Updated: March 19, 2013 3:03AM
Funeral services were held Thursday for William J. “Bill” Cullerton, a promoter of Lake Michigan salmon fishing, host of an outdoors radio show and World War II fighter ace. Cullerton, 89, of Oak Brook, died Jan. 12 in Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.
In May 2000, the north end of Illinois Beach State Park, including North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor, was officially designated as the Cullerton Complex by the state.
Cullerton was an avid environmentalist and longtime friend of conservation, spending more than 50 years promoting fishing in the Midwest and supporting a multitude of outdoor-related organizations and events. He was a frequent visitor to Lake County and participant in the annual Mayor’s Cup Derby which kicked off the Salmon Classic salmon fishing tournament along the county’s Lake Michigan shoreline in the 1980s and 1990s.
As he began getting older, he noted in a News-Sun interview, “My idea of camping now is the lobby of the Drake Hotel (in Chicago).”
He called the naming of the state park complex after him a case of winning the lottery. “Now I don’t have to play,” he told The News-Sun at the time. “I’ve been at a new level ever since I heard this was going to happen. I can’t tell you what this means to me,”
At the dedication of the Cullerton Complex in 2000, two P-51 Mustang World War II fighter planes roared overhead three times in his honor.
“The last time I was in one of them it went blooey,” he said in a News-Sun interview.
As a pilot, he downed German fighters, becoming an ace, and was shot down while strafing an enemy position in Germany in April 1945. He was captured and a German officer pulled Cullerton’s gun from its holster, shot him in the stomach and left him for dead.
Cullerton made it to a town where a doctor treated him. He escaped from the hospital before soldiers could take him back into custody.
Cullerton is in the Illinois Military Aviation Hall of Fame, is enshrined in the Champlain Fighter Aces Museum in Phoenix, Ariz., and was honored by the French, Polish and Russian governments.
Cullerton got involved in covering the outdoors when he took over his father’s fishing reel and lure company.
He was the radio host of WGN-AM’s “The Great Outdoors” on Saturday mornings for 20 years until retiring in 1999.
Cullerton is also one of the founding board members of the Illinois Conservation Foundation, which has raised funds for various Illinois Department of Natural Resources projects, and was the primary supporter of creating the first artificial reef in Lake Michigan a mile off shore from Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.