Community loses automobile sales icon with death of Bill Winkler
by Sherrie Norris
The end of an era has come to pass with the unexpected death of Bill Winkler, longtime automobile salesman of Boone.
Alfred Glover, owner of Boone Ford Lincoln Mercury in Boone, where Winkler worked for the past 64 years, said on Tuesday morning that Winkler’s death, occurring just hours earlier, has left a painful void not only at the dealership, but also in the community.
“It’s like realizing your co-pilot is gone,” Glover said. “He was just that important to the fabric of what we do here. Bill encompassed all that anyone could ever want to be — he loved the Lord, he loved his family and the people he worked with. That’s about all you could ever ask anyone to be.”
According to Glover, Winkler was at work on Monday and had lunch with family members. He died Tuesday, Oct. 16, at his Winklers Creek Road home. He was 83. Winkler is survived by his wife, Evelyn, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and two sisters.
“Clearly, we all have to just step up mightily,” Glover said. “Bill left us with some pretty big shoes to fill. He was such an advocate for the customer and for the community.”
With the exception of his service in the United States Air Force, Glover said, “This was the only job he ever had.”
In earlier interview with the Watauga Democrat,
Winkler said that he had started working as a youngster at Winkler Motor Company, which belonged
to his father, washing and cleaning vehicles for sale and was in the parts department by the time
he was teenager.
“We could sell when no one else could sell,” Winkler said. “When it was 30 degrees, wind blowing, the cars were covered in ice, you could walk into our heated showroom and really see the cars,” he said.
The first vehicle Winkler sold was a new deluxe model 1950 Ford F150 truck.
“What made the truck a deluxe were two add-ons taken for granted today — a heater and an AM radio,” he said. “This special model also had chrome grill, bumpers, hubcaps and body side molding, and white-wall tires.”
The retail value of the truck was $1,200, but Winkler was able to cut a deal and sold the truck for $900.
Winkler had no plans to retire at the time of the interview and said he would continue selling, “as long as I feel good.”
He said, “I love what I do, I love people and I love automobiles,” he said. “Time flies when you have fun and I’ve had a blast.”
Winkler was 83 at the time of his death.
Phil Critcher, owner of Critcher Auto Parts of Boone, was a young man who grew up in Winkler’s shadow and shared with him a love for automobiles and drag racing.
“I’m broken-hearted right now,” Critcher said on Tuesday, soon after learning of Winkler’s death. “I’ve known him all of my life. He was a good man.”
What a lot of people don’t know — or might not remember, Critcher said, “is the fact that Bill was a great drag racer. Actually, he was probably the best, but at the same time, the least recognized, drag racer ever.”
Critcher remembers the Winkler Thunderbolt, a Ford Fairlane, he said, that was one of only about 100 issued by Ford Motor Co. Racing.
“That car was famous, but because Bill Winkler made it famous,” Critcher said. “He got it through the upper level of Ford Motor Co. who knew and respected Bill and knew what he could do with it. He could put on a show with it and often outran some of the big names in drag racing.”
Critcher said he was “so disappointed” that Winkler never got the fame and recognition that he deserved.
A few years
ago, Critcher tracked down the Winkler Thunderbolt and hoped to purchase it, bring it back to Boone
and restore it.
“It’s in a collector’s hands in Alabama,” he said. “I hope he knows what he’s got.”
Through the years, Critcher often sought advice about automobiles and their history from Winkler, he said.
“He knew a lot about cars and probably forgot more than most of us will ever know,” he said.
In later years, Winkler frequented Critcher’s business for various car parts and conversation.
“I have always had a lot of respect for him,” Critcher said. “If he wasn’t talking cars, he was probably talking about fishing. All you had to do was ask him and he could tell you about both.”
A lifetime Ford fan, J. D. Phillips of Boone,102, said he had known Winkler for many years.
“He was a nice fellow and not your typical car salesman,” Phillips said. “What he told you, you could depend on. He sold a lot of cars in his day, that’s for sure.”
Phillips said, “Everybody liked ‘Little Bill’ — I never heard one iota against him. The last time I saw him, he was the same as the first time I ever saw him. That’s just the way he was.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated Oct. 16 to include funeral details.
Mr. William Ralph “Bill” Winkler, Jr. age 83, of Winklers Creek Road, Boone, passed away at his residence. Born July 28, 1929 in Watauga County, he was a son of the late William Ralph and Effie Vance Winkler. Bill was a member of the First Baptist Church in Boone and the founding member and sponsor of the Daniel Boone Fisherman Club. He was a US Air Force Veteran and a member of the American Legion. Bill was a car salesman for over 64 years and was currently working at Boone Ford Lincoln Mercury. He began his career in the automotive industry working at Winkler Motor Company. Bill loved his family, his work and his many friends in the community.
He is survived by his wife; Evelyn, his children; William Ralph Winkler, III and wife Rhonda of Boone, Melinda Cook and husband Sonny of Huntersville, Deborah Cole and husband Tyler of Asheboro, and Daniel Winkler and Karen Shook of Blowing Rock, Amy Moore and husband Butch of Sugar Grove, and Holly Winkler and husband Glenn Hubbard of Greenville, NC, twelve grandchildren; Ashley W. Price, William Ralph Winkler, IV, Jessica W. Hall, Jeffrey S. Cook, Karen C. McVickers, Shana R. Harris, Jaimee R. Gibbs, Jonathan K. Cole, David J. Cole, A. Morgan Winkler, Jennifer S. Coffey, and Josh Moore, seventeen great grandchildren; two sisters; Carolyn Congleton of Barbourville, KY, and Marbeth Fidler and husband Carl of Boone.
Funeral services for Mr. William Ralph “Bill” Winkler, Jr. will be conducted Thursday afternoon at 5 o’clock at the First Baptist Church. Officiating will be Rev. Roy Dobyns. Graveside services and burial will be private. The family will receive friends at the church following the service for those attending the service and for others who do not wish to attend the service. In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to the First Baptist Church, 375 West King Street, Boone, NC 28607 or to the Watauga Humane Society, PO Box 1835, Boone, NC 28607. Online condolences may be expressed to the Winkler family at http://www.austinandbarnesfuneralhome.com.
Austin & Barnes Funeral Home & Crematory is serving the Winkler family.