Mr. America ...
By Neil Clement
“Man was not born for self alone, but for country and kindred.”
(Non sibi se soli naturn sed patriae, sed suis.)
CICERO, De Finibus,
Book II, (c. 45 BC)
There must be thousands of folks who knew Bill Semple when they were growing up in “beautiful downtown Carneys Point.” For you readers from
out of town, our “downtown” begins at Lou’s Sunoco nestled between Semple’s Cleaners and the traffic light. That’s right, THE traffic light, the only
one on our main drag, Shell Road.
Those of you who knew Bill realize that he didn’t look like the body builder’s MR. AMERICA of today. Folks my age and older who remember the
World War II saying, “The man behind the man behind the gun.” A true American. That was Bill Semple!
One tidbit that unveils a facet of Bill’s humility as well as his public spirit was that he cleaned the uniforms of the soldiers stationed in the parking lot
behind the YMCA during the “big war.” They were stationed there for quite awhile and there were a lot of guys, but Bill donated his expertise and his
hard labor to the cause. He never charged them a dime. He later received a Citation of Appreciation from the American Legion recognizing his
As a young kid, it was not easy for our young friend, Bull because of the BIG D. There he was, recently graduated from 8th grade, and along comes
the depression. Whammo! No work.
Bill had another strike against him, he was also a victim of the dreaded scourge of those days - polio. Many of us lost a lot of sleep wondering
about: Would we get it? What caused it? What would it be like?
Bill’s right arm and hand were affected by polio and it kept many opportunities for employment closed to him. Bill once said to me, “Back in those
days, they didn’t hire guys like me.” When I asked him what he did then, he replied that he asked George, who had a cleaning business, if he would
teach him the trade. We don’t know what George’s last name was, but we do know that he lived where Hampton Beach Construction Company is
now located on Shell Road beside Bill’s old home.
Bill learned the trade and he soon opened Semple’s Cleaners in a small frame building on Shall Road. As Bill’s business and his young family grew,
he spent long, hot hours at work on the pressing machine. His was a six-day-a-week business, twelve months a year except for their annual one
week vacation! Family businesses like Pagano’s, Semple’s and Pagnotto’s don’t have the luxury like most of us do.
Did you know that Bill had one of the first “no shift” cars in town? Since shifting was difficult for him, after the war, he bought a Dodge with Fluid
Drive in order to make his deliveries.
Bill’s parents lived in an old farmhouse near the location of the present shop. It was there that Bill became a gardener extraordinare. Living proof
can still be found when you stroll by Bill’s old house, across from the Lafayette school on Shell Road, in the spring when the azaleas are in bloom.
They still almost smother the front porch as the blazon forth to herald Easter each year. Bill’s family clued me in to his hobby, which I never knew.
He loved to run dogs. He loved it so much that he imported rabbit hunting dogs all the way from Missouri.
Before I forget, I just have to relate one of Bill’s recollections that came up one night when I visited him at home. He asked me if I remembered
Taylor the policeman. It was before my time so Bill said, “Taylor used to stand up at Walker and Shell Road back when Walker Avenue was straight
and didn’t curve as it does now. He didn’t have a squad car; he walked or if it was a problem out of town, he used a cycle.” When I asked bill what
Taylor did if a car speeded up too fast, he replied, “Old Taylor would flag down the next car that came by, jump on the guy’s running board and
holler, “Catch that car!” I still chuckle to myself every time I picture that scene.
The following quotation is from a newspaper (way back) and I wonder how many of you can supply the last two words from your memory bank: “Bill
Really PRESSES for Sports” by ___________ ___________.
If you guessed Dave Trostel, keerect! Dave’s newspaper column, “Looking at Sports” ran a story about Bill saying, “He’s there in his store. Working
Winter, Summer, Spring or Fall, he’s working. But while he’s working, he’s talking sports.” The last paragraph of the article goes like this: “He
blends business with his good personality and is quite an individual who is proud of his family and really one of those unsung heroes of high school
sports followers down through the seasons.”
On the wall of our pastor’s study hangs a handwritten card in a plain frame with this simple message - “Character is a by-product...it is produced in
the great manufacture of daily duty.”
Bill and Pastor Timothy Ullmann would have hit it off right from the start, if they had met, because Bill’s day-to-day service to America in little old
Carneys Point parallels Chaplain Ullmann’s duties at the US Air Force Reserve Station in Willow Grove.
Our little village is blessed, like other little towns all over Salem County, with residents who make our communities a better place in which to live.
Is our town a microcosm of humanity so that as our community goes, so goes the world?
If in actuality that is the situation, then we can be optimistic about the future as long as we recognize and appreciate the Bill Semple’s, the Dave
Trostel’s and the Timothy Ullmann’s.
“Our characters are the result of our conduct.”
Ethics. BK. III, ch. V sec. 12.
( c. 335 B.C.)
P.S. In 1981, Bill passed the family business onto his son and daughter-in-law, Bill and Wanda Semple. Although officially retired, Bill
continued to help out in the shop even up to the time of his passing in 1991.
HOMETOWN NEWS - FEBRUARY 1993