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Bill Edstrom

Memorial Location

COLUMN:   ROW: 44

  • FC2
  • Served: May 1949 to May 1952
  • Korean War Era
  • Specialty: Fire Control, aboard Destroyer USS Tucker
  • Awarded Navy Occupation Medal, Korean Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, China Service Medal

Deceased 11/24/2017. Interred Rochester Cemetery, Rochester, WI.

Bill was born in the small mining town of Galena, Kansas on June 12, 1930, at the start of The Great Depression. He was the first child born to Arthur and Dora (nee Hatcher) Edstrom, the eldest of three brothers – Bill, Homer and Everett.

Following his parents separation, he and his brothers lived with their father until their father’s death in 1942 which resulted in the young boys being split into different homes. Bill moved in with his aunt “Doodle” – Lula and uncle Gene Moffet in Joplin, MO. Bill trapped rabbits, plowed fields behind a horse, picked tomatoes for a local farmer and did chores both before and after school. He attended school in a one-room schoolhouse through 8th grade.

Bill sometimes talked about how his family was “on relief” during the Depression and how this set him apart from the other, more affluent children. These experiences awakened in Bill a determination to succeed, to make his own way, and instilled in him a lifelong commitment to hard work and innovation.

After graduating from Joplin High School in the class of 1948, he served four years in the US Navy, three and a half of those at sea on the destroyer “Tucker” during the Korean War.

Following his tour of wartime duty, Bill returned to Joplin, MO where he met his future wife – Sylvia Sue Bruff. He subsequently moved to Milwaukee, WI to study at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) on the GI Bill. Bill and Sylvia were married on March 26, 1954.

Bill initially studied refrigeration technology at MSOE but, finding himself to be a successful student, he pushed himself further and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1957. He subsequently worked for Caterpillar Tractors in Peoria, Illinois before moving back to Wisconsin to work eleven years for AC Spark Plug – a division of GM.

During his time at AC Spark Plug, he and Sylvia started the Edstrom Chinchilla Ranch. He studied to be a chinchilla judge to understand what judges were looking for in excellent chinchillas. The resulting Edstrom chinchillas went on to win hundreds of awards and were sold as breeding stock to ranchers all over the country. Bill served a term as president of the Empress Chinchilla Association in the U.S.

As the Edstrom “herd” of chinchillas grew from a few cages in the basement of his home to hundreds of cages in the barn, Bill turned his engineering training toward the difficulties of maintaining such a large herd. This resulted in his invention of an automated watering valve and delivery system that replaced the need for glass drinking water bottles for the animals. He successfully filed for a patent and subsequently formed Edstrom Industries, Inc. in 1969.

During these early years, Bill and Sylvia had four children -– Cynthia (Cindy), William (Bill) Jr, Arthur, and Eric. Even with Eric still on the way, Bill quit his job with AC Spark Plug to dedicate himself full time to this new business.

Edstrom Industries grew from the kitchen table (where family members would inspect parts) to the garage, the corn crib, the outside shed, and the barn, to finally requiring the construction of a small metal building in a new industrial park two miles from his home. As business continued to grow, Bill furthered his education and earned an MBA from the University Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He later graduated from Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management executive education program. The current 114,000 sq. ft. Edstrom Industries office and factory are across the street from the original small building in the same industrial park and in the same small town of Waterford, WI. Today, Edstrom Industries is the largest employer in Waterford. His inventions have enabled and streamlined lifesaving research in medical, pharmaceutical, and educational institutions all over the world and have created jobs and quality products for decades.

Following retirement from Edstrom Industries, Bill and Sylvia moved to Northern Wisconsin near Presque Isle. Bill and Sylvia discovered a new interest in collecting and restoring 1931 Ford Model A cars. They attended numerous tours and car shows and went on to win the highest national award for Ford Model A restoration – the coveted “Henry” award. As he had earlier in his career when he became a judge to better understand the requirements of the chinchilla field, so too did he become a judge for Model A restorations to better understand the intricacies and requirements of that field. This knowledge and dedication to excellence culminated in awarding his restoration of a black Model A400 with the highest number of total points in the history of the competition. Bill would later say some of his favorite times of his life were those he spent with Sylvia – the two of them exploring the back roads of northern Wisconsin in one or another of their restored Model A cars.

Bill exemplified and valued education as a path to personal betterment and that showed in his expressions of philanthropy to Alverno College, MSOE University, St. Rose Center, and Rawhide Boys Ranch.

Inc Magazine named Bill a ”Master Entrepreneur” at the 1993 Entrepreneur of the Year awards for the state of Wisconsin. He served as a Regent of The Milwaukee School of Engineering. He was an accomplished private pilot, skydiver, certified scuba diver, mountain climber, and a member of the Chinchilla Hall of Fame.

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