Reprinted with Permission
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Duke City Entrepreneur Helped Struggling Young Businessmen
By Paul Logan
Journal Staff Writer
Bill Dahnke, known to many as "Da'bil" at the State Fair, was an eccentric Albuquerque entrepreneur with a big heart and a giving soul.
When he wasn't collecting discarded items, storytelling or passing out cans of black-eyed peas, Dahnke was quietly helping struggling young businessmen to succeed, according to friends.
Dahnke died Thursday at a city nursing home. He was 88.
Dahnke, gray-haired for as long as anybody can remember, was a walking bundle of energy stuffed into a 5-foot-9, 170-pound package.
Friends likened him to Forrest Gump. People had a hard time getting a handle on what made Dahnke tick.
The Santa Clara tribe gave him the Tewa nickname "Da'bil," which means "you silly old man" and "old grandfather with respect," said Margarete Bagshaw-Tindel, an Indian artist in Albuquerque.
"He treated the native population with the utmost respect," she said. "He always remembered his pueblo friends, and everybody just sort of adopted him."
Dahnke, who claimed his heritage included a Midwest Indian tribe, began the annual fry bread contest at the Indian Village at the State Fair.
Every New Year's Eve he would pass out 400 cans of black-eyed peas. According to a Southern tradition, if you eat the peas it will bring you good luck in the coming year.
Bagshaw-Tindel said Dahnke loved wearing leisure suits long after they were popular. He loved making friends, too.
She called Dahnke a thoughtful person who wasn't afraid to tell you he was in a bad mood.
He liked to recycle items and seldom threw anything away, so his home and garage were packed with stuff.
Born William J. Dahnke in Neosho, Mo., he claimed he went to Hollywood in 1938 and earned his fortune.
He recalled working as an assistant to the director for a number of films, including "Jesse James," "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "Stanley and Livingstone."
Dahnke came to Albuquerque in the late 1940s. Over the years, the cagey entrepreneur bought and sold a lot of real estate along Central Avenue. He also lent money as well as his encouragement to a number of businesses, said Bagshaw-Tindel.
She said he was famous for driving a car full of trash and treasure around Albuquerque, stopping to give things like a banana, a bag of chips or a book to people he knew as well as to strangers.
Her husband, Greg Tindel, helped take care of Dahnke in his later years.
Tindel said Dahnke had money, but he never acted like he had anything. He said sometimes, because of his appearance, people would mistake him for a bum.
"He gave away more than I'll make in my whole life," Tindel said. "He would tell people 'the Lord told me to do this.' ''
A celebration of Dahnke's life will be at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at French Mortuary, 1111 University NE.
Survivors include a niece who lives in Florida.
Copyright 2003 Albuquerque Journal