Robert C. Billmaier dies; WWII payroll sergeant volunteered to be ball turret gunner

By LIZ SKALKA | The Blade, Toledo, Ohio | Published: December 16, 2019

TOLEDO, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Robert C. Billmaier, a World War II Army Air Corps sergeant, business owner, and Catholic deacon known for his humor and support for veterans, died Wednesday at Birchaven Village. He was 95.

Mr. Billmaier, of Findlay, had been experiencing a general decline due to his age, his daughter Nancy Jakubiec said.

His wife of 69 years, June, with whom he shared six children, died on July 1, 2016.

“That took a toll on him, too,” his daughter said.

Mr. Billmaier served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the division that preceded the U.S. Air Force, from August, 1942, until September, 1945, with deployments in North Africa, Italy, France, and Russia. He began as a squadron payroll sergeant, then volunteered to fly combat missions as a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress, leading to his promotion to squadron first sergeant.

Raised in a religious household, Mr. Billmaier had considered entering the priesthood after his military service. While deployed in Italy, he attended Mass with Padre Pio, the priest who bore the wounds of Christ — know as the stigmata — and was later declared a saint of the Catholic Church.

Mr. Billmaier told The Blade in 2002 that he entered the Mass a skeptic but wound up a believer after seeing up close the blood oozing from the priest’s hands.

“I was a 19-year-old who was raised Catholic, but I was still at an age where I was curious and doubtful and I thought, ‘This is some kind of a show somebody is putting on,’” he recalled.

“A lot of people benefited from his prayers of intercession for healing ... I just feel this was a great man and a lot of people need someone like that.”

Instead of becoming a priest, Mr. Billmaier got married and worked as a salesman and business owner in the glass industry. He was the former co-owner of Trico Plate Glass Co. in Findlay, Fostoria, and Fremont, and the former owner of Findlay Glass Co.

Outside of work, Mr. Billmaier remained dedicated to the church. He was ordained a permanent deacon on June 7, 1975, by Bishop John Donovan, and was later appointed the first vicar for deacons of the Toledo Diocese by Bishop James R. Hoffman. He was also the former business manager of St. Michael Parish in Findlay.

“He just always wanted to help people. That was his way of serving God,” his daughter said.

Mr. Billmaier was born on July 24, 1924, in Toledo to John and Louise (Blessing) Billmaier, Sr., and was the youngest of six boys. He was a graduate of Central Catholic High School.

He married on June 14, 1947. The couple met through Mr. Billmaier’s brother, Donald.

“They went out on a blind date and the rest is history,” his daughter said.

Mr. Billmaier was known for his sense of humor, which he retained until the very end, and his homemade ice cream often served alongside Mrs. Billmaier’s cookies at family gatherings. He routinely included veterans in his prayers.

“The both of them were very giving parents,” his daughter said. “They were good people. I’m reminded of it all the time. I feel like I could brag about who my mom and dad were.”

Surviving are sons Timothy, Daniel, and Dennis Billmaier; daughters Kathleen Haley and Nancy Jackubiec; daughter-in-law Patty Billmaier; 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. He is preceded in death by a son, David Billmaier; one grandchild, Cody; and brothers John Jr., Ralph, Donald, Paul, and Kenneth Billmaier.

A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday at St. Michael the Archangel Church, Findlay. Burial will follow in St. Michael Cemetery, where full military rites will be conducted by the Hancock County Veterans Memorial Squad.

The family suggests donations to the St. Michael Parish Legacy Campaign.

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