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The making of Bill Weimar

  • Author: Michael Carey
    | Alaska opinion
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published April 11, 2011

Bill Weimar's name has been in Alaska newspapers for 40 years, longer than all but a handful of living Alaskans. During the FBI investigation of political corruption, he was in the papers regularly. In 2008, he made headlines when he pled guilty to illegal campaign contributions and was briefly jailed.

Bill, now 71, was never an elected official - although he ran for the Legislature three times and was a prominent player in the Alaska Democratic Party years ago. He was never a leader of the Anchorage business establishment - although he made a fortune through Allvest, his corrections empire, which he sold for $20 million. He was never a flamboyant trial attorney with high profile cases - although he obtained a law degree, he never passed the bar exam, and his recent court appearances have been as a defendant in a Florida sexual abuse of a minor case.

Bill made the papers because in politics, in business - in whatever his chosen interest of the moment - he provoked conflict and practiced confrontation. Conflict and confrontation became second nature to him. For Bill Weimar, life is a contact sport.

Bill has many friends and many enemies in Alaska. Some of his friends became enemies. Friends and enemies alike will tell you they know Bill Weimar well.

But Bill wasn't born in Alaska. Nor was he raised in Alaska. His parents never lived in Alaska. He has no siblings here. He came to Alaska as a grown man, almost 30 years old, driving the Alcan Highway in a Volkswagen bus. In other words, Bill had a history before he became an Alaskan in 1969.

First Arrives in Alaska

I met Bill in Fairbanks, my home town, in the summer of 1970. He had been a graduate student at the University of Alaska; I had been a graduate student at Duke University. He had been active in the civil rights movement, and we both had participated in the anti-war movement.

He was a big man - six-foot four - full of energy with a big voice and big ideas to match. Big hair too, a tall afro. But there was something else big about him: His ego, which shone as brightly as a lighthouse lamp and should have given fair warning to those who navigated near him.

Perhaps I was unfair, but for me, Bill was a familiar type from Boston and New York, where I lived before attending Duke. The anti-war activist who was part idealist, part grifter. For men of this bent, the movement was as a much a place to pick up girls, smoke dope and live on somebody else's nickel as a struggle to stop the Vietnam War. They could quote Mao, Ho, and Dylan at length and after scheming all day, party all night. They could turn on the Leftist rhetoric and the charm instantaneously when a Bennington blonde showed up hoping to contribute to the movement. What they couldn't do was hold a paying job.

A Soldier's Son

William Curtis Weimar Junior was born March 31, 1940 at Fort Jay on Governors Island in New York harbor. Fort Jay was headquarters of the US First Army. Bill's father was a soldier. Major William C. Weimar Senior, who died in Baltimore in 1982, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Bill must have lived in Baltimore during part of World War II because that's where his sister, Gail, was born to his mother Alberta in June 1944. The Weimar family spent much of two years in Germany during the post-war American occupation, returning to New York from Bremerhaven in June 1948 aboard the USS Blanche F. Sigman, a hospital ship and transport. On the ship's passenger list, the Weimars gave their home as Astoria, New York - the Borough of Queens.

Bill told the Anchorage Times in 1983 he left high school after his freshman year and joined the army the day after his 17th birthday. That would be the spring of 1957. But he rarely mentioned his military experience and a brief campaign profile in the Times says he was in the army a year.

Civil Rights Activist

On December 10, 1964, Bill Weimar, now a 24 year-old student at Concord College in Athens, West Virginia joined some 50 demonstrators protesting the segregation policies of the Bluefield, West Virginia YM-YWCA. Bluefield, then a city of 19,000 residents a quarter of whom were black, is in the southeast corner of the state, just across the line from Virginia. The demonstration became rowdy, producing much pushing and shoving, especially when two "Y" trustees attempted to enter the building. A glass door shattered, local police entered the crowd, arrests followed.

Bill, 19 year-old Fred McKenzie, and 19 year-old Clarence Williams were jailed for assaulting the trustees, and Bill was charged with breaking the door. The trustees seemed to have suffered more damage to their vanity than their person. One of them complained Bill pushed him against a wall and left him with a scratched ear.

Willard L. Brown of the Charlestown chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people served as one of two lawyers for the young men at trial a few days later. Brown is among the most distinguished black attorneys in the history of West Virginia and was an occasional colleague of Thurgood Marshall. In his opening statement, Brown said "The defense will show that this is a highly magnified incident to punish Weimar for something he is not guilty of."

Fred McKenzie, whom I located in Somerset, N.J., said he barely knew Bill before he was jailed with him and their names appeared on the front page of the Beckley Post-Herald. The two had been thrown together at the demonstration. "The way I remember it, not much happened after we were arrested. We paid a fine and went home."

This may have been true for McKenzie and Williams, students at Bluefield State College, an historically black institution undergoing integration whose administrators were unlikely to become disturbed by students agitating for civil rights. But it wasn't true for Bill Weimar, a protestor from an historically white school. Bill was suspended from Concord, and when he appealed his suspension to the State Board of Education, the president of the college appeared to testify against him. The board refused to hear the suspension 3-2 in February 1965. President Joseph F. Marsh was clearly disturbed by Bill's role in the demonstration but also condemned his "willful disregard of the stern warning of college officials concerning (his) unsatisfactory conduct on campus."

Clearly Bill Weimar was no dilettante when he joined the Bluefield civil right demonstrators. He took a risk on behalf of social justice and paid a higher price than his black co-defendants.

Gets His Degree - More conflict

Newspaper accounts of the demonstration said Bill was from Houston, Texas, but he did not return to Texas after his suspension. He became a student at West Virginia State College in Institute, West Virginia, near Charleston, another historically black school undergoing integration, earning a B.A. in political science in May 1968.

Either while a student at WVSU or before he resumed his studies, Bill was the director of the food stamp program in largely-rural Summers County. But not for long. In 1966, the State Welfare Department fired this soldier in the war on poverty for insubordination. Bill appealed to the State Civil Service Commission, arguing he had been dismissed because of his civil right activities, but the commission rejected the appeal after six hours of testimony.

In October 1967, Bill was one of 125 to 150 West Virginians who joined 50,000 anti-war demonstrators in Washington in a march on the Pentagon. For Bill, this was the culmination of "Vietnam Summer" during which Students for a Democratic Society provided Bill and a colleague with funds to organize opposition to the war throughout the Mountain State. The two received SDS training for the "summer" in Cleveland before heading for university and college towns, according to newspaper coverage.

A couple highlights of the demo: Novelist Norman Mailer was arrested for offending the police, and three members of the American Nazi Party were booked after attacking the giant crowd yelling "Heil Hitler." During an interview with a Charleston newspaper afterward, Bill told a reporter "The march on the Pentagon indicates the peace movement is shifting from peaceful dissent to actual resistance...." He added that he could smell tear gas but wasn't affected by it. (According to a Public Affairs officer at Arlington National Cemetery, Bill's father served in Vietnam but was retired by 1967.)

A Controversial Teacher

In the fall of 1968, Bill became a member of the staff at Walton High School in Roane County, teaching History and Problems in American Democracy. Before long, he became a problem in American democracy. Bill was suspended by Christmas. In a letter explaining the suspension, Superintendent Mirrill Clark told Bill "You have been guilty of incompetency, insubordination, intemperance and willful neglect of duty." Clark went on to list 18 specific charges, including allegations that Bill had told one of his classes the superintendent was a "jackass." Bill conceded he called Clark a "jackass" but added "many of the charges are distortions and lifted out of context." Among other charges were: Swearing and smoking in the classroom, failing to give any tests during the first nine weeks of school, and telling school officials to stay out of his room.

Some weeks before the suspension, school authorities told Bill and another male teacher to cut their hair and assume "normal dress" - no more turtleneck sweaters and love beads.

Bill, a member of the American Federation of Teachers, found a union lawyer to represent him at a hearing on the suspension, but the suspension soon became a dismissal. In April 1969, Bill filed a $100,000 federal lawsuit against the school district, claiming he had been fired because his hair was too long and his beliefs were "unorthodox." He also insisted he had been denied due process of law. Local newspapers, which covered Bill's battle with the school board, only mention the lawsuit when it was filed, which suggests Bill probably dropped it before a trial.

When Bill filed suit, he was working for the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) in Charleston, a staff member, again a soldier in the war on poverty. The OIC offered education and training to minorities. On March 28, 1969, OIC students and staff put on a play, "The Struggle," a drama depicting afro-Americans' fight for their freedom and their rights. A Charleston Daily Mail brief on the play noted Bill Weimar served as the director.

In December 1968, shortly after Bill was suspended, the Daily Mail published a letter to the editor from one of his students, Stephen Harper. In describing the battle between school administrators and his teacher, young Harper said:

"They want to get rid of the good teachers and keep a lot of others that should be fired. Mr. Weimar brought many new ideas to the school, and he tried to teach the students things other teachers failed to teach them. If the Roane County School System had some better teachers like Mr. Weimar... it would be a much better educational system."

It's easy to believe young Bill Weimar would have been an exciting teacher for some students. He had an engaging personality and offered a walking challenge to the conventional wisdom.

Off to Alaska

But by the summer of 1969, Bill was finished with teaching high school, finished with West Virginia. As many young people prepared for the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York, Bill Weimar prepared for a new life on the Last Frontier. Yes, he was unknown in Alaska. But he would not remain unknown long.

Michael Carey is the former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He can be reached at Bill Weimar left a long paper trail, especially in West Virginia. Carey would like to thank Joan Skilbred of Fairbanks, Barbara Carroll of West Virginia State University and Lee Lears of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore for helping him find and follow that trail.


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