Nelson William "Bill" Hyler|
April 10, 1921 ~ April 27, 2012
PEBBLE BEACH, CA - Nelson William "Bill" Hyler was known for saying, "you'll never get out of here alive" and proved his point by gracefully departing our presence on Friday, April 27, 2012 at 10:10pm at his daughter's home, surrounded by loved ones.
Bill was born in Oakland, CA, though he would never admit to it, on April 10, 1921 to Nelson "Old Bill" Hyler, Sr. and Elmarie Hurlbert Hyler Dyke. They lived in Sutter Creek, CA where Bill's father was an influential member of the community including serving as mayor. He was part owner of the Bunker Hill Mine and was head of the local mine rescue. Bill's mother was a school teacher, and gave him his life-long love for education. Old Bill, from his work in the mines, contracted and died of tuberculosis when Bill was just seven, and with two small sons, Elmarie headed home to Pacific Grove, CA for support. Bill would spend the rest of his life on the Peninsula, rooting himself in our small-town community while simultaneously expanding his horizons to the world.
Bill attended Pacific Grove schools, beginning with Pine Grove Elementary, and ending with his graduation from Pacific Grove High School in 1939. He would later serve the Pacific Grove High School Alumni Association through several terms as President, and as the editor of their publication The Knockout II for 20 years. He enlisted in the Navy in February of 1942, and before shipping overseas, he came home long enough to marry his sweetheart, Olive Lucille Dean on August 8, 1942. She often quipped that she only married the man because he was leaving, but three beautiful daughters and nearly 65 years of marriage might prove otherwise.
Bill was medically discharged in October of 1945 after being badly burned on the New Hebrides Islands in August of 1942. His first daughter, Deanna, was only a few days old when the incident happened, and he often commented that it was her life and his longing for home which gave him the strength to carry on through the difficult initial stages of recovery. Indeed, he did make it home and in October of 1946 the birth of his next daughter, Gail, proved it.
At that time, he began working as the principal for a school of field laborers' children at Camp McCallum in Salinas. But the passion ignited in him by his mother's love of knowledge and discovery began to take shape and formed in him the life long pursuit for something new. His first order of business was to father his third daughter, Joanie, who was born in March of 1950. While continuing to work at Camp McCallum, he opened The Wharf Aquarium in 1954 and began attending classes at San Francisco State University to receive a teaching credential in marine biology.
He thought his zeal for education might mean a career in teaching, as his mother before him had done. However, after co-teaching classes at San Francisco State and a semester teaching marine biology at Monterey Peninsula Community College, he quickly recognized that a standard job was not going to cut it for him. After all, nothing average was ever big enough to contain his enthusiasm, so why would a standard career be any different? The opportunity quickly presented itself to purchase the Funny Abalone gift store adjacent to his Wharf Aquarium, and in 1958, he grabbed the chance to expand his skills in entrepreneurial retail through the opening of his own retail gift store and wholesale shell business.
In the serendipity that often followed Bill, the exposure to shells through his wholesale and retail businesses along with a trip to Morro Bay with MPC students opened his eyes to the beauty of the abalone shell. In his usual manner, he appeared to effortlessly transform his vision to action, and by the mid-60s, he had built the Hyler Plastics Plant in the old San Carlos Cannery at 101 Cannery Row, which manufactured home decor, predominantly featuring abalone shells embedded in resin.
In his quest for mastery of all things retail, he joined his business ventures together to form Hyler Enterprises, Inc. in 1969. But not one to rest on past laurels, Bill continued to always see around the bend to the next frontier. Over the next few years he would move decisively by selling his plastics plant and purchasing the building that housed the Wharf Aquarium & Gift Shop. In 1975, he removed the aquarium and renamed the business The Wharf's General Store. The 3500 sq. ft. showroom contained souvenirs, trinkets, shells and jewelry. The gift shows he attended in order to buy and sell his wares provided him with a rare network of friends spanning from one end of the nation to the other. He knew everyone; he never met a stranger. In 1998, he would again remodel to create a 6500 sq. ft. showroom. Until the family sold the business in 2006, The Wharf's General Store was the largest family operated gift store between San Francisco and Santa Barbara.
Seeing the attainment of such a large endeavor might tempt you to believe Bill's story has ended. However, his efforts to succeed are actually a rather small part of this tale. You see, Bill's motto was really about enjoying the fullness of life. He took that intensity wherever he went and used it in all his efforts. Where one person might have a career with a few hobbies, Bill had a 91-year love affair with exploring the absolute depths of everything he found exhilarating. He was unstoppable. As a voracious reader, he was known for going to bed every night with a National Geographic or American Scientific Journal in his hand. You can imagine his delight in discovering computers and their never ending supply of information. Because of their constant evolution, they were the only thing Bill didn't obtain mastery over, which fascinated him until the end of his life.
Often the path between himself and his goal contained factors too unique for basic answers, so his practice of searching for all possible solutions held him in good stead. When aquarium tanks were needed for the seals and sea lions that Bill caught and trained, he built them. Teaching his children to water ski required a boat. So he built one, stern to bow. Swing sets, doll chests for the girls, a sled, displays for the gift shop, and beautiful jewelry boxes are only some of the amazing pieces of craftsman quality woodwork he produced. When it became obvious to him that brickwork would complement his landscape, he learned masonry and set out to transform his rustic Pebble Beach home into a showpiece. His mother-in-law's house needed painting, so he bought scaffolding and an air-less sprayer, and did it. Leather tooling, painting, concrete, plumbing and electrical all succumbed to his inexhaustible quest for knowledge. Many believe that his savvy was the result of a strange mixture of pride and humility that gave him the confidence to try anything while never being above a lesson in learning how to do it better. His eldest daughter remembers well the night she needed a skirt sewn for school. Her mother was away, so Bill sat down at his wife's Pfaff and the following morning, Deanna wore her new skirt.
While at San Francisco State, he was introduced to astronomy and spent many evenings examining the sky in reference to books on constellations and stellar orbits. His children remember well the nights they were roused from bed to view a lunar eclipse. He could quickly point out the many wonders found in our sky on any given night. He also rekindled an abiding interest in geology, probably begun by his father's involvement in the mines. Bounding around the nation and "Rock Hunting" with his children, camera always at the ready, he taught them the unique brilliance to be found in the natural world. He actually authored a book aimed at educating elementary aged children about geology called The How And Why Book of Rocks & Minerals, published in 1960.
Besides geography and astronomy, his enjoyment of animal and plant life created many anecdotes for his family. At any given point in time their yard teemed with critters, such as iguanas and hundreds of box turtles, and because he loathed paying someone to do something he could do better, he also raised many of the small aquatic animals sold at his aquarium, including baby alligators and horned lizards. When the yard wasn't overrun with snakes, rats, dogs and cats, or he wasn't off beekeeping and harvesting honey, it hosted a beautiful garden filled with flowers and vegetables. But he especially enjoyed pine trees; it is fitting then that his birth corresponded with the anniversary of the first Arbor Day in 1872 and his death was on Arbor Day 2012.
This fascination with nature also drew him to stop at every lake he ever passed in order to fish. In typical Bill fashion he went on to learn how to tie his own flies; that shouldn't be surprising since he also insisted on filling his own shot casings for hunting. As a life member of the NRA, he enjoyed sport hunting for deer, duck and wild boar. During the off-season he could often be found skeet shooting.
For someone with this much passion to explore it is no surprise that Bill would desire to visit the many places etched on the face of a map, stopping at every historical marker and museum on the way. During the early years of marriage and parenthood, tent camping was all he could afford, but in the mid-60s dear friends of the Hyler family, the Edelens, arrived with their silver Airstream. Unable to take their beloved trailer with them on a tour to Japan, they offered to keep it in Pacific Grove with Bill under one condition: he had to use it. The rest is history. The passion for traveling stayed with the entire family, and they all "got off the ground." Bill would go on to purchase five rigs through his life and drive across all 48 contiguous states, lower Mexico and upper Canada, snapping pictures the entire time. He was heavily involved in the ASIYA Temple Nomads, serving as Wagon Master more than once. He and his bride also toured Europe, Rome, Egypt, Greece, Israel, and passed through the Panama Canal.
Bill's dynamic individuality exuded into every aspect of life. Every problem could be solved. If he couldn't get a reservation at a restaurant, he simply became the governor of Texas and watched the table become free. However, when things did happen to go wrong, it was never his fault: the fence fell over; the shocks were bad; the wind went the wrong way. He was blessed with excellent timing - even when it didn't correspond with anyone's schedule. As he got older, the stories of his exploits grew as he told them, believing that the story was better when the details were richer.
Even after a nearly immobilizing stroke in 2011, Bill's personality couldn't be contained. He spent the final year of his life in the capable hands of his loyal daughters, who will miss him very much. All these experiences would be for nought if it weren't for the many loved ones who participated in his life. He will be missed by his companion, Ella Gumm Schnell of Mountain View. He left a legacy of descendants: daughter, Deanna Rae Hyler Prieto and husband, Mike of Carmel, CA with children: Susan Holman (child: Samantha King); Nelson Holman (children: Breanna, Sierra); Chris Prieto and wife, Laryn (children: Averi, Logyn); Rick Prieto and wife, Ashley (children: Cruz, Axel); Juan Prieto (children: Kylie Clementi, Vincente Prieto); Jose Prieto (children: Alannah, Ethan); and T.J. Prieto; daughter, Gail Marie Hyler of Redding, CA with children: Shawnie Ashton Bradshaw and husband, Kevin (children: Nathan Laughlin, Brooke Laughlin); Ariel Goebel Funderburg and husband, Dusty (children: Tru, Liv); and Alexandria Goebel; daughter, Joanie Leslie Hyler of Pacific Grove, CA with children: Trisha Muench Randall and husband, Christopher (children: Hannah, Bethany, Caleb, Leah, Mary, Josiah, Phoebe and baby in July); and Noah Strausbaugh.
He was predeceased by his parents; his brother, Robert Elgin "Bob" Hyler in 1997, and his wife, Olive Dean in 2006.
Bill's many passions led to his involvement in the following clubs: 20/30 Club Charter; Monterey Bay Aquarium Charter; Native Sons of the Golden West; Master Mason Lodge #331; Order Of Eastern Star; Scottish Rite 32nd Degree; Knights Templer; ASIYA Temple Shriners; ASIYA Temple Nomads; Monterey Peninsula Shrine Club; Royal Order of Jesters Court #4; National Rifle Association; Ducks Unlimited; Carmel Valley Skeet Club; Pacific Grove Museum; Pacific Grove High School Alumni Association; Pacific Grove Historical Society; Feast of Lanterns; West Coast Radio Club; Family Motorcoach; Fisherman's Wharf Association; VFW Post 41; MBUG; Sutter Creek Historical Society; and editor of several club publications. We may have missed some. Sorry Bill!
Contributions may be made to The Pacific Grove High School Alumni Association at P.O. Box 51396, Pacific Grove, CA 93950-6396, where a scholarship in Bill's name is being established. Services will be held on Monday, May 7, 2012 at 11:00am, at the Pacific Grove Masonic Lodge #331, 130 Congress Avenue, Pacific Grove, CA 93950.
Published in The Monterey Herald on May 4, 2012