On Saturday, March 16, 2019, Bill Venman took the outstretched hand of his beloved wife, Sally, and left this life with a smile on his face, finally at peace. As he moves on to conduct his next celestial opera, he leaves behind a legacy of inspiration, unbounded creativity, wry humor and an "anything-can-get-done-with-duct-tape-and-ingenuity" attitude. He touched countless lives as a mentor, musician, committed curmudgeon, conductor, friend and fellow conspirator.
Bill was born on June 27th, 1931 to parents Erma and John Venman. He grew up in Bridgeport, CT and attended Oberlin Conservatory, studying French horn. He took a three-year break from college to enlist in the Army, where he served in Germany as a member of the 7th Army Symphony Orchestra, touring and performing throughout the country. On July 1, 1955, he married the love of his life, Sally (Sarah Katherine) Grant and moved to Muskegon, MI where he taught music. After earning his EdD at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1962, he "temporarily" moved the family to Amherst for a job in the Provost's office at UMass. Fifty-seven years later, and a career that spanned founding the Continuing Education Division at UMass to roles in educational technology and serving on the boards of the First Congregational Church, ACTV, and the Amherst Ballet, Bill stills calls Amherst home.
Practicing his belief that work should never get in the way of life, Bill cultivated his love of music. He performed with many local groups including the Pioneer Valley Symphony, Amherst Brass Band, and the Amherst Oompah Band, wielded the baton for the Amherst Community Band, encouraged his children to sing and learn multiple instruments, and celebrated winter solstice by directing music for Welcome Yule! But the pinnacle of his musical career began in 1975 when he and Sally founded the Valley Light Opera. The opera not only filled the community's need for more patter songs and topsy-turvy plot lines, it became a second family to Bill and Sally and a source of great pride and never-ending tales.
Not to limit his enthusiasm to one avocation, Bill transformed the innocent gift of a Lionel train set into a passion that eventually took over half the basement. With a desire to spread the joy, he joined the Amherst Railway Society and helped start the annual Railroad Hobby Show at the Eastern States Exposition. He spent many hours gleefully building scale models and playing with (sorry, "operating") trains with similarly-minded hobbyists and mesmerized grandchildren.
Bill's passing leaves an endless fermata in the hearts of those who knew him. His final years were eased and supported by his caregiver and youngest daughter, Diana, who brought joy to his life and made enjoying the comforts of home possible. He was predeceased by his parents and his wife of 55 years, Sally. He is survived by his five children: Tom, of Brookline, MA and his wife, Kathy Harris; Susan, of Saxtons River, VT and her husband, Guy Payne; Peter and his wife, Alison Donta-Venman, of Hadley; Patty and her husband, John Devine, of Whately; and Diana and her partner, Dale Kotapish, of Amherst. Bill's 14 grandchildren, in whom he took great delight, are Michael and Elizabeth, Tom and Kathy's children; Claire, Juliana, Miriam, Ruth and Hannah, Sue's children; Athena, Killian, Griffin, Aurora and Grant, Peter and Alison's children; and Meghan and Caitlynn, Patty and John's children. Also, his three brothers, Jim and his wife, Jan of Midland, MI; Pete and his wife, Carol of Mesa, AZ; and Bob of Middlebury, VT, along with many nieces and nephews and their children.
A celebration of Bill's life will be held on Saturday, March 23 at 11 a.m. at the Wesley United Methodist Church, 98 North Maple Street in Hadley. Reverend Marianne MacCullah will be officiating. Friends may call from 5:00 until 8:00 p.m., Friday, March 22 at the Douglass Funeral Home in Amherst. In lieu of flowers, donations in Bill's memory may be made to the Valley Light Opera, https://www.vlo.org
. Those wishing to sign Bill's online guestbook may do so at https://douglassfuneral.com