William Franklin Wilkerson
July 20th, 1937 ~ February 28th, 2020
William Franklin Wilkerson, beloved husband, father and Paw-Paw, passed away on Friday, February 28th, 2020, after a valiant fight with cancer, with family by his side. He was 82 years of age.
The eldest of eight siblings, William was born in Felton, Georgia on July 2oth, 1937, to Alvin and Emma (Chandler) Wilkerson, in the aftermath of the Great Depression. He was raised in poor, rural Alabama and was forced to quit school at a tender age to help support their struggling family. Many a long a day was spent plowing the fields with his parents and siblings but it was there that he learned the value of a hard day’s work. As a young man, he moved to Florida, with hopes and dreams of improving his way life. He wore many hats along the way, from concrete laborer, to welder, to boiler maker but it was his love of automobiles that would set him on the path to his first business. A self taught auto and truck mechanic, William began tinkering with cars at the age of 10.
Driven by his entrepreneurial spirit, he would drive around to local business offering to service their fleet trucks and cars. It was this drive that led to the opportunity to open an auto repair shop in Mulberry, Florida. Wilkerson’s Garage opened in 1973 with two small bays. Shortly thereafter, in 1975, he met and wed the love of his life, Blandina ”Eva” Drapiza. They purchased a home, raised their children and together they made his vision a reality. Wilkerson’s Garage would grow from two small bays to eight large and became a premier commercial auto and truck service facility. Together, with Blandina by his side, they would expand Wilkerson’s Garage to form a second business, Mulberry Radiator Service and then a third, Wilkerson’s Hydrology Service, Inc. Recognizing
the need for reclaiming and restoring old phosphate lands, William would design and patent an airboat plow (harkening back to his days in the fields) and the trademarked Mudworm, a low ground pressure tracked machine, which allowed for working in the quicksand-like phosphate clay ponds.
But William was more than the entrepreneur, business man and inventor. He was a lovinghusband, father, grandfather, fisherman and avid airboater. He loved being on the water, spending time with both family and friends and sharing his blessings with others. In fact, William never forgot where he came from. Whether it was supporting a local little league team or building a rural school in the Philippines, William could be counted on to give to those in need.
William was preceded in death by his father, Alvin Wilkerson; mother Emma (Chandler)
Wilkerson; brothers, Alvin Wilkerson Jr., Lester Wilkerson and Codye Gene Wilkerson; sister, Dovie Teal Wilkerson; and grandson, Steven Hayes.
William is survived by his beloved wife of 45 years, Blandina; son, William “Mike” Wilkerson(Debi); daughers, Gloria Westmoreland, Susan Michel (Kimberley), Melissa Anderson (David) and Marisa Thomann (Robert); Grandchildren Jennifer, Jeremy, Christopher, Austin, Isaac, Elijah and Madison; and numerous great grandchildren. He is also survived by his sisters, Martha “Lady” Rogers and Geraldine Hutto; and brother, Larry Wilkerson. And we can’t forget his devoted companion, a tiny Chihuahua named Pedi.
A celebration of the life of William F. Wilkerson will be held on Saturday, March 7th, 202o at Lakeland Memorial Funeral Home, 2125 Bartow Rd, Lakeland, FL 33801. Visitation will be held from 1-2PM. Funeral Service at 2PM, with interment to follow at Oak Hill Burial Park.
The family invites you to bring your fondest memories of William to share with family and friends.
In Lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Blandina Infante-Drapiza
Foundation and New Hope Mission Academy at www.drapizafoundation.org.
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