Jan. 25, 1917 – July 24, 2015
As an 18-year-old, Raymond A. Deibel started working for Trico Products Corp., sweeping floors for 35 cents an hour.
Over the next 44 years, he rose through the company ranks, to vice president of engineering and manufacturing. More importantly, he became Trico’s engineering brains as co-author of 71 patents on a variety of car parts, a man who helped modernize the windshield wiper as we know it today.
Mr. Deibel, who also was an original Buffalo Bills season-ticket holder and still attended games last season at age 97, died Friday in Mercy Hospital. The West Falls resident was 98.
As a young man still in his 20s, Mr. Deibel was reeling from the death of his first wife shortly after World War II, and he already had a young child. So, after agonizing over his situation, he summoned the courage to approach Trico President John R. Oishei, boldly asking for a 5-cent-per-hour raise. Oishei gave him a 10-cent hike.
Oishei was his mentor, and the two men developed a strong professional father-son relationship. But Mr. Deibel still called the company president “Mr. Oishei,” not the more popular “J.R.” nickname others used.
“He became Mr. Oishei’s right-hand man, his trusted confidante,” said one of Mr. Deibel’s six children, Mary Ann Deibel-Braun.
A lifelong Buffalo-area resident raised on the East Side, Mr. Deibel graduated from Seneca Vocational High School in 1935, and while holding a full-time job, he took engineering and math classes at the University of Buffalo’s Millard Fillmore College.
At Trico, he rose from maintenance man to tool-room foreman, before being named the company’s chief experimental engineer in the early 1950s. In that role, he helped modernize the windshield wiper, with its varied speeds, its winter features and its flexible parts on a curved windshield. He also worked to modernize other car features such as turn signals and locking mechanisms.
“His most visible claim to fame was that he held the patent on the winter wiper blade, with the rubber boot,” said one of his sons, Eugene.
Mr. Deibel retired in 1979, at age 62, as a company vice president. And when Oishei died, Mr. Deibel was named to the new Oishei Foundation, a position he held for 21 years. “He was really the voice on the foundation’s board to carry out Mr. Oishei’s wishes,” Deibel-Braun said. Outside work, Mr. Deibel maintained a 56-year passion for the Bills. It started in the fall of 1959, when he attended a lunch for local business leaders at the Statler Hotel, where would-be owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. was looking for season-ticket commitments.
Mr. Deibel was sold, buying season tickets at $35 apiece – for a full season.
“He thought that Ralph Wilson was ‘a nice young man,’ ” Deibel-Braun recalled with a laugh. And in a recent recording made by one of his grandchildren, Mr. Deibel said of Wilson, “He gave such a good talk that I couldn’t help but buy a ticket.”
Even at age 98, he remained a huge and emotional Bills fan. A week before he died, after learning about coach Rex Ryan’s recent sky dive, he quipped, “I hope he’s as good a coach as a paratrooper.”
Mr. Deibel also was devoted to his two churches, St. Aloysius Gonzaga in Cheektowaga and St. George’s in West Falls. He served as a Eucharistic minister, was active with the Foundation for International Cooperation and the Bishop’s Lay Advisory and chaired Catholic Charities’ Large Gifts Division. held picnics for inner-city altar boys at his West Falls farm, worked with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and was named a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in 1986.
He also served as a Cleveland Hill Hose Co. No. 6 volunteer firefighter in the 1950s and 1960s and was at the scene of the Cleveland Hill School fire that took 15 lives in 1954. And, after serving on the Hilbert College board of trustees, he received an honorary degree from the college.
Mr. Deibel was preceded in death by two wives, the former Melouise Hubert, who died in 1946, and his wife of 51 years, the former Mary Purcell, who died in 2000.
Surviving are four sons, Eugene, Raymond, John and Bernie; two daughters, Patricia and Mary Ann Deibel-Braun; 15 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Thursday in St. George’s Church in West Falls.
– Gene Warner