For 27 years Bill Stratford finished his day as a welder at Collins Industries, then would shower and change into his black uniform before driving off to deliver pizza.
Five nights a week he was one of the delivery drivers for the Hutchinson Pizza Hut on 30th Avenue. Over the years he put thousands of miles on the family’s car. But Bill loved what he did, especially seeing the faces of the children light up when he rang the doorbell.
Many families snapped Bill in their child’s birthday party picture, never complete until Bill arrived bringing the aroma of warm crusty dough.
“Some of the youngsters would introduce him to all their little friends,” said Millie, his wife, as if he was an integral part of the party. “People would call and order pizza and ask for Bill to deliver.”
Bill went to work at Pizza Hut because they needed the extra income to send their daughters to Central Christian School and then to college. After the girls grew up and left home, Millie suggested Bill quit his second job. Bill kept working the second job because he loved delivering pizza.
Never mind that their car always smelled like marinara sauce. It was the encounters with the co-workers at 30th Avenue, plus lighting up the eyes of those receiving a warm pizza at the door, that kept him going.
Even after their daughters married and moved away, they would return to Hutchinson with their children to have pizza parties at “grandpa’s Pizza Hut,” said Millie.
Two years ago at 69, he began experiencing symptoms of dementia. Bill got lost and Pizza Hut had to call 911 to find him. That’s when they knew it was time to take the delivery sign off the car.
Since September, Bill has been living at Mennonite Friendship Communities. Once when he and Millie were walking the halls, they ran into Kayla Griffin, who had worked with Bill at Pizza Hut.
“I saw Bill’s face, and it rang a bell,” said Kayla, now a certified medical assistant. “I asked his wife if he was who I thought he was.”
Millie said yes, he was Bill, the delivery guy.
Bill had lost some of his memory, but he did remember his time at Pizza Hut. Kayla’s heart was touched.
“It was something he held on to,” she said.
Kayla was acutely aware of the care of dementia patients through her work as a CMA. She’s also worked her way up to production manager at the Fourth Avenue Pizza Hut during the past 10 years. While Kayla no longer works full time at Pizza Hut, she helps out when she is needed a couple of times a month.
Eventually, Kayla asked if the Fourth Avenue Pizza Hut would agree to deliver Bill a pizza once a month.
A tradition has begun.
At 4 p.m., on the second Tuesday of every month, either Kayla Griffin or Jeremy Wendt, who also worked with Bill, comes to the manor around 4 p.m. for Bill. He and Millie share the pizza with Paul Knoble, another resident and friend.
“No doubt about it, Bill looks forward to his free pizza night,” said Millie.
At least for an hour once a month, Bill and Pizza Hut are back together.