Al Bias made a difference in Elkhart

Al Bias did a lot of good for Elkhart before his death Friday at the age of 78.
Posted on Dec. 31, 2012 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Dec. 31, 2012 at 3:47 p.m.

ELKHART — Al Bias once joked that he was the unluckiest man on earth when he won $48,000 (before taxes) on the “Hoosier Millionaire” show.

“I haven’t had a bit of luck since,” he once said of the 1991 win. “I couldn’t even pay off all my bills with that stuff.”

But Elkhart was lucky to have Al Bias, according to those who knew him. The former Elkhart Community Schools administrator died Friday morning in his home after several years of ill health.

“Elkhart’s a better community for having Al as one of our citizens and probably the world’s a little better place because Al was here,” said Gene Hungate, who was an administrator with Bias at Elkhart Central High School and in the school system’s central office.

Bias came to Elkhart as assistant principal of Elkhart High School in 1970 and became the Elkhart Central High School principal in 1974.

He and his wife, Doris, integrated Greenleaf Manor when they moved to Elkhart. They raised five sons. But he also helped raise lots of other people’s children.

“He was very serious about the raising of his own children and the responsibility for the care and feeding of yours,” said Fred Bechtold, who came to Elkhart as school superintendent during Bias’s career.

Two of his sons preceded him in death. But even so, he didn’t show bitterness. He was still the guy with a booming laugh and quick wit.

“My life has had its potholes,” he once told Lillian Bell for an Elkhart Truth column. “I’ve been criticized for not being a crusader, but that isn’t my style. I am comfortable and more effective working behind scenes and in board rooms.”

As principal, he personally counseled students. He listened to people who worked for him. Robert Minichillo, who was assistant principal and vice principal for Bias, said he learned how to patiently try to solve a problem and listen to all sides. “His driving force was what’s good for kids,” Minichillo said.

Minichillo and Hungate said they laughed a lot with Bias. “He just put you in stitches,” Minichillo said.

When Bias was once trying on a large blue and white checkered sport coat and it wouldn’t fit around Bias’ large frame, he quipped, “Cheap cut.” Minichillo put it on, wrapping it around himself, and uttered the same line. “He had a contagious laugh,” Minichillo said.

The laugh was distinctive, but Bias’s impact came from his work. “He was very serious about his work and very responsible, which is the mark of people who want to be leaders,” Bechtold said.

Bias was cool and patient, but could “have the appropriate burst of temperament when warranted,” Bechtold said, adding that he was “the kind of person you want to take counsel of when dealing with complex matters that involve human beings.”

Bechtold promoted him to director of personnel for the school system in 1985. In that job, he recruited teachers. “I think he was a great salesperson for Elkhart and the school system,” Bechtold said. He retired from that position in 1996 after 41 years in education.

Bias was active in a number of community organizations, including the board of Elkhart General Hospital. Bechtold said Bias simply made Elkhart a better place.

When he retired in 1996, he said he had adopted the late congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s motto that she wanted her legacy to be that “she filled her spot.”

Bias did that. The headline over that story in The Elkhart Truth was, “Al Bias changed lives.”

Bias is survived by his wife, Doris, whom Hungate described as “a rock” who was incredibly supportive of her husband’s work. Three sons and other family members also survive.

The funeral for Bias will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Grace Lutheran Church, 831 W. Marion St., Elkhart.

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