William Thomas Nunnelee died peacefully Thursday, July 7, 2016, in his Tehachapi home after a four-year battle with complications from cardiomegaly due to having scarlet fever as a child and Lewy body dementia. He was 79.
Bill was born in Hanford, Calif., on May 15, 1937, to Bill and Leora (Lytle) Nunnelee. He was the firstborn of seven children.
After moving to Oklahoma for a short time as a child, the family returned to California and became migrant farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley. They moved to Three Rivers, where Bill grew up in a one-room cabin for his family of eight and worked alongside his dad at Sequoia National Park and for local ranchers.
At age 12, he accepted an automobile in lieu of pay. He always delighted in telling the story about owning his own car when he was just 12.
When Bill was 17, he joined the U.S. Air Force. This was at the end of the Korean War, and he served for eight years and was trained in electronics.
Bill raised his four children with his first wife, Beverly Nunnelee. From 1965 to 1984, he lived in Quartz Hill, Calif.
In 1985, he moved to Tehachapi where he resided for the past 31 years.
Bill was a true patriot, philanthropist, family man, fantastic storyteller, and a jokester, who lived life to the fullest. His oldest son, Mike, said that Bill did more in his one life than that of four lives. He was a cowboy, a rancher, and enjoyed fishing, horseshoes, ping-pong, boating, waterskiing, and taking his kids swimming in the Kaweah River during his constant trips to visit his family in Three Rivers.
Bill told everyone he met to buy only American-made products. He made his sons stand with hands over their hearts at the singing of the National Anthem before every football game they watched on TV.
Bill was a successful businessman, earning a living by working two, sometimes three jobs in banking, electronics, and real estate. He finally retired in 2010.
Bill was preceded in death by his parents, Bill and Leora Nunnelee; his sister, Betty Bergman, in 2011; his uncle, Grady Nunnelee of Three Rivers; his grandson, Garrett Nunnelee, in 2009 due to cystic fibrosis; former wives, Laura (El Sasser) and Lynne Wayne; and a stillborn brother, Boyd Earl, in 1943.
Bill is survived by his wife, Charlene; four children, Pam and husband Phillip Reeves of Bakersfield, Terri and husband, Rick Reuter of Napa, Mike and wife Almita Nunnelee of Twin Falls, Idaho, and Mark and wife Lydia Nunnelee of Roseburg, Ore.; his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Aryn and husband Joshua Langley and their children Aidan and Ava, Eric and wife Tiffany Leschinsky and their children, Ione, Anna, Ezra and Olivia of Bakersfield, Kelli and Matthew Morrow of Corvallis, Ore., William Cody, Sarah and John Nunnelee of Twin Falls, Idaho, Amanda and husband Aron Clement, Katelyn Harvey and daughter Kylee, all of Roseburg, Ore.
Bill is also survived by his sisters and brother, Linda Van Winkle and Susan Roberts, both of Visalia, Karen Peters of Stockton, and Richard Nunnelee of Fresno; and many nieces, nephews, cousins, and in-laws.
His family expresses heartfelt gratitude to Bill’s wife, Charlene, who tirelessly cared for him with loving comfort and devotion throughout his illness.
A visitation was held Thursday, July 14, at Wood Family Funeral Service in Tehachapi. A funeral service will be held Friday, July 15, 11 a.m.
He will be interred in a family plot at Tehachapi Public Cemetery-Westside. There will be a reception following the interment at The Woods Pavilion, 323 West F St., Tehachapi.