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William Henry Banks Jr.

Obituary
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BANKS, WILLIAM HENRY JR., 83, of Louisville, died May 12, 2013.

He was born December 20, 1929, to William Banks Sr. and Ruth Volkerding Banks in Louisville.

Bill was predeceased by his parents; his brothers, Jim and David Banks and niece, Sheryl.

Bill graduated from Male High in 1947, earned his undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Louisville in 1951, his masters in botany from the University of Tennessee in 1953 and his PhD in science education from Ohio State University in 1962.

Almost immediately after marrying Elizabeth Earl Bowles on June 28, 1952, the couple headed to the Cherokee reservation in western North Carolina where Bill spent the summer researching his masters thesis. In 1953, after Bill's drafting into the Army, they lived in Dougway, UT, where he spent his three-year military career doing ecological research. Bill and "Bettie" were married nearly 61 years and had four children.

Bill was an associate professor of education at the University of Kentucky from 1962 to 1966 and Jacksonville (FL) University 1966-68. He joined the University of Louisville faculty in 1968, becoming a fully tenured professor in the mid-1970s, and retired as Professor Emeritus in 1994. Bill never formally expressed or wrote down his teaching philosophies. But there's no question that for him teaching - that is, the teacher as a mentor and rich repository of experience, and not just a mere researcher or dispenser of grades - was one of life's higher callings. Even late in life he expressed pleasure when hearing about the innovation and imagination of some his grandchildren's more talented instructors.

Bill didn't take much stock in the word "retirement." Indeed the 12 or so good years he had left after leaving U of L were some of the most satisfying of his life. He saw the American West as an endless source of beauty and learning, making nearly-annual trips to New Mexico (he served as a volunteer at the Ghost Ranch), Arizona, Utah and South Dakota in his ramshackle trailer. He spent many years researching family history, driving that same maligned vehicle as far north as Indiana and as far south as Holly Springs, Mississippi, tracking down long-forgotten relatives. During the 1990s he worked the Help Line for the Presbyterian Church, USA National Headquarters in Louisville (Bill was a longtime elder in the Presbyterian Church). During this same period he also volunteered at Alex R. Kennedy Metropolitan Middle School in Jeffersontown, working one on one with students needing extra help, work that Bill believed was teaching in its purest form.

A late-life highlight came in 2004 when the Great Smokey Mountains Association published "Plants of the Cherokee," Bill's masters thesis, which hadn't seen the light of day in 50 years. It's a remarkable portrait of the Cherokee's use of wild plants as a variety of medicines, food, craft and other purposes. Many of Bill's sources were Cherokee elders born in the 19th century who had knowledge dating back centuries. This first-hand access to ancient tradition, available in the early 1950s when Bill conducted his studies, is virtually impossible today.

The last three years of Bill's life were spent at the Westminster Terrace Health Care Center, where he received loving care and made many wonderful friends. The Banks family can't even begin to express the gratitude and love we feel for that incredible facility.

Bill is survived by his wife, Bettie; and by his children, Bill Banks III (Claire) of Decatur, GA, Amy Banks Fowler of Louisville, Sarah Banks Newcomb (Tom) of Morehead, KY, and Peter Banks of Louisville; along with seven grandchildren. He is also survived by brother, Fred Banks (Linda); sister in law, Marcia Banks, both of Louisville.

His funeral is Thursday 1 p.m. at Beulah Presbyterian Church, 6704 Bardstown Road in Fern Creek with burial in Cave Hill Cemetery. Bill's visitation is Wednesday, 5-9 p.m. at Pearson's, 149 Breckenridge Lane.

To best honor Bill, please donate to the WHAS Crusade for Children at crusadeforchildren.org.

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Funeral Home
Pearson Funeral Home
149 Breckenridge Lane Louisville, KY 40207
(502) 896-0349
Funeral Home Details
Published in The Courier-Journal from May 14 to May 15, 2013
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