Official Obituary of

William Fenoglio

March 29, 2024

William Fenoglio Obituary

Retired executive and perpetual family man William R. Fenoglio died March 24 in Indianapolis. He was 84.

Born in Clinton, Ind., and raised in Terre Haute, Bill reached the top tiers in his professional life, which included a long and prosperous tenure with General Electric under the legendary and mercurial CEO Jack Welch. Unlike Welch, Bill maintained a calm, thoughtful, low-keyed presence in all of his endeavors, never losing touch with his middle-class, Midwestern upbringing. He was often the smartest person in the room but left that fact for others to realize.

At the same time, the Fenoglio Family – La Famiglia – was sacrosanct to Bill and encompassed parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, a great-grandchild, cousins, nieces and nephews. He was a loving husband to his first wife, the late Becky Williams Fenoglio, and to his wife of nearly 13 years, Stephanie Salter, who survives him.

Also deeply grieving his loss are his children, Denise Fenoglio of Scituate, Mass.; Todd (Judy) Fenoglio of Carmel; and William D. (Kimberly) Fenoglio of Fort Wayne. His surviving grandchildren are Guillaume (Megan) Rousson of New York City; Louis (Abby) Fenoglio of Denver, Colo.; Julien (Kathryn) Rousson of New York City; Lily (Chad) McKinney of Asheville, N.C.; Kate Fenoglio of Chicago; Adrien Rousson (Lucy DeFlavio) of Denver; Gabriel Fenoglio of Paris, France; Eve Fenoglio of Fort Wayne; and great-grandson Quintin Rousson of New York.

Bill's surviving brothers and sister are Thomas (Mary Jo) Fenoglio of Maryville, Ill.; Christine Salin of Charlotte, N.C.; David (Deborah) Fenoglio of Brownsburg; James Fenoglio of Plainfield; and Michael Fenoglio of Estero, Fla. He was loved by dozens of nephews and nieces, including goddaughter Katharine Fenoglio of Chicago.

Bill was predeceased by his parents, William L. and Melba (Scaggiari) Fenoglio, his brother Richard, and Becky, the mother of Denise, Todd and Bill.

Described once by a new acquaintance as "courtly," Bill cut a tall, handsome figure throughout his adult life. He was a graceful athlete, excelling in golf and baseball. The latter covered his days in Terre Haute's Babe Ruth League through his four years on then-Rose Polytechnic Institute's team, which he co-captained his senior year. A highlight of his life came in 1987 when he suited up for one of the first MLB fantasy camps, playing ball and hearing stories from more than a dozen Hall of Famers. His office wall sports a photo of Bill and the beloved Chicago Cubs infielder Ernie Banks, which Banks inscribed, "To Bill, Let's Play Two."

His treasured golfing memories ran the gamut, from playing Augusta National and Pebble Beach to countless rounds on ordinary courses with his brothers and sons. Those fiercely competitive outings were always for "prize money" of a few dollars and were woven throughout by the Fenoglio men's penchant for "smack talk." Awed by aviation, he earned his private pilot's license and for many years flew his own Piper Cherokee Arrow, often for the sheer joy of being airborne.

He loved the desert of his longtime winter home in Arizona. He was a voracious reader and crossword puzzle aficionado and adept at chess and Scrabble. No matter the opponent – be it a stranger or grandchild – he always played to win.

"Leader" is the term many people, upon hearing of his death, chose to represent Bill. Former Indiana State Senator Tom Wyss, who worked with Bill at G.E. in Fort Wayne before entering politics, said, "He was one of a kind...I always looked at him as what a leader should be, could be, and would be to have his employees' total respect." Dave Berges, another Fort Wayne G.E. alumnus, for whom Bill served as a mentor, said his boss taught him that "integrity means everything." Berges said his own father and Bill "were the most honest 'do the right thing' people I ever knew."

Those qualities followed Bill after he left G.E. in 1984, serving first as President and Chief Operating Officer of the Barnes Group (then a Fortune 500 company), then as CEO. His final executive position was as President and CEO of Augat Inc., an international manufacturer and distributor of electronic components. On a vacation barge excursion of the Canal du Midi in France, Bill concluded he had nothing left to prove in the corporate sphere and was financially secure enough to retire. He was 58.

Retirement did not equal inactivity. Bill served on several corporate boards, including the Industrial Distribution Group and Standex International Corp. More important to him, he established the William R. Fenoglio Foundation and had the time to lend his considerable fiscal and leadership expertise to the nonprofit sector. Whether it was helping various Catholic parishes manage their funds or serving on the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, he put his time, talent and treasure toward the betterment of scores of charitable organizations and nonprofits. Occasionally, his expertise meant the difference between their survival and extinction.

David Bowden, conductor and artistic director of the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra, recalled how Bill's agreement to serve as board president "quite literally saved the Symphony at a critical time when we almost went out of business. His reputation of integrity and savvy, combined with his no-nonsense approach to problem-solving, encouraged other strong leaders to join the board. He was the lynchpin that held the organization together and helped it to flourish as it is doing today."

Rose-Hulman President Rob Coons echoed Bowden's praise. Bill's assorted executive roles on the Rose Board of Trustees – including as Chairman from 2009 to 2013 – spanned "a challenging time in Rose-Hulman's history, with several presidential transitions occurring," Coons said. "Bill's steady hand on the tiller enabled Rose-Hulman to not only survive, but to continue to thrive and grow even more successful."

Rose-Hulman was an enduring love in Bill's life. As a student, he was a Blue Key Honor Society member, the Rose chapter's President of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a four-year letterman and a member of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He graduated in 1961 with a degree in mechanical engineering, earning class honors all four years. In 1987, he received an honorary doctorate. At Rose's 2009 commencement, Bill had the sublime pleasure as a trustee to present a civil engineering degree to his first grandson, Guillaume. In his later years, Bill often insisted that Rose-Hulman's student body was so gifted and intelligent, "I could never get in today."

Like his father before him, Bill had the usual love-hate relationship with the Chicago Cubs, but he never abandoned them. Also like his father, he had a fine singing voice. Characteristically, he preferred to blend it into a choir or church congregation rather than solo. Bill's Catholic faith was a pillar of his existence. The product of Sacred Heart and Schulte High schools in Terre Haute, he joined parishes in every city in which he lived, serving on church committees and as a cantor, lector or Eucharistic minister.

His love of music ran toward the classical, especially Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" and Rachmaninoff's piano concertos. But he liked a good country-and-western song, particularly if Willie Nelson was singing it. His favorite sound, however, was the collective voice of his family, laughing and reminiscing in another room as he fell asleep after Thanksgiving or some other Fenoglio gathering.

After decades of domestic and international travel, and multiple moves of his family to accommodate his career, Bill returned to Indiana in 2006. After Becky's death in 2009, he was encouraged by his brother Dave – who is married to Stephanie Salter's only sister Debbie – to get to know Stephanie better. The couple married May 14, 2011 at St. Mary-of-the-Woods and took up residence for several years in Terre Haute's Collett Park neighborhood. A popular joke among their friends was that Bill, a lifelong Republican, had been recruited to neutralize Stephanie's liberal Democratic leanings. In fact, it was Bill who planted their Clinton-Kane yard sign in 2016 and became an Independent for the rest of his life.

Bill's final month was spent in Franciscan Health Hospital in Indianapolis, where he survived a life-saving, open heart surgery on March 1. He worked hard over the next weeks to recover and was to be discharged from the hospital's in-patient rehabilitation unit March 25. He suffered an unexpected catastrophic event the afternoon before and died that night, his family in a circle around him, holding him close.

A Mass of Christian Burial for Bill will be celebrated at 1:30 p.m., April 7, in the Sisters of Providence Church of the Immaculate Conception, at St. Mary-of-the-Woods. Friends may honor Bill's memory with a donation to the Scholarship Fund for Rose-Hulman, the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra or a charity of their choice.

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