Bill Diekmann, devoted brother, cousin, uncle and friend, was known as a kind and gentlemanly presence in Tomales, where his family ran Diekmann’s general store from 1948 until 2000. He passed away on April 22 after a long illness. He was 65.
His parents, the late Walter and Mildred, founded the store after moving west from Elma, Iowa, where Bill was born in 1946. Arriving in Tomales as a toddler, Bill quickly developed a love for the town’s old buildings, including the 1867 structure that housed the family business and where he would become a fixture in the tightly knit community.
Bill and his siblings, Kristin and Mark, were a hub around whom local youngsters gathered. Their father gave apples, oranges and candy canes to the town’s children every Christmas. Whether enjoying candy and sodas outside the store after school or playing pool in the large family basement, friends said the Diekmanns always made them feel welcome.
“The whole family was so giving all the time, they’d give you the shirt off their backs,” said friend Curtis McBurnie, who felt like “the chosen one” as he tagged along on hunting trips with the Diekmann boys and helped out in the store after school. McBurnie went to work for Bill and Kristin in his late teens and early 20’s, and bought Bill’s ’68 Camaro.
“He taught me driving skills and how to use the car. He bought racing tires and paid for everything. The generosity of that family was incredible. They just loved to spoil you. They weren’t trying to spoil you, it was just the things they enjoyed doing,” McBurnie said.
“He was just a stellar human being,” longtime friend Anny McArdell, who first met Bill when she was 19, said. “His whole life he was just the pure epitome of a gentleman.” Along with being a friend to Bill, McArdell ran a salon across the street from Diekmann’s where she cut Bill’s hair every five weeks for 30 years. “People talk openly when they’re getting their hair cut because they’re looking in a mirror,” she said, “and he just had so much integrity.”
McArdell said that while Bill had his own quiet “background” way, he was loud in the sense of being a strong person in the community. “He was one of those pillars of strength guys who didn’t need any recognition,” she said. Instead, he just wanted to do good and be kind to the people around him.”
After graduating from Tomales High in 1964, Bill studied business at Santa Rosa Junior College. In keeping with his love of Tomales’s historic buildings, he served on the town’s design review board and at the Tomales Regional History Center. He was also active in the high school booster club, and was a keen participant in basketball games with players of all ages, either on the school courts or with hoops he set up in the store’s warehouse.
Bill was briefly married in the 1980’s, but had no children. Instead he was a doting uncle to Kristin’s son Robert, and put his energies into the town, people and hobbies he loved.
Lawson and her brother worked side by side at the store, which they ran together after the death of their father in 1972. When she married Scott Lawson in 1978, it was Bill who gave her away.
“He was real, real late getting to the church,” she remembered, “because it turned out he was putting new breaks on my Camaro! He didn’t want Scott driving up to Garberville [for the honeymoon] without new brakes.”
The Diekmanns’ cousin Bill Jensen described Bill as calm, decent and capable. They grew up exploring West Marin’s woods together, hunting and playing with Diekmann’s impressive train set and other models. Because Jensen was Mark’s age, Bill originally seemed more like an older brother. But as the years passed, the two became equals and would share annual hunting trips together.
One year in Nevada, Bill managed to bag an antelope so big it was later identified as one of the largest antelope ever shot in the state. He received a special designation for it, and was presented an award at a ceremony held by the Boone and Crocket Club.
However, when he got back home, the trophy—which he had checked on the plane—had somehow gone missing. “It was heartbreaking,” Jensen said. “Eventually he gave up looking for it.” Then, about five years later, Bill got a call from someone at a warehouse in South San Francisco who said they had a large package with his name on it.
“They told him, ‘We don’t know how it got here, but it’s been here for about five years,’ and he was able to get it back,” Jensen said. The trophy is now displayed in Kristin’s antique shop above Diekmann’s in downtown Tomales.
After Bill and Kristin sold the family store, Bill was able to devote himself to his hobbies and the enjoyment of what McArdell described as “the finer things in life,” albeit briefly. He was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease in 2002, and spent his final years in the care of a Petaluma nursing home. McArdell said she felt honored to witness the fondness, kindness and love shared between brother and sister during those years.
“I watched that incredible, unconditional love between them,” she said. He was such a wonderful, caring, kind person, and we’re all going to miss him very much. For the service on Friday, I’m taking the whole day off and calling it Bill Diekmann Day.” — Summer Brennan
Bill Diekmann is survived by his sister and brother-in-law Kristin and Scott Lawson of Tomales, nephew Robert Lawson of Santa Rosa, and numerous cousins. He was preceded in death by his mother Mildred Diekmann, his father Walter Diekmann, and his brother Mark Diekmann.