I met Bill Van Nortwick for the first time in the late 1990s, when I was working at Tom Funk’s shop and Bill
brought in his newly acquired T6 B Coupe for restoration work. He had had a 356 when he was younger and having
one again as a grownup was a dream come true for him. Over the years since then Bill became something of a
car collector. Cars came and went, but the 356 never left.
A longstanding section of our club’s website is the Member Gallery, where club members are invited to submit their answers to a set of questions about their 356 ownership experience. One of the questions is, “What do you like most about your car?” Every answer to this question recorded so far has named some quality of the owner’s 356, such as its design, its simplicity, the sounds it makes or the way it drives. Every answer, that is, except for Bill’s. Now there was no shortage of things that Bill liked about his car, which he loved to drive and add improvements to, but his answer to this question was quintessentially Bill: “The club that comes with it!” Those were not idle words. Bill’s love for our club was evident to all of us, in his enthusiastic participation in club activities, in his service as Events Chairman for five years and President for three, and in the annual fall picnics that he and Jane hosted for us at their home.
Bill was a man of considerable charm and intelligence and good humor, but what distinguished him the most was the genuine interest he took in the people he met, in their thoughts, their stories and their opinions. It made him a friend to many people, and I count myself as blessed to have been one of them,
In the fall of 1997, while walking to a Northwestern Wildcats football game, we had a serendipitous meeting with
Warren Lezama. Warren had his garage door open, and dad was elated to show us a nice example of the car he
drove as a young man fresh out of college. In typical fashion, our dad shouted up to the open porch door and
asked to speak with the owner of the black 356 in the garage. None of us had any idea how that introduction
would shape his life and further his enthusiasm for the Porsche 356. Warren subsequently introduced Dad to
Tom Funk and an immediate friendship bloomed.
After Tom helped him acquire, and restore, his ivory 1963 356 B coupe, he made a point of getting dad involved in the 356 club. Dad was never shy about bringing us along with him for club events and he encouraged us to get to know the members and understand their passion for the 356 model. When the time came, he wasn't afraid to let us behind the wheel, even when we were new to driving.
He had a great talent for making friendships, and it's no surprise that he spent a lot of time coordinating social events for the club and introducing club members to other auto enthusiasts outside the Porsche scene. We know he was proud of having such an upstanding group of likeminded enthusiasts to call friends. For many years he enjoyed hosting the club for an annual picnic in the front yard of our family home in Geneva, IL. There are several group photos of the picnics that decorate the walls of his garage. It also meant a lot to him that the club partnered with the PCA at the Geneva Concours d'Elegance. It became one of his favorite events because it brought his car friends out to his hometown, a place he loved.
Though later in life his enthusiasm and ownership grew beyond the Porsche marque, he always seemed most confident and excited behind the wheel of the 356. Some of our greatest memories are the times spent in the passenger seat with him, driving out in the country with no destination in mind.
We could write for many pages about our dad, his influence on us, and the hours of happy memories we carry with us associated with the Midwest 356 Club. If nothing else, we will endeavor to continue our dad’s legacy of club membership and enthusiasm, but nothing can replace that smile, charm, and genuine joy dad brought to every interaction. We miss him terribly but are immensely grateful for everything that the Porsche community gave us throughout his life and our time with him.
-Thomas and Peter Van Nortwick