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Richard Peter Bilden of York, Maine, passed away at home December 16th, 2023, with his beloved wife of 61 years, Wendy, and family at his side. Known as “Dick” to his family and friends, he led a purposeful and productive life of 86 years, anchored by his love for Wendy and dedication to his family and country.
Dick’s steadfast devotion to his wife, his dedication to his family, and his service to the country in peace time and war will be his everlasting legacy. He set an example of personal discipline, loyalty, and propriety for his four children and ten grandchildren. He inspired his three sons and two of his grandsons to continue the Bilden family tradition of military service over four generations in the US Army and US Navy.
Dick was born April 4, 1937, in Des Moines, Iowa. He was raised by devoted parents, Howard and Dorothy Bilden, who adopted him at three months of age and instilled in him lifelong virtues of hard work, discipline, civic duty, and providing for one’s family.
He grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and later moved to Westfield, New Jersey where he graduated from Westfield High School in 1955. He attended Syracuse University in New York, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1960, paid for by his earnings from a thriving landscape business he started in high school; performing maintenance work for the town of Westfield Department of Public Works during college summers; and transporting valuables for a local Westfield jewelry store into the New York City diamond district.
Dick entered the US Navy’s Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island where he was commissioned in 1960 as an Ensign in the Civil Engineer Corps. Dick served in multiple duty stations over his 20-year career as an officer in the U.S. Navy. He served in the Vietnam War as Operations Officer of Seabee Mobile Construction Battalion 128 deployed in Da Nang, Vietnam in 1967-1968. He embodied the Seabee motto, “Can do!”
He married the love of his life, Wendy Brown, the daughter of a Navy officer, in a traditional military ceremony under an arch of swords at the Navy chapel in Norfolk, Virginia, on October 13 (the Navy’s birthday!), 1962. Dick and Wendy raised four children as a dedicated Navy family, forged by the experience of frequent relocations in service to the country.
Over the course of two decades, Dick and Wendy dutifully said goodbye to friends and neighbors, packed up their household goods, and re-located the family to new homes, schools, commissaries, and duty stations. The Bilden family experienced life in several towns and states around the country, including Norfolk, Virginia; Philadelphia & Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; Jacksonville, Florida; Gulfport, Mississippi; Port Hueneme, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Dick received his master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Newport, Rhode Island, where Dick would retire from the Navy in 1980 at the rank of Commander.
In his post-Navy career, he was an early innovator in computer aided design (CAD) in the architectural and engineering industry, taking the family to Zionsville, Indiana and Reston, Virginia. Upon retirement, Dick & Wendy chose coastal York, Maine as their final home where they enjoyed two decades together, and where Dick remained actively involved in various community and civic organizations, including the Town of York Tax Taskforce, the Think Again toll road organization, and the Seacoast Shipyard Association, amongst others.
Dick was happiest when outdoors mowing the lawn and doing yard work. He maintained his lawns and gardens to the highest exacting standards. He received the Navy Yard of the Month numerous times. Neighborhood kids would retrieve an errant ball from the Bilden lawn with trepidation for fear of a sharp and certain rebuke. His love of lawn work began in his youth as an industrious entrepreneur with a lawnmower and paying neighborhood customers. He encouraged his three sons’ entrepreneurial endeavors of mowing lawns and delivering newspapers, noting that these were “all part of your education;” “hard work builds character;” and “Don’t be a day late and a dollar short.” His high standards of landscaping inspire his three sons to this day, despite their years of compulsory weekend lawn service laboring under his command.
A testament to his upbringing, hard work ethic, and two decades as a Seabee, Dick was a lifelong proponent and supporter of “the trades” – of young men and women who pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to learn and make a living performing hands-on work in the skilled trades. He was known to many such people in the local community – plumbers, electricians, landscapers, shipyard workers, lobstermen, nurses - many of whom performed dutiful work for Dick and Wendy at home in their later years. Dick felt an innate kinship with these hard-working people doing the necessary but “dirty jobs” and loved nothing more than talking shop with his fellow tradesmen and practitioners. Even in his last days, Dick would ask his nursing team about their paths in their profession and encourage them to continue their professional educations and hard work to provide for their families.
Dick is survived by his wife, Wendy; sister Susan; brother Joe; cousins Charlene and Joanne; daughter, Michelle; sons Philip, Paul, and Peter (all former Army officers) and their wives, Patricia, Kristin, and Samara. Dick was most proud of his ten grandchildren and loved hearing of their accomplishments in academics, athletics, and Navy service. He was affectionately known as “Papa B” and “Bapa” by his grandchildren Philip (LT, US Navy), Andrew (former LT, US Navy), Claire, Tom, Ted, Lindy, Benjamin, James, Caroline, and Zachary, whom Dick and Wendy believe are their greatest legacy and blessing, and have enriched their lives immeasurably.
A Celebration of Life ceremony will be held in spring/summer 2024 to honor Dick's life and legacy. In lieu of flowers, the Bilden family would be grateful for support of the Navy Seabee Foundation (https://www.seabee.org/donate) or the No Greater Sacrifice Foundation (https://nogreatersacrifice.org/) in honor of Commander & Mrs. Richard P. Bilden.