Dr. William E. Wicheta, 1926-2019
By Tom Wicheta, DDS
and Jonathon Kimes, DDS
Our dental community recently lost a great one. Dr. William Edwin Wicheta Jr. passed away in June at the age of 92. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Tom Wicheta and his family during this time of transition. Dr. William Wicheta was a long time member of our community and dental society, and during his life, he seems to have achieved more than anyone of us could hope for. But it’s not just what he did, or where he went, but more importantly the way he did these things. Legacy, to its fullest extent. Please join me in remembering a true hero.
Husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather, great grandfather, chemist, dentist, decorated WWII combat veteran, genuine cowboy, hunter, mountaineer, fisherman, skier, woodworker, photographer, marksman, sky diver, pilot, UT football player, and craftsman. Dr. Wicheta was all of these and more. He lived a life bridging the two worlds of old Texas pioneers and modern science, while being the ideal husband and father.
Born in Taylor, Texas on October 21, 1926, his father died fighting a fire leaving him and his sister to grow up in poverty. Sent to west Texas for supposed health issues, he grew up on his uncle’s isolated ranch without electricity or plumbing. This taught self-sufficiency and he learned to fix about anything. He also learned to ride and learned to be an expert hunter and marksman, skills that he felt kept him alive during WWII. At age 17 he enlisted in the US Army and served in the Pacific with the 25th infantry, getting a battlefield promotion to sergeant, engaging in behind the lines assignments and earning the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart for wounds that would plague him in later life. His 25th infantry was the first regular Army troops to occupy mainland Japan after the surrender. On return he married Virginia Weinheimer. Her father had some reservations about Bill initially, as while dating Virginia, he had rented a plane in Austin, flew out to the countryside in Stonewall where they lived, and made several passes buzzing their house to impress his new girlfriend. Alvin Weinheimer, a stoic German fellow, was not impressed!
After the start of their 71 year marriage, they worked their way through college at the University of Texas. His jobs included building the Max Starcke Dam, working with the Texas Rangers as a bodyguard to the Texas Governor Al Shivers, rough necking in oil fields, and a water taxi driver. He obtained a degree in Chemistry and graduated second in his class of 60 from Baylor Dental School in 1956 and opened an office on Burnet Road where he practiced for over 40 years. Growing up on a west Texas ranch had given him that open, easy cowboy way and he could make friends with just about anyone he met. In fact, it was often said that he could make friends with a fence post!
Growing up without a father gave Dr. Wicheta the perspective needed to prioritize the well-being of his three children. He still managed to have a very busy dental practice (at one time the busiest practice in Austin), become a competitive golfer, and won many bass fishing tournaments, being inducted into the Texas State Bass Tournament Hall of Fame in 2005. He was a key founder of some Texas fishing and hunting clubs, taught his kids to hunt, got a private pilot’s license with instrument and multiengine rating, and volunteered free care to Brackenridge Hospital ER. Later in life he took up knife making. His Army combat knife reproduction was so excellent strangers began commissioning him to make copies. Inspired by his trips to Alaska by the Inuit, he began to do beautiful soapstone carvings. He was asked by Glastron Boats to be a consultant when they developed a bass boat line. Whatever he pursued, he worked to master it. He developed a patent on an oral care product that was bought by Pfizer. In his 40s he led his family’s new obsession with backpacking, mountaineering and climbing. He thus, for once, broke a promise, the promise he made to himself as he was discharged from the army to never ever wear a pack again! Along with his wife and children (then 9, 13, and 15), he summited Mt. Rainier. About this time, he began skydiving, getting his own gear and making many free falls. He was always trying new things, as when he got on a bread making kick and supplied the family with sourdough bread for years. He supported his kids in all their interests and endeavors, and with them took up their newest pursuits of canoeing, cross country and downhill skiing – the latter near age 60.
Visits and adventures with a longtime friend, a younger dentist in Anchorage, prompted him to get an Alaskan dental license allowing him to practice part time there. His mentorship as a health care provider produced careers of pharmacist, physician and dentist for his three children, a nurse practitioner granddaughter and two grandchildren as dentists.
As he faded in later life both physically and mentally, he remained a cheerful and pleasant person to all around him, including all his care staff, to the very end. After two years in hospice, longer than the family imagined possible, the old cowboy went to the final range on June 28, 2019, at the age of 92. Virginia, still alive, lost the love of her life after 71 years of marriage. Among his last words was the eagerness to see his sister and mother again. His was a life well lived, to say the least.