William Dolan Frost
May 6, 1927 – November 19, 2020
Bill was born on May 6, 1927 in Muskegon, Michigan and passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family, on November 19, 2020. He was preceded in death by his mother, Freida Bushor Frost; father, George William Frost; and siblings Marian (Ardis), Clara, and Jack.
Bill is survived by his wife Elaine; and his children William Frost II, Sylvia Espinosa (Tim Ludlow), Philo Frost (Karen), Eric Frost, Shelley Frost; step-children John Denny, Mark Steffen (Sandy), Michael Steffen (Sherry), Debra Moresco (Algideo), Denise Nealy (Troy), and Patrick Steffen (Mary); special friends Lori and Tom Dumez, Tom and Louise Williams, Earl and Hazel Wyant; as well as many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, a great-great-grandchild; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Bill was known by all his energy, humor, sharp wit, creativity, work ethic, and business acumen. Bill was quietly generous. He was also very ambitious, and used his gifts to rise out of poverty and build several businesses in trucking, moving and storage, and records management.
Childhood: Bill's life was greatly affected by an impoverished childhood, his father having abandoned the family before his birth. Bill's work ethic was formed early in his life, during the Great Depression, when he and his brother Jack, on Saturday mornings, filled a wagon with his mother's baked goods (made with welfare allotment flour, provided on Fridays), Bill pulling the wagon, and his brother Jack selling the bread and other goodies door-to-door. When an adult, Bill joked that their careers were set early, as he was still in transportation, and Jack was still in sales. The two boys consistently worked to help their mother with household bills. Young Bill helped keep his childhood home warm by using a bucksaw given to him by his grandfather to saw brush and logs for the home's little potbelly stove, the home's only source of heat. By the time Bill was about 11 years old, he was helping his grandfather (Bushor) earn extra cash by collecting cardboard and aluminum foil for recycling. During his early teens, he helped his grandfather to clean a furnace flue at the Occidental Hotel, where his grandfather worked as the night fireman. Bill played high school football. In high school he elected to take typing, despite being the only male in the class, because he planned to be a businessman. At 16 years old, Bill became a bicycle messenger for Western Union, working school nights and weekends. He later worked for Chef Pierre High Pies on school nights from 6-11 p.m.
Bill was quiet about his beliefs, but the reorganized LDS religion, in which he was raised, centered him throughout his life. He prayed before many large decisions throughout his life. It was at a church retreat, when he was 16 years old, that he met the woman who would become his first wife, Phyllis Root. Although she lived about 300 miles away, they corresponded.
Army Years: In 1945, before completing high school, Bill was drafted into the Army. He was stationed in Mammoth, NJ, where he learned Morse code, baking, and cooking. He then reenlisted, and was stationed in Kobe, Japan, where he stayed through 1947. Because he could type, Bill was assigned to the company office, where he determined and assigned regulatory violations of military disciplinary regulations, based on reports by military police of delinquents' conduct. At one time a cook in the officer's mess, he was also one of several drivers in the driving pool for officers, and became the commander's driver. Bill sold his monthly allotment of cigarettes for twice their normal price, collecting the sales on payday by standing at the paycheck line. Bill and brother, Jack, pooled their savings from Army incomes to purchase a house for their mother.
Early Adulthood: Upon leaving the army, Bill obtained his GED. He once drove a mechanized bike 600 miles round-trip to see Phyllis, who he married on Labor Day of 1948. They lived in Muskegon until 1950, when he was laid off from the Brunswick Bowling Ball factory. Over the next four years, he worked at Flint Fire Proof warehouse, a moving and storage company; and Buick, where he was an inspector. During that time the family grew with the births of his first two children.
Entry into Business: In 1954, immediately after the birth of his second child, Bill was eager to own a business so that he could avoid the job instability of working for others. When his father-in-law offered to sell Bill a moving business and rent him a gas station, both in Sault St. Marie, MI (the "Soo"), Bill accepted the offer. Bill received a single truck and the use of a permit to move furniture between the Soo and any location in Michigan. Bill put that truck to good use by also becoming a Star Route mail carrier (transferring mail from centrally located post office warehouses to satellite post offices). By 1956, Bill's fleet had grown to seven trucks and two vans, and he had purchased both a household goods warehouse and a small office building.
Growth: Bill fueled further business growth in 1957 by buying a permit to move furniture between any towns in Michigan, and becoming an Allied Van Lines agent. The agency authorized him to move furniture nationally and also move government workers (important because the Kincheloe Air Force base was located near the Soo). At that time Bill renamed his business to Frost Moving and Storage (FROST), and the Frost family moved to a bigger house, strategically next door to his office. Bill enlarged his fleet by five trucks over the next three years. His family also continued to grow, with sons born in 1956 and 1959, and a daughter in 1961. During this time, he continued to add contracts and equipment to his mail carrier business.
Adjustments and Expansion: In business, Bill was able to expand the new offices in the U.P. and Michigan by taking on partners and motivating them by contracting for a 50% ownership and eventual buy-out of his share of each office. Utilizing that method, Bill opened an office in two locations (upper and lower peninsulas) by 1965, both near Air Force bases. In 1963, Bill bought land in the Soo and built a warehouse, shop, and office. Bill was frequently absent on business. After divorcing in1968, Bill married Nancy Denny, who had two handicapped sons, and a career in banking. In 1970, Bill and Nancy created a C-corporation (P.D. Trucking) to keep financial track of his runs throughout Michigan. In 1971, he opened another office in Escanaba, and relocated his family there. Around 1972, Bill was able to add another mail run to southern Michigan, by driving it himself for 90 days in the summer. The only way to make it feasible was to live closer to the destination city, so he set up and lived in a large canvas tent in the area until he found a mail driver to take over the route. He later built a warehouse to service his trucks and provide overnight accommodations to his drivers. Bill added another mail transport business by partnering in a corporation for a mail run to St. Paul, MN. In 1980, Bill discovered a way to save 75% on workman's compensation by moving processing of drivers' paperwork to an office in Indiana.
The Move to Grand Rapids: One Friday in 1981, Bill was asked by a trusted Allied colleague, Al George, to partner in the purchase of an existing Allied agency in Grand Rapids, with the caveat that he needed to be there the next day to take over operations as they were closing the doors the end of business that day. Bill accepted the challenge, and he and Al renamed the business to Kent Moving and Storage (KENT). They expanded that business into household moving and storage, and bought the 733 Wealthy Street building to house the business. Bill then also moved FROST headquarters to Grand Rapids, retaining control of the office in the Soo. KENT acquired equipment to haul large pieces that would not fit into moving vans, and constructed a large furniture storage warehouse at the corner of Broadmoor and East Paris in Kentwood, Michigan.
Records Management and Real Estate: In 1986, Bill and All entered a new venture - records management, by forming Kent Records Management (KRM). To accommodate the business, they built a large vault in KENT's building on Wealthy Street. KENT leased the vault and some of its warehouse space to KRM. Because the record business was wildly successful and demanded more space, Bill and Al formed another business, Frost-George LLC, to buy the Zondervan Publishing Co. building on Lake Drive. Though they thought this building would be their last purchase, records management continued to grow, and they bought several more buildings: one at the corner of Division and Wealthy Streets, the Michigan Bulb building on Walker Street in Grand Rapids, and a warehouse building in Lansing. The warehouse in Lansing was in poor condition, so they renovated it themselves, providing the manual labor and materials. The story goes that Al and Bill painted the walls using a forklift, Al slowly driving with the forks raised while Bill stood on the forks and manned a paint sprayer.
Phased Retirement: Bill and Al sold KENT in 1987 and Bill closed FROST in 1995. KRM sold to a partnership of four (one of the partners had become like a daughter to Bill). In 2000, Bill retired from his mail carrier business by selling his many mail contracts and vehicles to one buyer. Bill and Al sold the Lansing building in 2002 and the Zondervan building in 2007, both to KRM.
In 2014, Nancy died of leukemia. While donating many of his and Nancy's antiques to the Byron Center Museum and Historical Society, Bill met his future wife there, Elaine Snyder, who was president.
He wasn't ALL Business: Bill loved roller skating as a teen. In the early years, Bill and Phyllis threw many company parties for employees. The children have fond memories of pajama rides, and singing with Dad during road trips. Throughout the years, Bill managed to blend work with family vacations (in the summers, Nancy would follow him on some of his long hauls in the family RV). The family spent a week in Hawaii in 1978, while Bill attended a Star Route Mail Carriers Conference. Bill and Nancy loved square dancing, and danced weekly. Bill wrote poetry throughout his life, and performed in local talent shows and plays both early in the Soo and in retirement in Tucson. He was an avid woodworker and loved to play games and work puzzles.
Reprise: Bill discovered in Elaine a true and giving life partner. They married in 2015. Bill instantly gained five adult stepchildren. With many of his investments sold, Bill deeply enjoyed his expanded family for his remaining five years, often saying they were the happiest of his life. Bill and Elaine enjoyed traveling in their motorhome and many social activities while wintering over in a retirement park in Tucson. Elaine helped Bill as his health gradually failed, and provided hospice care in his final days, allowing him a peaceful passing with family gathered around.
In lieu of flowers, please consider contributions to North View Community of Christ Church, 6001 West River Drive, Belmont, MI 49306.
A memorial and celebration of life will be held when we can be together safely in 2021.
Please share your memories of Bill at www.cookcaresbyron.com.
North View Community of Christ Church
6001 West River Dr., Belmont, MI 49306