the two boys have taken an interest in it,” Mary said of her grandsons.
All of them will be at the City Commission meeting Tuesday to accept the mayor’s proclamation.
Mary also told me that Deill Street was named for the family, and that made her proud. But she said what makes her most proud is the type of man her husband was.
“He never missed any of the activities the children were involved in,” she said. “And he was a true gentleman — never used any curse words, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, always was kind and gentle.”
They were married 65 years.
“We had the American dream,” Mary said. “We met in college, fell madly in love at first sight, had two healthy, intelligent daughters, and four perfect grandchildren. What else can you ask for? Those are the important things in life.”
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