William Howard Oney, a former Pike County resident, received his high school diploma at the Eastern Partnership Dinner held at the Eastern Local Schools building on Thursday, Nov. 1.
“Some people can get this and it takes 12 years. It took me 92 years, and I’m able to stand here and receive it. There was a time back in the ‘40s when I didn’t think I would see this country again. And I thank God for everything, for my health, and I get around pretty good,” said Oney upon receiving the diploma presented to him by Eastern Local Schools Superintendent Neil Leist.
The diploma presented to Oney was a replica of the diploma he would have received had he graduated from high school at Beaver rather than making the sacrifice to serve in World War II. Leist credited Eastern media specialist Christine Adkins for producing the diploma.
“She found a 1939-1940 diploma, recreated it, found these stickers on Amazon,” Leist said.
“These were the (Beaver school) administrators when you were in junior high, 6th, 7th and 8th grade,” Leist said to Oney. “You may remember some of them: Mr. Pratt, Mr Fout, Mr. Shy and Mr. Way.”
“Yes,” said Oney.
“They’ve all signed it for you,” Leist said. “That is an exact replica, including that gold star at the bottom there, of the diploma from Beaver Rural High School.”
Following Oney’s acceptance of the diploma, representatives from Ohio Governor John Kasich and Lt. Governor Mary Taylor’s office, read a proclamation given to Oney by Governor Kasich. The proclamation read in-part: “On behalf of the State of Ohio, we congratulate you upon receiving your high school diploma. It is truly a special time. As a young man you made a decision to live a life bigger than yourself and defended your great country in WWII. We as your fellow Ohioans will be forever thankful for your service ... “
Oney’s daughter, Betty Dockery, thanked the staff at Eastern Local Schools for making the diploma presentation possible.
“(While) having a conversation with my father about a year ago, we talked about his life and accomplishments. One of the milestones that he had missed out on, until now, had escaped him, his high school diploma. It was at this time that I knew I wanted to see if we could do something to make this happen,” said Dockery.
“(When) I reached out to them at the school, Mr. Leist and his staff jumped at the chance to make this happen. The school board embraced the idea and tonight was born,” Dockery said. “We are grateful and honored for this act of kindness from all of you.”
Oney was born April 12, 1926, in Greenup County, Kentucky. When Oney was six, his family moved to Ironton and later to Pike County.
Oney’s mother held him back two years before enrolling him in school.
After completing the ninth grade at Beaver, 17-year-old Oney enlisted in the military to serve his country in the Second World War. Serving under General Patton, Oney’s duties took him to several countries, including England, France, Germany, Poland and Czechoslavakia.
At the end of the war, Oney re-enlisted “to do cleanup over there,” Dockery said.
Oney was awarded several medals for his military service: the Bronze Star, Central European medal, two WWII Victory medals, and more.
On April 3, 1949, Oney was discharged from the Army. Returning stateside, Oney met Hocking County native Norma Jean Steele. Bill and Jean married in 1950, and became the parents of six children, 14 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
The couple has resided in Plain City for nearly 50 years.
“Mom and Daddy have been very strong in the church throughout the life I can remember,” said Dockery. “He traveled to Honduras, working with the locals there on rebuilding after the hurricanes. I think it was four different trips he took down there.”
The Oney’s are members are members of the Cornerstone Church of Christ in Christian Union in Plain City.
Since retiring after being employed about 35 years by the roofer’s union, Oney has been a member of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, according to Dockery.
“He still will, just for local trips, get out his Harley and ride it once or twice a year to say he’s been on it for the year,” Dockery said.
Oney is also an avid jogger and gardener, according to Dockery.
Dockery affectionately describes her father as “a veteran who proudly served, a laborer who worked long and hard, a Christian who dedicated himself to being a good father and husband.”
“He has always been a man of integrity and a man of compassion,” Dockery said.
Dockery said her father would advise today’s youth to respect the country and respect the flag.
“People today don’t understand, unless (they) went through something like (Oney) went through, what it was all about, the difficulty of it,” said Dockery.
“He’s a very religious man, wants everyone to know the strength of God and the power of God, and he’s a very good father,” Dockery said.
(More awards from the Eastern Partnership Dinner will be featured in an upcoming edition.)