Generation upon generation upon generation of families in Butler County experienced the compassion and comfort of William F. "Digger" Young Jr., both as owner of the Young Funeral Home in Butler and as the county coroner.
Whether working as a funeral director in helping a family arrange a viewing or dealing as the coroner with grieving relatives of a person killed in a homicide or a motor vehicle accident, his empathy and kindness provided balm, those who knew him say.
Moreover, in his private life, he was generous with his time and money, helping those less fortunate with financial aid and working as "Digger the Roller Skating Clown" for the Syria Shrine Harige Clown Unit, performing the world over, bringing joy to sick children.
"He did so much for people," said Butler County Commissioner Bill McCarrier, who knew Mr. Young his entire life and considered him a "big brother," growing up together in West Sunbury. "He gave money away and never wanted any recognition. I know he did a lot of funerals for free for families that couldn't afford it. His work in the Shrine emphasized his compassion."
Mr. Young died Tuesday at the Valencia home of his companion, Kay McCandless. He was 81.
Mr. Young's death was unexpected, said his son William F. Young III of West Sunbury, who not only followed his father into the family's funeral home business but also has been elected as Butler County coroner every term since his father's retirement in 1999.
The elder Mr. Young had intestinal surgery Feb. 20 and was looking and feeling better last week, even working at the funeral home over the weekend. "And then this happened. We never expected it. It was a shock to me," his son said.
Mr. Young graduated from West Sunbury High School in 1951 and from Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science in 1953. He had worked at Castle Rubber during his funeral directing training for more than two years and also at Armco for more than seven years.
Mr. Young became the third generation of his family to enter the funeral home business when he became a partner with his father in the Young Funeral Home in West Sunbury in 1963, after buying his uncle's share in the business.
In 1970, he purchased the Atwell Funeral Home in Butler, which became Young Funeral Home, where he continued to work up until his death.
He was first elected county coroner in 1970 and served consecutive terms until he retired from office in 1999.
"I don't think anyone ever ran against him except for the first time. Everybody knew you couldn't beat Digger Young, he was so well known and well liked," said Mr. McCarrier. "It is such a tough job, especially in a small community. Digger would go out on so many cases and many times he knew the person for a long time. He knew almost everybody in Butler County."
In addition to his son and companion, Mr. Young is survived by two daughters, Monica Campagna of Slippery Rock and Robin Christy of West Sunbury; a brother, Edwin L. Young of West Sunbury; six grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Friends will be received today and Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. with Masonic services at 6:30 p.m. today at Young Funeral Home, 127 W. Jefferson St., Butler. Services will be held at the West Sunbury United Presbyterian Church Sunday at 2 p.m. Private burial will be in the West Sunbury Union Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Syria Shrine Transportation Fund, 1877 Shriner's Way, Cheswick, PA 15024, or the Moniteau Scholarship Foundation, P.O. Box 226, West Sunbury, PA 16061.
Michael A. Fuoco: email@example.com or 412-263-1968.