William A. (Bill) Siebenheller, well known in Transylvania as an avid bird watcher, died peacefully Saturday, June 13, 2020, at his Glen Cannon home, after a period of failing health. He was 96 years old.
Born in Staten Island, N.Y., he became interested in birds as a Boy Scout, eventually earning the rank of Eagle Scout at the age of 15. After graduating from high school, he entered Duke University, where he immediately joined the United States Naval officers training program, in addition to his regular studies. Two years later, having completed the Navy’s Midshipmen’s School, he was commissioned an ensign and assigned to the minesweeper USS Design in the Pacific Theater.
The Design worked throughout the Pacific, clearing the way for the Navy’s steady march toward Japan, but its biggest battle began April 1, 1945, D-Day, for the capture of the island of Okinawa. It was Easter Sunday, but for him, the day held an even greater significance; it was his 21st birthday. Kamikaze planes lit the sky and fighting on land went on for several months, but eventually the United States forces prevailed and he could celebrate that birthday in a more conventional way.
Returning to Duke after the war, he graduated with the class of ’47 and began working in the insurance industry in New York, specializing in third-party claims. Birds were continually luring him outdoors, however, and he finally retired from his position as vice president of the Home Insurance Company at the early age of 56.
During this same period, he was also a director on the board of the Manhattan-based Bankers Federal Savings and Loan, and a continuing member of the Naval Reserves, where he served for more than 20 years after World War II ended. When he finally retired from the Navy, he held the rank of lieutenant commander.
In his free time he, with his wife, Norma, joined the Staten Island Museum and began to study the rich natural history of that island. Before long he was president of the museum’s board of directors, and both he and his wife became leaders of the birding activities there. In addition, they wrote a weekly nature column, called “Footnotes on Nature,” for the Staten Island Advance, a tradition they continued until 1985 when they moved permanently to Transylvania County. And as long-time readers of The Transylvania Times know, they were soon writing a similar column for this newspaper. Calling it “Birds in Focus,” they wrote it weekly for more than 25 years, stopping only when ill health and old age forced their retirement.
In addition to birds, Bill’s interests included baseball (both the Yankees and the Mets), Duke basketball, his stamp collection, word games, general reading, and, of course his family.
He is survived by Norma, his wife of 61 years; son, David and his, wife Jill; and granddaughter Kristen, a student at Purdue University.
A memorial gathering will be held at a later date.
Moore-Blanchard Funerals & Cremations is serving the family.