The sidewalk superintendent: 105-year-old Bill Burden remembered

Trisha Umpfenbach/Staff Photographer Mount Pleasant resident Bill Burden, 104, smiles as he rides his motorized three-wheeled bicycle on Aug. 14, 2012 down Granger Street. Burden, an inventor, built the motorized bicycle himself.

Bill Burden was anything but ordinary.

The man who came from Ohio in 1930 for work in Mount Pleasant was young, earnest and never yielding.

Bill had 13 other siblings. He was the fourth oldest, and after his father left the family, Bill was forced to leave school after the eighth grade to help raise the other kids, sending money home to his mother until he was married.

“He delivered telegrams on a bicycle,” said Don Burden, Bill’s oldest of four children. “It wasn't unusual for him to pedal up to 80 miles in one day with no streets or roads.”

The number of lives Bill touched was evident after he died Feb. 17, 2013, from congestive heart failure at age 105.

He shared four children and 79 years of marriage with his wife, Maria, and had worked in the oil fields, a glass shop, building construction and dabbled in carpentry, as well.

He was the oldest man in Michigan, with a driver’s license yielding a perfect 20/20 vision and no setbacks, Don said.

Bill was a regular visitor at the soup kitchen and could be seen riding his bike while taking part as what many would call a “sidewalk superintendent” around the community.

“He was always interested in anything being built in Mount Pleasant and would find a way to get down there and see what they were doing right and wrong,” Don said.

It was understandable for Bill to be fascinated with anything being moved or demolished because of his work in the construction of many Mount Pleasant buildings, including Barnes and Sloan halls on campus.

Valeri Wolters, a retired Ganiard Elementary School teacher, remembered a time when Bill and a friend had gathered together for a birthday and analyzed a bicycle to see how it could be improved.

With the memory of an elephant and the generosity of Mother Teresa, Bill would visit family back in Ohio with his wife when they were younger, and he would help contribute to building churches even when the weather was unpleasant.

“He had a memory that was flawless, and he remembered the work, the people and the tools,” Wolters said. “I hope he is building things for St. Peter.”

At 101 years old, the centenarian installed a red and yellow fire hydrant by himself in 2008, which his son plans to place as his father’s marker at the cemetery.

Despite his age, Bill kept up with the times by using computers and had an email address and cell phone handy.

“I got him started 15-20 years ago, and at one time, he was the only one who would answer everyone’s emails with a ‘thank you,’” Don said.

Bill would even go around to several local businesses and would find something in the dumpsters and find a way to fix it.

“He always saw a use and a purpose in any object he found,” Don said. “He even used parts from a 1926 Dodge to make his first tractor.”

Wolters, who currently serves as the coordinator of the Ganiard History Project, is grateful people are honoring Burden with donations in his name to the community foundation which awards any Mount Pleasant High School student a $500 scholarship who attended Ganiard Elementary School.

“He enjoyed life up to the very end and was very optimistic,” Wolters said. “Maybe that’s why he lived to be 105-years-old.”

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