Former Chairman and CEO, William F. (Bill) Vernon, passed away peacefully on December 3, 2020 at the age of 89.
After serving in the United States Army in France, Mr. Vernon began his career at The Vernon Company, industry top 40 distributor, in 1956. Bill married the love of his life, Marilyn Mathieson Vernon, in 1954 and they were life partners for the next 66 years. For six decades, Bill was highly engaged in building his multi-generation family promotions and graphics businesses across North America. His involvement in the promotional products industry was extensive. In 1971-72, Mr. Vernon served as board chair of the Specialty Advertising Association International and in 1986, he was inducted into the Specialty Advertising Association International (SAAI) Hall of Fame. In 1987, he was recognized by Counselor Magazine as its Person of the Year. Industry recognition continued, as the Vernon Company was awarded the 2002 Family Business Award by Counselor Magazine. In 2013, Mr. Vernon was proud to have received the Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award from the Advertising Specialty Association (ASI).
Beyond his industry activities, Mr. Vernon was involved in numerous professional, civic, and government organizations throughout his lifetime. He served as a Civilian Aide to Secretary of the Army for the State of Iowa. He was the Founding Chair of the Iowa Games and served as Board Chair of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. He served as Board Chair of The Des Moines Civic Center and was the Co-founder and Past Chair of Progress Industries in Newton, Iowa. Vernon was also Past Chair of the Iowa Young Presidents’ Organization and served as an International Director of YPO. Mr. Vernon was awarded The Department of U.S. Army’s “Outstanding Civilian Service Medal” and the Chairman Emeritus Founders Award from Iowa’s Governor Terry Branstad for planning and executing the first Iowa Games. During the 1980s, Bill proudly served on the U.S. Olympic Committee and attended multiple summer Olympic games. In addition, he was extremely active for decades in the Republican party (proud to be a Bob Ray style moderate reaching across the political aisle to find reasonable compromise) and served as Iowa State Finance Chair helping to rebuild the party. In 2002, Bill was especially honored to have Vernon Company recognized under the Century Businesses of Iowa Program. In 2011, he was inducted into The Hall of Fame at Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, IL, where he served as a Lifetime Trustee, and in 2012 Mr. Vernon was inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame by Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds. Mr. Vernon also proudly served as a board director of Norwest Bancorp (now Wells Fargo Bank) for over 20 years.
Bill championed support of education at all levels as well as leadership helping people with disabilities become independent and lead productive lives. He established the W.F. Vernon Sr. scholarship fund in honor of his late father which has now distributed over 400 college scholarships to Vernon Company employees’ children.
Throughout his life, Bill was a competitive athlete and excelled at golf and tennis. He loved the mental challenges of golf and closely studied top tour professionals’ strategies of the game. He won many tournaments with his skilled short game and keen putter skills. He worked hard to maintain a single-digit handicap for several decades and scored several ‘holes in one’ during his life. Bill and Marilyn were extremely active members in many social and golf country clubs in Central Iowa and Naples. He felt it was a great privilege to be a member of Wakonda Club (68 years) and Des Moines Embassy Club (60+ years) as well as the Royal Poinciana and Port Royal Club in Naples.
Bill cheered on his alma mater Iowa Hawkeyes’ (Gold I-Club member) sports teams and was an ardent fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Green Bay Packers.
Ever the consummate advertising professional, over the years, Bill found the most unique and creative gadgets and gizmos that were only available to Home Shopping customers or As Seen on TV. Each Christmas, Bill enjoyed gifting members of his family with special unique items he found, and it always brought much joy and laughter.
Bill and Marilyn traveled extensively for business and pleasure and visited over 50 countries. They both enjoyed socializing with industry colleagues and friends all over the world. Having seen nearly every corner of the earth, Bill’s favorite place was always poolside at home with his family. His close attention to detail and appreciation for unusual tree/plant species provided idyllic backyards in both Newton, Iowa, and in Naples, Florida. He had an eye for landscape architecture and a special fondness for protecting wild animals, native trees, and plants. Close friends often teased Bill for planting hardwood trees well into his 80s knowing that he would not be here to enjoy them at maturity. He desired to leave everything he touched better than he found it.
One of Bill Vernon’s greatest legacies was having all of his children serve in the family’s advertising business. He had great stories about The Vernon Company and the history of the promotional products/graphics industries – and was delighted to know his children shared his passion. Bill was pleased to witness the 5th generation family members showing budding advertising career interests.
Bill will be missed by all who knew him. He had an amazing dry sense of humor and was an extraordinarily organized person. He had a paper file or binder detailing nearly everything in his life and laminated almost every instruction manual he could find.
Bill is survived by his wife Marilyn and their four children: Rick Vernon (Des Moines, IA), Chris Vernon (Denise of Urbandale, IA), Cameron (Kristen of Carmel, CA), and Stephanie Critchfield (Marshall of Arlington, VA). He is also survived by his six grandchildren; Bill Vernon IV (Newton, IA), Alex Vernon (Houston, TX), Madison Vernon (Carmel, CA), Maxwell Vernon (Ankeny, IA), Whitney Critchfield and Jane Hadley Critchfield (Arlington, VA).
A private family graveside service will occur in the next week in Newton, IA, and a celebration of life will be held next summer in Iowa. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be made to the Progress Industry Foundation (https://progressindustries.org/) or to the Promotional Products Education Foundation (https://www.ppef.us/).