Cincinnati-Based Mega-Route Leader Bill Westerhaus Passes


Pioneer Vending’s third-generation leader, William “Bill” Joseph Westerhaus, passed away peacefully at home on March 1, surrounded by his large family. He was 72 and the grandson of company founder Joseph George Westerhaus I (who started the venerable route operation in 1909).

Bill is pictured center, surrounded by his family. Wrote his son Luke: “We took this photo the day after he was released from the hospital and given only weeks to live. We were with him every day until his last and it was the most special two weeks together as a family.”

Bill was born to Joseph George Westerhaus II and his wife “Midge” in Cincinnati on Dec. 15, 1952. He graduated from Millersburg Military Institute in 1971 and from Xavier University in 1975. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in business and communications, he joined Pioneer full-time that same year, working alongside his father until the elder’s passing in 1989.

Like many in family businesses, he got his start at the company as a teenager (his first job was to paint some pinball machine legs red). But as a full-timer, he was very much on to bigger and more important assignments: his father tasked him with building up the company’s cigarette routes to make up lost revenues from the recently banned bingo pinball machines.

Bill Westerhaus, representing the third generation of Pioneer Vending leaders, is seen in this 2019 photo with the fourth and fifth generations, his son and current company owner Luke Adams and his children Jacob and Abigail.

As his years went along, and the video/pinball books put coin-op at the top of the entertainment industries, Bill added locations in Indianapolis, Kentucky and elsewhere through solicitations and route purchases, making Pioneer the number one coin-op mega-route in the region. The pinnacle was hit in the post-boom period of 2009 when the company celebrated its 100th year in the business.

While Bill’s impact on Pioneer Vending was significant, his son and present owner, Luke Adams, notes that his legacy runs much deeper, affecting the industry, his family and the extended work family.

Luke penned the following tribute to his father:

“What is legacy and what will be remembered when we are gone? That’s a question I’ve thought a lot about over these last couple of weeks. The answer began coming into focus the past few weeks while talking with William “Bill” Joseph Westerhaus, the man I called Dad. We had many incredible talks during his final weeks after receiving the news of a very aggressive type of terminal liver cancer on Feb. 15.

“I’ve met many great men and women in my relatively short time in the industry, but I’ve never met someone quite like my dad. He began in the industry in 1975, working for his father, Joseph Westerhaus II.  Little did he know at the time that he would eventually take over as third-generation owner of Pioneer Vending in 1989.

He was the first one to greet you when you walked in on a Monday morning, always with a warm smile and a genuine curiosity about how your weekend was. He was almost a father figure to many people who called Pioneer Vending their work family and would carve out time to listen if you needed to talk through some hard times or difficult decisions in your life. He not only told you he had an open-door policy, but he also lived it, regardless how busy he was or what challenges he faced.

“I watched him make time for any sales representative regardless of whether he wanted to be in the meeting or not. He regarded everyone with respect and would always remind me to ‘treat others the way you wanted to be treated.’ It was a motto he lived by. I learned how to carry myself with respect for others, compete with integrity, and manage a family business with the responsibility it demands.

“My dad hired me in 2007 after working outside of the family business.  At the time, I knew the corporate grind wasn’t for me and that I had developed an interest in Pioneer Vending. And little did I know that I’d be following in the same gigantic footsteps as him and would one day take over the business.

“I bought out my family in 2018 but kept my dad on as a consultant. This turned out to be one of the most important and influential decisions of my life. With the stresses of running the business gone, Dad was free to spend time with the growing extended family of grandkids. He and Mom (Terri) transitioned from running a business to running our family daycare for my children and my nieces and nephews (currently a total of eight kids).  The timing was perfect, and it was such a joy to watch him transition from ‘boss’ to ‘Paw Paw.’

“As my consultant, he’d come in every morning and check in on how things were going. He’d ask if I had any challenges on the horizon, or just simply ask how my weekend was and that sort of thing. He always made himself available to me and was there in the background as a sounding board and steady guiding hand as I took up his legacy and continued the expansion and growth of the family business.

“The small lessons he’d teach or advice he’d give will echo in my memory for the rest of my life, and I will pass them down to my own children.  Many times, the morning chats we’d have were the highlights of our days, sharing a cup of coffee while talking about collections, new sales leads, the next city on my schedule for an AMOA meeting, or a challenging employee. Those small moments are where legacies are made.

“Legacy is the impact left on others when you are gone. The impact Bill, my dad, made on my life is immeasurable, unquantifiable and vast.  He molded me into the businessman, father and friend that I am today, qualities I am now passing down to my children. Everyone goes through this transition, but I can smile when looking into the future because I know the legacy of William Joseph Westerhaus will live on. We will miss him.”

In Bill’s obituary, it is reported that he met the love of his life, Terri, in 1985 on a blind date: “It was love at first sight. Excited to start their new lives together, the two were married in 1986. Bill was an incredibly patient, kind, caring and loving father and husband. His passion was his children and guiding them throughout their lives. In the family’s early years, Bill enjoyed cooking for the kids and their friends. The grandkids loved sitting on the kitchen counter watching him cook. He had a warmth that could fill a room and advice that was always perfectly timed.”

In addition to his wife Terri, Bill is survived by his children Luke (Erica), Kate Smith (Nathan), Beth Combs (Grayson), Julie Hargis (Brandon) and David Westerhaus (Samantha), and eight – soon-to-be nine – grandchildren: Abigail Adams, Jacob Adams, Regan Smith, Liam Smith, Penelope Combs, Scarlett Combs, Grayson Combs and Matilda Combs. He is also survived by his older sister Nancy Baxter and preceded in death by his siblings Terrance “Terry” Westerhaus, Thomas Westerhaus, Joseph Westerhaus Jr. and Janet Hilligan. May he rest in peace.


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