Bill Dion ’73
Bachelor’s in Sociology
What brought you to St. Thomas University?
My senior year in high school, I decided to apply only for colleges in Florida. I wanted to move to Florida for the sun and beaches because I was tired of winters in Salem, Massachusetts. I was the first in my high school class to get accepted into college. After completing my SATs, I got my results and met with my guidance counselor who made a call to Biscayne College. A week later, I received my letter of acceptance. I immediately called Biscayne and thanked them. In the fall of 1969, I started classes and in 1973 I was part of the seventh graduating class.
Where are you now and what are you doing?
After a successful forty years with the American Red Cross as Disaster Relief Operations Management, I am now semi-retired. I retired six years ago and went back to my roots in boat restorations and repairs and started my own repair business. I learned the art of ship model making while growing up in New England. My business largely involves the restoration of vintage ship models as well as some real boats. I am a contracted employee aboard the “Jean Mary” Riverboat docked on the St Johns River that once belonged to the late movie star, Debbie Reynolds. A year ago, I was twice involved in restoring ship models as well as other vintage items for Disney World as a contracted “Imagineer”.
What do you like most about what you are doing?
I have to go back in time to explain my career. I enjoy the fact that I had a successful career with the Red Cross. My duties with the Red Cross were in management. Early on in my career, I was promoted to Branch Manager of the Red Cross in Homestead, Florida. There, I was responsible for all Red Cross services including disaster response, First Aid/CPR classes, community services and fundraising. Most of my career was in disaster management which meant the coordination and training of volunteer responders, business continuity planning and disaster response. I served in operations management for many major hurricanes and disasters like, Hurricane Andrew, Katrina and the 9-11.Today, after a long successful career with the Red Cross, working with my hands makes me happy and fulfilled. I have been fortunate enough to use my God-given talents and education to help people and now I get to work in a lost art of vintage ship model and boat repair. Both my father and grandfather were boat builders and are in maritime history of New England, so I guess this art is in my genes.
How did your experience at St. Thomas University shape your career path?
I graduated in May of 1973. That same year, Biscayne introduced criminology classes related to my major in sociology. I readily took those classes as electives I needed. The instructor was John Truitt. I, and several of my close friends, immensely enjoyed his classes. In a matter of weeks, several of us chose the direction of Law Enforcement and Police work. Shortly after graduation, I was accepted into the Metro-Dade Institute of Criminal Justice (Police Academy). The Police academy was a 6 month program from which I successfully graduated as a Metro-Dade Public Safety “Rookie” Police Officer. After about one and a half years, I realized I needed to track into an area with less danger and closer to where I originally intended to go, social work. The good Lord watches over young, naive folks like me! A week after turning in my badge, I got a job working for the United Way as a Crisis Caseworker. I really enjoyed this type of work and learned a lot while helping lots of folks. I worked as a social worker at United Way for about three years. One day, a close friend of mine, who had left the United Way and was now working for the Red Cross, called me. He was excited to tell me about an Assistant Director of Disaster Services job vacancy at the American Red Cross. I applied and within a week started my career in the American Red Cross. I owe a lot to Biscayne College which got me started on my path. Without the courses at Biscayne, my life would have been totally different. My degree in Sociology made me eligible for the jobs I pursued. I would not have been able to stay in Miami and find my career, my wife and family.
Share your favorite St. Thomas University memory?
There are far too many good memories, some of which are not truly academic. 1969 to 1973 was a very restless and creative time for our nation. We were perched in an age of panty raids at Barry College, parties and pledging for fraternities. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War was always on our minds and in our conversations. Many of our senior students were coming back from the war under the GI Bill. They were welcomed at our school and were a great part of college life. Our small class was close. The total student body of Biscayne was around 400. Though we were small, we were big in being part of our community. We helped special needs children at the nearby Sunland training center and pushed out the SDS (a young communist movement at that time) that tried to infiltrate our campus life. At that time, Biscayne consisted of Mary Kennedy Hall with nine classrooms, one lecture hall, a library and Chapel. Carroll Hall was our Cafeteria. Donnelon Hall, the Zoo and Cascia Hall were where we all lived. There was no more. We, the students, built a baseball field that once stood in the “back forty”. There used to be a cement block by the stands that was inscribed, “If Biscayne cannot do it for us; we will do it for Biscayne”. In 1972 – 1973 we were part of something big again. The Miami Dolphins chose Biscayne College as their training camp. Students were hired to do construction work when they weren’t in class or studying. We were involved in the building of the motel where the Dolphins stayed, threw footballs with them, watched them scrimmage and were all involved first-hand with the Miami Dolphin’s “Perfect Season!”
What is the most important thing you learned while you were attending St. Thomas University?
I have to say that my answer has not changed since I graduated. My very best classmates and friends, Tom Briola, Jim Curtin and Paul Kane all agreed that it was life! Biscayne taught us about Life. We were so privileged to have the best professors. Madame Vargas, Father McDougal and Father John Farrell were all amazing!
What advice would you give current students or recent graduates interested in pursuing a career in your professional field?
Pick the professional field that you like the most! Realize that you do not come this way, through your college year again. Learn hard, work hard and enjoy life fully! These memories and learning experiences will be with you for the rest of your life.
How did your education at St. Thomas University prepare you for what you are doing today?
Without Biscayne College’s academic education and life experiences, I could not have taken the next step. Please refer to my long response in question four.
What activities were you involved in when you were at St. Thomas University?
I volunteered with special needs children at Sunland Training Center, played intramural sports and was in the Zeda Delta Epsilon Fraternity.
What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t working?
I have two hobbies that kind of overlap my small business of ship model restorations and boat repairs. I work on my own vintage ship models; some of which are in local maritime museums in my area. I’m the club secretary for a radio control boat club called ORCAS here in Jacksonville, which is a club for people who enjoy building and getting together with radio control sailboats, tug boats, warships and other vessels members have built. We sail and run the boats once or twice a month at a few lakes in Jacksonville. I must also mention that both my wife and I have been members of the Loyal Order of the Moose since 2007. This year, I was elected as Governor of my Lodge here in Jacksonville and my wife, Paula, was elected as the Senior Regent in charge of the women’s group. Together, we manage a Board of Officers and participate in fundraising for Mooseheart (a city for children near Chicago) and Moosehaven (a Senior Citizens community in Orange Park, Florida), as well as many local charities. We also enjoy participating in social events, such as dinners, dances, square dancing, karaoke and holiday family picnics at our Lodge. Moose activities keep us very busy, working and playing together.