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The Story of Bill Newell

 Bill Newell was born in rural Vandalia, Illinois April 5th, 1941.  His father was a 43 year old a pipeline superintendent from Illinois and his mom was from Mississippi and 20 years his dad's senior.  From a baby to a teenager the family traveled to where the pipeline work was.  By the time Billy was 8 years old he had been to every state but Washington, Oregon and Nevada.  Billy was an adventurous, imaginative; free spirited only child.  He loved getting to know people from different cultures and to see what makes them tick.

 

His first motorcycle was a Harley Flathead that he acquired at 14 years old.  At 15 Billy was enlisted in the Arizona National Guard, he received an honorable discharge when his family relocated to Los Angeles.  Billy attended John Marshall Herb High School where numerous movies, music videos and TV shows were filmed such as Bachelor Party and Pretty in Pink but more notably it was known as Rydell High from the movie Grease.

 

Billy made the track team and enjoyed it but got caught cruising main street inebriated so that was it for track.  He loved working with his hands, he made is own set of bongos in wood shop.  Billy was mesmerized by the hypnotic beats of the drum, he started playing congas and bongos as an early teen.  He would listen to the farm laborers play as a young boy which made a huge impact at his tender age.  As time went on Billy crafted his skills and played congas nightly for the rest of his life!

 

Being a teenager in the baby boom area was such an exciting time, his idols were Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando and Dennis Hopper but his idol of all time was James Dean.  The world was Billy's oyster,  he would frequent beach parties and cruise the Sunset Strip scene.  Wherever the action was he was there soaking up as much pop culture as he could as if he knew this was a short wrinkle in time.  His adventurous behavior would get him in trouble, he rode freight trains with a few of his buddies back and forth to see his friends from Arizona.  Needless to say his mother wasn't too happy about his great adventures so he had to figure out a way to make it on his own.  At night after high school classes he went through a welding program and got his first welding job at 18 and a Wild Irishman tattoo on his arm.

 

At 19 he married his sweetheart Cathy, over the years they had 6 children together, the old fashion way.  Bill always had a side kick which were German Shepards for first half of his life then he switched to Labrador Retrievers.  His furry soulmate of all time was the amazing Zeke, which is another story in itself.  At 21 Bill applied to get his pilot's license.  Who would have known the plethora of speeding tickets would came back to haunt him.  The FAA frowned upon the numerous speeding infractions so they dug a little dipper and interviewed Bill's mother Alma.  Alma told the FAA administrators in no uncertain terms that Bill was too immature to fly airplanes!  In Alma's defense Bill was Alma's only child, what protective mother would allow their child to take unnecessary risks of being in the air!?  Bill was determined to fly, this is when he decided to jump out of planes instead! 

 

In 1962 Bill found a new love... skydiving, Bill was 21.  Just 1 month after his 21st birthday he made his first jump May of 1962 in Piru, CA.  Bill came onto the west coast skydiving scene at Piru, Lake Elsinore, Landcaster, Arvin then Taft, CA.  Bill made many life long friends and bonded with his sky family.  Early on, the friendships he had with his two mentors; Bob Buquor and Brian Williams would change his life forever.  Bob was a professional cameraman and Brian was a skydive instructor and a member of the Parabats.  Tragically, Bob drown off the coast of Malibu during the filming of the movie "Don't Make Waves" in 1966 that Bob Buquor was filming.  Bill felt that Bob hadn't received the recognition that he deserved for being such a skilled skydiving photographer and did not want his memory to fade away.  Bill started the STAR CREST Awards program in memory of his friend Bob, hence Bob Buquor Memorial STAR CREST. 

 

STAR CREST was birthed in 1967, the name says it all: Select Type of Accomplished Relative worker Combining Reliability Enthusiasm Skill and Teamwork.  Bill was also an artist, he started drawing the SCR logo by tracing a coffee cup in the kitchen.  Over the years Bill created 10 SCR Awards that still remain relevant today.  He created the logos for all of his awards at his draft table and then would collaborate with a graphic designer to refine his artwork.  To date the SCR program has over 27,000 members worldwide and is the longest running skydiving awards program to date.

 

Bill toured the county spreading the good vibes of the SCR program throughout, it spread like wildfire.  This was an impressive feat as there were no social media platforms in this era.  He also created a ceremony for the new SCR inductees as well as the Him/Her song it's a bit expletive so I will refrain.  The SCR member with the lowest number is the moderator.  The candidates purchase a case of beer and kneel facing west before the moderator and crowd. The candidates face west to give tribute to the jumpers in California that made the 1st 8 way.  The moderator explains why they are facing west, the early 8 ways and tell the story of Bob Buquor. The moderator sings the Him and Her song, the crowd chimes in then the candidates get a beer bath!  The remaining beer is shared with the crowd.

 

Bill jumped consecutively from 1962 - 2006, after he packed his last rig, he would still travel to DZs to visit with old and new friends and promote STAR CREST.  In 1997 Bill came full circle and earned his pilots license. I was actually his first passenger, Thanksgiving of  '97.  I have never encountered a person to be so loyal and dedicated as he, it still moves me when I think about it.  For 45 years, from 1967 - 2012  Bill continued his labor of love administrating STAR CREST.  I remember how he gave me instruction on how to carry on the SCR program from his hospital bed in detail, all the way down to how to put the awards package together in the correct order.  He sent out SCR awards right up to 2 weeks before his passing.

 

Bill Newell is my dad.  I have fond childhood memories of traveling to drop zones to watch my dad fall from the sky.  Our home was always open to old skydiving friends or jumpers passing through that wanted to meet my dad.  He would share his beer, barbecued tri-tip and give 'em a conga lesson or they'd sit in for a jam session with his musicians friends he had over.  There were numerous instruments to choose from and the PA system system did not disappoint.  My dad knew how to entertain and  would create memories that last a lifetime.  Friendship, loyalty and dedication are the virtues I will always admire from my dad.  2012 still feels like yesterday but it's been 9 years since my husband John and I have taken over the SCR torch, it's a labor of love for us as well.

By Rachael Newell

The Life of Bill Newell

Memories of Bill

The Road Trip

 I met Bill Newell and his family as a kid growing up on the Taft DZ.  Bill was one of my mentors, but not only for his accomplishments with the SCR but listening to his stories and as I got older and reading his articles. I really looked forward to the day where I could be apart of his life in the air and  life's adventures. Well right after I was old enough and started skydiving in Jan 1982 we lost a plane full of people at the original Taft DZ.  Not too much later sadly the historical DZ shut down.

 

Now later being 18, in 1984 I called Bill told him I wanted to get in the air and hangout. Bill and I got together and once I got a rig, Bill took me up and did a buddy jump with me. Bill gave me my first kiss pass and I was so excited I gave him two more and Bill couldn't stop laughing and he told me to pull.  As Bill and I started hanging out more and more we were going to the racquetball club and checking out the babes.

 

In the summer of 1984 we took a trip to Mexico. Bill liked to sleep in so as I drove my truck and Bill would sleep in the bed of the truck.   Before we crossed the border Bill woke up and asked me to pull into a Hotel parking lot. I'm thinking why the Hell are we staying in a hotel since the border is so close. Bill got into the truck and as we were just sitting and waiting I asked what the Hell are we doing? Bill said we are waiting for a room to open up so we can use the shower before the cleaning people show up and that way we get a free shower. I thought that was a great idea! Well as we faced away from the room looking through the mirror, we saw a room empty out. As the guests left Bill said he will go first and when he is done I can get cleaned up. Okay, I thought. I watched Bill enter the room and then I looked to see where the guest had gone. Just then I was not only in disbelief on what was about to happen I couldn't stop laughing. The guest were from a church and getting out of the church bus, but heading back to the room that Bill had entered. Soon after the young girls came out of the room and back to the holy grounds church bus. Moments later Bill came out and when I asked him what the hell happened he said it's time to go. We both couldn't stop laughing and when he could breath he told me he was on the commode and thought it was me knocking on the door to come in. They were all surprised to say the least. 

 Bill took me cruising down Hollywood Blvd, the Sunset Strip, and Venice Beach. We also went to Texas to visit some friends of ours and along the way stopped at an old friend of Bill's that he used to jump with named Jeep Garrety whom was also a pioneer in skydiving.  I could go on for days with stories and adventures that I was able to share with Bill Newell and glad he chose me to be his friend. 

 

Blue Skies Bill Newell 

 

 By Brian Fairhurst SCR #12100

Random Thoughts of Bill

• He was big on astrology and enjoyed opining on how planets’ positions influenced daily life.

• He jumped in 41 consecutive jump-years (his last jumps were in 2006 in Spaceland and Skydive TN).

• I had the pleasure of being on his first 16-man/way, which was on November 9th, 1973 at Cleveland, Texas. It was also Terry Ward’s first jump in 2-1/2 years.

• He liked pseudonyms e.g., Godgilius Blowjeezie, Sancho Panchez, Ignarago Flagnortus, Commander Groovey, and Italicus Whimpton, and used them often in   written corrspondence.

• He and I became blood brothers during one of our early morning skull sessions at Valley Mills, Texas, as we cut palms and shared blood.

• On more than one occasion, we would study the phosphorescent limestone rocks scattered around Valley Mills drop zone. They really did glow late at night, if you had the right frame of mind. 

• We were Airport Beacon Buddies, having both ridden at least one beacon while experimenting in altered consciousness.

• I was arm-wrestling champ, right-handed, but he took me with his left.

• He related to me the secret of how to continually drink beer from a can while driving, but rarely having to pull over to use a restroom. I took his word for it! 

• We were fellow pilots who loved to swap stories about things in addition to jumping.

• We agreed and disagreed about politics and had lively discussions.

• We agreed and disagreed about conspiracy theories.

• We never got so pissed with each other that we couldn’t laugh it off.

• He was never so sad as at the tragic and unexpected death of his dog (Zeke), and the slow, cancerous demise of Riley his daughter Teressa's dog.

• He was slow at accepting newer ways of communicating e.g., Facebook. He saw it as a poor substitute for a phone call, or even email.

• He was an old-school man’s man, who placed high value on strength, machismo, and not showing fear.

• His voice reminded me of Lee Marvin, a comparison I believe he enjoyed. There was also the spirit and cool factor of Steve McQueen (the American actor, not the British filmmaker).

• As famous as he was, in skydiving circles, he was never too self-important to strike up a conversation with someone from any station of life. I loved that about him.

• He was one of the first skydiving icons that I was fortunate to meet and even more fortunate to have as a friend and brother.

 

By Phil Mayfield SCR #374, SCS #36, SCSA #83, NSCR #377

Here's a small story about my first meeting with Bill

The Story

In the 70's I lived with Bill Stage (SCR 5) at Quail Valley, near Perris.  One day we drove to Bakersfield to meet Bill Newell (a skydiver of dubious reputation), who I had never seen before.  Before we went in to meet him, Bill S. told me not to say much and that Bill N. had a talent for guessing someone's Sun sign.  I laughed and said sure, thinking Bill S. is trying to pull another fast one on me.  He loved to do things like that to people.  Maybe that red hair.  So we go in and all I say is 'Hi' and nothing else.  After awhile Bill S. says that Bill N. could guess my Sun Sign the first time and was correct over 90 percent of the time.  Bill N. looks at me for awhile and then, all of a sudden, says "You're a Virgo".  I am and I was floored. We all laughed and had a great time together.

 

Now the Story behind the Story

 

Fast forward to the present (2012), a little while ago I was doing some emails with Bill N. and happened to mention the incident thinking there was no way he would remember that day.  Lo and behold I get the following reply.

 

"I remembered right away when I saw your name, but was gonna hit you with it later in our correspondence. I used to blow peoples mind's guessing their birth signs, but I blew my mind that day guessing yours.  Stage set me up and put me on the spot, telling you that I could guess anyone's birth sign on the first try. You had a blonde curly afro and I'm thinking I don't have a clue what this dude's sign is, so I just gave you a look and blurted out "He's a fucking Virgo!"

 

I was expecting to be wrong, but when I saw your and Stages expression's of disbelief, I knew I still had the mojo, but didn't know how. That was one of my more satisfying moments in the many times I blew Stage's mind with my physic ability."

 

After thoughts

 

I was so pissed when I read Bill N. reply.  Always was looking for ways to pay  Bill S. back for all his gotchas.  If I had known that then I would have never let him forget that Bill N. blew his mind.

 

LMAO

By Tim Long SCR#6339, SCS #3402, SCSA #55, NSCR #1297

Childhood Memories of Bill Newell

By Tracy Newell

I went with Dad almost  every Sunday to Taft, to hangout and watch him skydive.

 One Sunday I went up as an observer in Spike's Twin Beech with a bunch of Michigan Skydivers. It was overcast that day, and as we got up to altitude, the spotter couldn't see through the clouds to the DZ below. We circled around, and still the clouds were thick.

After a bit, the decision was made to dip below them, to get our bearings,  and set the jump run.  When Spike broke through, to our surprise, there were sheep about 200 feet below us. We could see them looking up at us and bleating at the sudden appearance of a Beechcraft full of skydivers invading their peaceful grazing.
Then we heard Spike cursing, and looked out of the windows ahead. At the side of a ominous looking mountain, a hush fell over the plane, then Spike told us to all get I to crash position.

 I was sitting on the floor with Dad and the rest of the skydivers, and he hugged me and  said 'Well Tracy, I guess this is it, I love you, and I will see you in heaven with Jesus. I told him I loved him too, and we put our heads between our legs and awaited our fate. 

I can still remember the deep growl  of the plane as Spike pulled back on the wheel as hard as he could. We all slid to the back of the plane as it shot up, it felt like a we were at a ninety degree angle. Spike was giving it all he had and we expected to slam into the mountain side at any moment.

Then to all of our immense relief, we made it over the top with just a hair to spare. 
We all cheered for Spike's superior and heroic flying skills, and after landing in hot and dusty Lancaster, and a long drive back, we reveled in the chance to tell a hell of a story around the fire at the DZ that night, and to die another day. 

Of course, I was 12, and couldn't partake in my dad's Coors, but I had another interesting tale to tell when it came time for sharing at school the next day.

Thank you letter to Bill Newell

Over the last few days I have been giving this a lot of thought, as well as the entire award process (including licenses and ratings). It occurs to me that these SCR awards have much more value in the sport than just recognizing skills and accomplishments. It is a little difficult for me to put into words, but I remember when I was a student there were goals and milestones that I deemed important. Getting off static line, cleared to pack my canopy, first 2-way, 4-way, multi points, etc. The SCR series of awards was special though. When you achieved your SCR, not only was it a testament to your ability to fly with some level of competency, it also showed that others (who had acomplished it before) also recognized your ability, and were confident enough in YOU to fall to earth with you. 

 

The sense of accomplishment and the continued pursuit of these awards and the recognition from the achievement certainly had a lot to do with myself, as well as others, continued involvement in the sport. 

After achieving the award, it was a given that you were obligated by honor to help others achieve it as well, just as people had done for you. These kind of things bound us together, and still do. We are a family because we have shared thinner, common air and I hope the new skydivers coming up in the sport can appreciate Bill Newell’s contributions as much as we, the oldtimers, do.

I wish I were more eloquent.

I salute you sir and wish you well.

 

Bob Wilkinson, SCR#10288, SCS #5645, SCSA #210, NSCR #192

pictures of Bill

Double click image to enlarge

Bill at derrick jump.
Newell & Economy,  Arvin, '64
Bill & Dewitt with Zeke
Bill before Arvin
Bill & Taft Bowl
Bill, Taft Bowl, '63
Group at Old Farts
Bill & Van Pelt
Bill and Bob's daughter Toni
Bill's artwork
Bill's artwork

Party in Paradise

By Bill Newell

I was at the 1977 Thanksgiving skydiving meet at Zephyrhills, near Tampa, Florida when Jim “Whitey” Whiting told me he was planning a New Years Party In Paradise skydiving adventure in Hawaii and asked if I’d like to attend and write an article about it for our Star Crest Magazine.

 

Free room and board for a week sounded good to me, plus I’d always wanted to go to Hawaii. Lots of my friends had already been several times, and at 36, time was ticking.

 

On the flight over I was reading Hal Lindsay’s “Satan Is Alive And Well On Planet Earth” and was intrigued by the part that said that earthbound and demon spirits resided in the depths of the earth. And the Mariana Trench, one of the deepest places in the ocean had an abnormal amount of paranormal activity and mysterious disappearances on its surface.

 

The Party In Paradise was held on Oahu’s North Shore. Dillingham Airfield was where the skydiving was taking place, and about a mile farther west just before the paved road ended at Kaena Point was Camp Erdman where us skydivers were housed.

 

Camp Erdman – the skydivers called it Camp Wierdman – was a YMCA camp with a huge recreation hall and swimming pool right on the beach. Directly across the road were the cabins and right behind the cabins, rugged green mountains rose steeply to a couple of thousand feet. The scenery was fantastic.

 

The skydivers were sharing the recreation hall with middle school Japanese students during the day. I could sense the culture contrast, as did the Japanese instructors, but the skydivers seemed oblivious. As the Japanese kids were singing Disney type songs like “It’s A Small Small World” on the first floor, heavy metal music blared from the P.A. speakers in the chow hall on the second floor where the skydivers ate, drank and partied. There were some concerned looks from the Japanese instructors, but they never said anything.

 

All the cabins but one were full with skydivers from various parts of the mainland. Most groups from a certain place were housed together. I missed my original flight and arrived a day late, so I got the empty cabin. That was a good thing in that I had privacy and wouldn’t be kept awake by a bunch of rowdy skydivers wanting to party all night.

About the third night we were having a party on the beach with a bon fire under the palm trees. I had downed a few beers when another late-comer showed up. He had just flown in from Washington State to meet his sister who was already there. This guy – I’ll call him Don - was very loud and brassy. He was running around shouting “So this is the party in paradise, huh, well let’s get down and party! 

 

Awhile later I fell off the log I was sitting on. This generated a lot of laughs because at the time I was considered to be pretty hard core. I decided it was time to pack it in before I embarrassed myself any further, so I bid goodnight amid hoots and howls’ and made it back to my cabin.

 

Here’s where things got interesting. I was feeling truly euphoric, being in Hawaii, and as I lay on my bunk next to the louvered glass windows I could hear the surf as a continuous roar. Not like the California surf, where it ebbs, crescendos, splashes and hisses, but a continuous roar. I lapsed into a semiconscious state as the roar of the surf transcended into the most beautiful and intricate drumming I’d ever heard. I’ve been a conga drummer since my teens and I’d never heard anything that rhythmic. I was unfamiliar with those rhythms and couldn’t play them at the time, so why was I hearing them in my head?

 

I snapped out of my trance and back came the roar of the waves. I thought, “Wow, that was great. Let’s see if I can do that again”. Sure enough, I was able to replace the roar of the breaking waves with the drums. After about the third time, I began to get a little flippant, thinking “Hey, I can do this any time I want”.

 

Just then, right through the wall facing the mountains marched 5 or 6 Hawaiian warriors from a time past.  They were in full color, slightly transparent, had spears and shields and looked angry, although they didn’t seem demonic. As they glided past my bunk their feet didn’t appear to be touching the floor. They paused briefly and one of them looked at me before they continued on out through the opposite wall.

 

I rose up in my bunk and said aloud. “This is bullshit”!! As soon as I said that, a gust blew in from the louvered windows and kicked up a grayish whirlwind blowing dust and debris at the foot of my bunk. Seeing this psychic phenomena backed up by a physical manifestation convinced me it was real, and I cried “Jesus, help me” as I pulled the blanket over my head. As soon as I said “Jesus, help me”, the whirlwind dissipated and blew out the window. I was scared and lay there wondering what the hell had just happened. I hadn’t been to church in years and wasn’t in the habit of calling on Jesus. But it worked!

 

Did calling on God when I was scared enable an angel to intervene and protect me?  I believe so. Early in life I sensed an image of a dual self. I felt something was with me most of the time; my other self. In near misses or accidents it seemed to take over and I was merely a spectator. 

 

Enter Don, who as a late-comer also got a bunk in the spare cabin. His bunk was on the other side of the room from mine and in between us was the bathroom and shower, so even though I couldn’t see him I could hear him. It was about 2:00 am and Don, who had previously been running around crowing party, party, party, was tossing and turning in his bunk, retching and moaning that something was after him and he wanted to go back home. He’d been in Hawaii for the first time for only a few hours.

 

By that time I knew what was going on; the spirit’s were harassing Don, but he couldn’t see them as I had. So I went over to his bunk and said “Take it easy, partner. You’ll be OK, you just have island fever”. But he insisted, “No, I got to get out of here, now! Get Whitey up and get me to the airport”!

 

So that’s what I did, at 3:00 am. Whitey was in his private cabin with his girlfriend. He didn’t like it. But Don was stressing so bad, Whitey decided it was better to drive him to the Honolulu airport than to have him running around freaking out at the Party In Paradise.

 

I cautiously told a couple of skydivers the next day about my experience and their reaction was that I had too much to drink. However, when I asked a few native Hawaiians, they told me that spirit sightings were not uncommon in the islands, and that other people (mainly locals) had seen similar scenarios in the same area. One Hawaiian asked if the spirit had looked at me. When I answered yes, but briefly, he looked concerned and said “If they look at you, the legend says that you will die”. Well I didn’t die, but a whole plane load of skydivers who were at that Party in Paradise died three years later.

 

 Three years later on December 6th, 1981 Whitey and some of his local skydiving friends – most of whom had attended the Party In Paradise boogies in ‘78’, ’79 and ’80 - were to make an exhibition jump into a football game at Aloha Stadium next to Pearl Harbor.

 

The 12 place Twin Beech stalled in a tight turn over the stadium at a low altitude, rolled and crashed upside down next to the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Only one guy bailed out in time to survive. The rest were all killed, including Whitey, sitting in the front seat with the pilot.

On my last visit there in ’84 I overheard some of the guys at a party talking about how ironic that a month or so before the crash, Whitey had made a mock recording, with sound affects and screams, of the Beech crashing in the ocean off Kaena Point. They played it for me. It was chilling and prophetic.

My mind flashed back to the first Party In Paradise when I was walking along a road by the beach and Whitey picked me up in his car. When I got in, he said, “Hi Newell, how does it feel to be dead”? I replied rather irritated, “What the hell are you talking about? I’m not dead!"  He said, “Oh yes you are, but you don’t know it. Look around. You’re in paradise!"

 

My angel of protection has intervened for me countless times since then.  

 

What is Heaven Like?

By Bill Newell

I have so many different theories about life after death that I couldn't begin to condense even one down to 250 words. So instead I'm going to focus on just one aspect of what I'd like Heaven to be like.

 

As my soul left my body I would hope that some form of my memory would remain intact. I would have the ability to enter into my past life at any given juncture and re-live the experiences that were so sweet; going to the movies with my dad, church with mom, dating, marrying and raising a family - and reflecting on experiences that were not so great - losing dad, watching mom grow old, my life in the fast lane and the separation of our family.

 

My soul would also have the ability to travel farther back in time than my own existence and I could experience the past as others before me had lived it. I could enter in and out of ancient times and visit civilizations from the Egyptians to the time of Christ to my birth in 1941.

 

To transcend time and space in this metaphysical realm, my soul would always remain as a spectator. Unable to influence or alter past events, but able to experience them to the fullest. This little part of heaven would give me extreme joy. Much more than sitting on cloud nine with a halo, strumming a golden harp by the pearly gates.

Bill's Ash Dive

June 6th, 2013