William J. "Bill" Rankin
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May 1, 1918 - September 29, 2012
With family members around him, William J. "Bill" Rankin, 94, of Caldwell, died Saturday, September 29, at a Boise hospital. In his last instructions, he said he wanted to be remembered as a "teacher, musician, soldier and businessman," to which his children would add "loving father and family man." He led a great big life.
Arrangements are being made through Dakan Funeral Chapel, Caldwell, 459-3629. The family plans a private interment service at Canyon Hill Cemetery in Caldwell, followed by a memorial service to be scheduled at a later date. Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at an online guestbook at www.dakanfuneralchapel.com
Bill was born May 1, 1918, at the Caldwell home of his parents, Sara and Joseph Rankin, both College of Idaho professors and both skilled amateur musicians. Bill began taking clarinet lessons in 1932, and spent the next 74 years playing clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophone, and flute in a variety of musical organizations, including 26 years with the Boise Philharmonic, 40 years in Gib Hochstrasser's "Kings of Swing" Big Band and Gib's other, smaller bands, the Caldwell Night Rodeo band, the Treasure Valley Concert Band, the Treasure Valley Wind Ensemble, the Caldwell Centennial Band, the Alumni and Friends College of Idaho pep band, and the 25th Army Band of the Idaho National Guard. He was also part of the "Saxy Four" saxophone quartet that played at the annual October Swing 'n' Dixie Jazz Jamboree in Sun Valley.
His music and military careers joined when Bill, 16, and a Caldwell high school student, realized that four separate bands - the high school band, the College of Idaho band, the Caldwell band, and the National Guard band - rehearsed together once a week, but that the guard members received $1 for each rehearsal. Bill lied about his age, said he was 18, and joined the National Guard's 116th Cavalry Regimental Band, which later became the 183rd Field Artillery Regiment.
In April of 1941, the 183rd was called to active duty. The College of Idaho, where he was then a student, allowed him to work ahead to complete his coursework, and he graduated in June of 1941, cum laude, with a degree in history.
During WWII, Bill was initially stationed at Fort Lewis, where he met Barbara "Bobby" Bartley of Tacoma, a U.S.O. Junior Hostess, at a dance where Bill was filling in for a friend by playing drums - not that he could do much other than beat time - in the small dance band. Bill and Bobby were married in June of 1942.
On active service, Bill spent 57 months in the U.S. and in France and Germany with the 70th Infantry Division Band, earning a Bronze Star for meritorious service in support of combat operations. Years later, he was called to active service a second time, spending 22 months during the Korean War with the 25th Army Band of the Idaho Army National Guard, stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, and Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. During the second call-up, the band performed more than 1,000 times, and one of the highlights for Bill was leading the 1951 Armistice Day Parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Towards the end of his WWII service in Europe, Bill's military and professional careers came together. He was offered the chance to enroll in a U.S.-sponsored university program in Biarritz, France, where he took a class in finance and insurance. When he was demobilized and returned to Caldwell, he was hired to sell life insurance, and thus began his long career as a life insurance agent.
Bill and Bobby settled in Caldwell and had five children - Lindy, Nancy, Bart, Bruce and Tom - and later added Fayrene Spencer to their family.
In addition, over the years they hosted more than 30 international students in their home, including six brothers - Magno, Jaime, Lucho, Juan, Guillermo, and Fernando - from the Herran family of Puira, Peru. In later years, when the Herran family held a reunion in Puira, Bill and Bobby were honored guests. For their work with international students, Bill and Bobby were named "Distinguished Citizens" by the Idaho Statesman in 1976.
For most of his insurance career, Bill worked with Northwestern Mutual Life. He was active in the industry, serving at various times as president of the Lower Snake River Valley Life Underwriters Association, Idaho Association of Life Underwriters, and Idaho Chartered Life Underwriters; education chair for the Ore-Ida Life Underwriters Association; chair for 12 years of the annual Sun Valley convention of the Idaho Association of Life Underwriters; charter member of the Southwest Idaho Estate Planning Council; and trustee of the Life Underwriter Training Council.
Among the professional honors he received were "Life Underwriter of the Year" in 1978; 1990 recipient of the Edmund L. Zalinski Distinguished Service Award from the Life Underwriter Training Council in Washington D.C.; 1990 winner of the American Society of Chartered Life Underwriters' Paul S. Mills scholarship; and 1999 recipient of the Northwestern Mutual Life Robert F. Rice Agency "Frances E. Ferguson Award for Excellence." In 1987, the Idaho Association of Life Underwriters changed the name of its award to the "Bill Rankin Idaho Underwriter of the Year Award."
Bill loved to teach others. He taught private music students; taught saxophone lessons for 15 years as an adjunct faculty member at Boise State University; taught saxophone at Northwest Nazarene University; was an instructor for the Life Underwriter Training Council for 12 years and a Chartered Life Underwriter instructor for 19 years. In 1977 he attended his final 25th Army Band rehearsal, having served 37 years, 4 months, and 5 days in the National Guard, all of them in the same outfit and for the last 20 years, as commanding officer and leader of the band. In 2000, recognizing Bill's long career as a music performer and teacher, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne presented Bill with a Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Governor's Millennium Awards in the Arts.
Bill was also involved in Caldwell's civic life. In 1947 he joined the Caldwell Rotary Club and attended his last Rotary meeting three days prior to his death. He was president of the College of Idaho Alumni Association from 1967 to 1969, was president of the Caldwell Memorial Hospital Foundation for 5 years, and was Snake River United Way president in 1979. He chaired the Caldwell-based Whittenberger Foundation for 31 years, 1973-2004, and after his retirement from the board, the foundation underwrote a 5-year sponsorship of the Boise Philharmonic's bass clarinet chair in his honor.
Late in his life, Bill fell, and as a result a part of his right leg was amputated. His family is grateful to the staff at Brownfields who worked so patiently with him as he began using his prosthetic leg; to the staff at Willow Park Assisted Living in Boise for the care he received there; and to the Caldwell Rotary Club for transporting him back and forth from Boise to Caldwell so that he could continue to attend meetings in the town he loved.
Bill was preceded in death by Bobby, his wife of 67 years. He is survived by their children Lindy (Dave) High, Nancy Rankin, Bart Rankin, and Bruce (Gail) Rankin, all of Boise; Tom (Jorie) Rankin of Encinitas, CA; and Fayrene Spencer, currently stationed in Gardez, Afghanistan; by his grandchildren Marshall High, Matthew High, Sara Rankin, Alice Eberharter, Jann Eberharter, Kelsie Skerrett, Charlie Cotten and Brian Cotten; and by the international students who lived with the Rankins, many of whom have returned over the years to visit them in Caldwell.
The family suggests that memorials may be made to the College of Idaho, 2112 Cleveland Blvd., Caldwell, ID 83605, or to the Boise Philharmonic, 516 S. 9th St., Boise, ID 83702. Information about a memorial service will be published at a later date.
Published in Idaho Press Tribune on Oct. 7, 2012
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