Chance encounter reunites Biller, Coble families
On a hot day in late summer, two women from the Tiffin area experienced an unusual, long-awaited reunion. Their connection to one another was a man named William Biller.
Doris Biller is married to William, and he had described his stay with another family while his mother was ill with tuberculosis. He was too young to remember the name of the family, where they lived or how long he stayed.
“He’s a 21-year veteran from the Navy, the Seabees. One day, I was driving into town and I saw this little yellow car, and it had a whole bunch of Seabee stickers on the back – U.S. Navy. I don’t know what, but something said to follow it. There was a man and woman in the car, a little bit older than I am, and I followed them to Walmart,” Doris said.
The stickers were the same as the ones on William’s car. By the time she parked and walked to the door, the man was in the store and the woman was pulling out a shopping cart in the entryway.
Biller approached her and said, “I see your husband is a Seabee. So is mine. I sure hope he utilized the VA system because it sure has worked well for us.”
They started talking and introduced themselves. The woman, Norma Coble, had an interest in the name Biller.
“I was more than surprised,” Coble said. “For years, I’ve been asking, ‘Do you know a Billy Biller?'”
She proceeded to tell Doris about a small boy her mother had taken in years ago. Doris knew about her mother-in-law’s illness when William was a toddler. His mother had to recover in a sanitarium, so he and his siblings were cared for by other people until she was well.
“Here, this was her mother who had taken my husband in. She said for years, she always wondered whatever happened to Billy Biller. I said, ‘I’ve been married to him for 46 years and he turned out to be a wonderful man,'” Doris told Coble. “Now, you don’t have to worry about what happened to little Billy.”
About 70 years ago, Coble was living in Helena with her family. She had a younger sister and a younger brother, Lowell. Born prematurely, Lowell was in frail health. Her father operated his own carpentry business. Coble remembered a little boy the same age as Lowell, who stayed with the family for about a year. His name was Billy Biller.
“I don’t know how my mother happened to get this child. I’ve wondered about that a lot of times,” Coble said. “My mom had taken care of this little boy, and he lived with us.”
When the U.S. became embroiled in World War II, Coble’s father had to give up his business and devote himself to the war effort for a time. He worked with the Seabees building barracks at Erie Proving Grounds, also known as Camp Perry. When he was transferred to Monroe, Mich., the family moved with him, including Billy. The oldest of the children, Norma was always asking her mother about the little boy.
“My mom didn’t really want to talk about it,” Coble said.
Norma was old enough to start school in Michigan, but the school system wanted her to have a year of kindergarten before entering first grade. Coble said she had one semester of kindergarten in Monroe. Then, her parents sent her back to Helena to live with an aunt and start first grade.
Around the same time, Billy’s family was able to take him back to their home in Clyde. When Norma’s family returned to Helena, she rejoined her parents. Whenever Norma asked about Billy, her mother never wanted to say much because she had promised not to interfere if Billy’s mother survived and took him home.
“When the little boy left, my mom cried. I can remember my mom cried because she had to give him back. His mother had gotten out of the TB sanitarium,” Coble said.
Even while her parents were living in Monroe, they came back to Helena every Sunday to attend church. Coble suspects the church had a role in placing Billy with their family.
After graduating from Gibsonburg High School, Norma married and lived in other states for more than 20 years. She returned to Ohio after a divorce and now resides in Fort Seneca with
a man named Ted, also a former Seabee.
“The more I asked people, the more curious I got about how that little boy happened to live with us, and I wondered what happened to him,” Coble said. “Doris has been so nice to listen to my story. … It was so weird how it happened that day.”
Upon retiring from the Seabees, William and Doris settled in Tiffin.
At 62, he became ill from exposure to Agent Orange. Doris said she cared for her husband at home until she was no longer able to do so. He stayed two years at the Ohio Veterans’ Home in Sandusky. About a year ago, Doris was able to move him to The Willows in Willard so she would have a shorter drive for visits. At 72, William cannot talk, feed himself or walk, but he seems to recognize people and understand conversations.
Coble has visited him twice since she and Doris connected.
“It’s so sad. I can’t ask him if he knows anything or remembers anything. But when I talk to him about it, he just smiles so nice at me. I think he understands what I’m saying but he can’t respond,” Coble said.
Although Coble’s mother did not live long enough to learn about Billy, Doris said she is convinced God had a hand in the meeting with Coble.
“Life is amazing. We are where we’re at because it’s meant to be,” Doris said.