PITTSBURG — Bill (Billy) Mac Bengtson will always be remembered as a friend, a father and a businessman.
Bengtson, 85, a longtime resident of Pittsburg, died peacefully surrounded by his family Tuesday.
Bengtson had a long and distinguished career in the broadcast industry, where he served as General Manager at KOAM radio, then became General Manager at KOAM TV in 1971 and KSNF TV in 1986.
Bengtson also dedicated much of his time in Pittsburg to civic service, where he served as the president of the Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the local United Way, and president of the Pittsburg Development Corporation. In 1981 he served as a Pittsburg City commissioner and from 1983 to 1984 was elected mayor of Pittsburg.
He met his friend of 40 years Wendell Wilkinson, in Pittsburg. Wilkinson was in the banking business and Bengtson in broadcast. Wilkinson said the success of Pittsburg was what was most important to his friend.
“He was always faithful to Pittsburg, he was mayor and commissioner — these things were important to him,” Wilkinson said. “He was a great social person, civic-minded, he loved his community, he wanted them to be a success.”
Bengtson had a great personality, enjoyed talking to people and was a social person, Wilkinson said and loved being around people.
During his career, Bengtson earned several regional and national distinctions during his career: He was on the National Association of Broadcasters for eight years, was president of the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, he was elected to the Kansas Broadcasters Hall of Fame for significant service to the field of broadcasting, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the Missouri Broadcasters Association.
Tom Collinson, who was publisher of the Morning Sun from 1977 to 2000, said he and Bengtson enjoyed a friendly rivalry between the two media companies.
“He and I enjoyed competition together,” he said. “We had a good time doing it, we had a lot of fun.”
While Bengtson was at KOAM, he hired Nora Harper who is currently in sales at the area KSN affiliate in Joplin.
“He was wonderful to work with,” Harper said. “He was very honest, he had a great personality and helped anybody.”
Harper said his generosity to others and hard work will not be forgotten.
“He’s going to be missed, there is no doubt about it,” she said.
During a Kansas State University Landon Lecture Series in 2005, guest speaker Brian Williams said Bengtson was the one who helped him get his start in broadcasting. During an internship at the White House he spoke to Bengtson and he landed a job at KOAM.
“One evening in Washington, D.C., I took Bill to dinner and I just decided to beg, just throw myself at his mercy and ask for a job,” he said in the speech according to the KSU archives. “I beat him down, I cracked his will, I broke his spirit, and Bill Bengtson, having never seen me in front of a television camera, hired me that night, and I couldn't wait to rush home and get out the Rand McNally and find out exactly where Pittsburg, was.”
Bengtson retired from broadcasting in 1996.
Wilkinson and Bengtson used to travel the world together — including attending the World Series when the Los Angeles Dodgers were playing the New York Yankees.
“We used to travel the world together and we had a great time,” he said.
Wilkinson said he and Bengtson would pull jokes on each other.
For example, Wilkinson said, when it was Bengtson’s birthday Wilkinson put an announcement in the paper and Bengtson replied “thanks to my bald friend.”
Son William Bengtson said his father will be remembered for his great sense of humor.
“He was just a very outgoing, friendly guy,” he said.
Harper agreed. She too remembers Bengtson’s humor.
Harper said she had brought him to a funeral and they sat down and peeked over the casket and that is when they noticed they were at the wrong funeral. She said he continued to rib her over that day for years following.
Son William Bengtson said his father exuded happiness and enthusiasm and he was very involved and engaged.
“He was a happy smiling guy — a good happy soul,” William Bengtson said.
He said among the things he will remember about his father, was his acceptance of others.
“He was a very accepting man of everybody,” William Bengtson said. “He accepted people as they were.”
He said his father taught him what responsibility was and the importance of not only working hard but self-fulfillment.
“He taught me about responsibility,” he said. “He was a hard worker and a successful businessman.
“It was important to work hard and get to enjoy it, it was not all about money and success, it was just enjoying what you do and do the best you can.”
Bill Bengtson was born December 12, 1931 in Creston Iowa, the son of Raymond and Helen Bengtson, who preceded him in death.
He left Creston after high school and served in the Air Force before living briefly in Des Moines, Iowa, Panama City, Florida, and Jefferson City, Missouri.
Bengtson and his family moved to Pittsburg in 1963. It was in Pittsburg that Bill and his then wife, Barbara who preceded him in death, raised their family.
After retirement he lived full time at The Coves community on Grand Lake, in Oklahoma, with his second wife, Donna. He and Donna were very active in the Coves community and enjoyed hosting family & friends, boating, golf, tennis and attending events at the Cherokee Yacht Club.
Barbara Bengtson and Donna Bengtson both preceded him in death. He is survived by his brother; Gary Bengtson, of Hermosa Beach, California, his two children and their spouses; daughter Kathleen Heydon and her husband Duncan Heydon of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and son William (Billy) Bengtson and his spouse Robert Durff of Seattle, Washington, and one married grandchild; Michael Miller and his wife Diamond Miller of Odessa, Missouri.
At Bengtson’s request, no formal funeral services are planned. His ashes will be buried in a family plot next to his parents in Creston, Iowa.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.