'She was one of the best ladies around'

'She was one of the best ladies around'

BATESTOWN — Long-distance truck driver Ron White was in Muskegon, Mich., early Monday, when he got a call from his dispatcher.

“Your house is on fire,” White said, recalling the dispatcher’s words. “Can you get a hold of your wife?”

White had said goodbye to his wife of nearly 42 years, Wanda Jean, on Sunday night. He then left their mobile home in Batestown to deliver a load of molasses.

“I tried (calling) her three dozen times. I burnt that phone up,” White said softly, adding he never got an answer. “(The dispatcher) said, ‘Turn it around and come back home.’”

Vermilion County Coroner Jane McFadden confirmed later this afternoon that Mrs. White, 70, died in the fire at her home at 23 Bates Drive in unicorporated Batestown, just west of Danville.

McFadden said an autopsy was conducted this afternoon, but the results weren’t available yet.

The Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office is trying to determine what caused the fire, which also destroyed the couple’s home. The fire isn’t suspicious, according to James Snyder, assistant chief of the Kickapoo Fire Protection District.

Snyder said firefighters were called to the blaze at the mobile home around 5:30 a.m. He added they were told that someone could possibly be inside.

When crews arrived, Snyder said flames could be seen coming out of the mobile home, which has an addition. He said it took about an hour to knock the fire down. Crews stayed on the scene throughout the morning putting out hot spots.

Snyder said Kickapoo was assisted by firefighters from Oakwood, FMC, Catlin, Sidell, Westville, Bismarck and Georgetown. Three EMS workers with Arrow Ambulance were also on the scene.

Ron White said his wife was born in Indiana and lived in Kentucky before her family moved to Rossville, where he was born and raised.

“We graduated from Rossville in 1966,” White said, adding that when he first saw her, he thought she was cute but that she was going out with someone else.

White said the two married different people. Both were in the process of getting divorced when he and a group of friends took a motorcycle trip from Chicago to Kentucky.

“Half of the motorcycles broke down, so we shipped them back to Chicago. I decided to go on to Rossville,” recalled White, who was living in Bolingbrook at the time. “I saw her coming out of work at (the old) TRW in Hoopeston, and I followed her back to her house in Wellington. I had on a green hat, I had a leprechaun beard, and I scared the living daylights out of her. Her (soon-to-be) ex-husband had a group of friends who rode motorcycles. She thought I was one of them.”

White said the two married on Jan. 5, 1976, and were looking forward to celebrating their 42nd anniversary.

“We never had a fight or argument,” he said, calling his wife “the love of his life. ... She was one of the best ladies around.”

Between them, the couple had seven children and a number of grandchildren, including a 12-year-old granddaughter that they raised.

“She loved our granddaughter,” he said, adding the granddaughter and her father moved to Bloomington, Ind., in March.

White said he’s been a truck driver for 45 years. His wife was a homemaker except for a few years when she joined him on the road.

“We were a team for three years,” he said. “She’s driven through every capital in the U.S. except for Alaska and Hawaii. She loved it. Our son needed an operation, so she got off the road and retired.”

White said the couple were looking forward to spending Christmas with their son and granddaughter at their home.

Neighbors said they’re helping White find a place to stay and other items.

Sections (2):News, Local