OBITUARY: William K. Neumann, 83 June 4,
October 17, 2019
William K. Neumann aka 'Swampy Creek Bill' passed away peacefully October 5, 2019 of recently discovered bladder cancer at home in Petersburg in his newly acquired and beloved electric reclining chair surrounded by the echoes of the countless memories in his "Great Story Telling Room" in the house he and his late wife Fran designed and built in 1978 with close friends.
Bill was a unique and rare individual who was blessed with a remarkable and full-life surrounded by countless friends and adventures along the way...so it's a challenge to capture the depth and essence of his entire 83 years of life on this earth and how he touched others in words.
Bill was born in Gillett, Wisconsin June 4, 1936, the only child of the late Otto and Tootie (Bocher) Neumann of Gillett, Wisconsin. Both Otto and Tootie were educators.
Growing up 40 miles from Green Bay, WI, Bill was a life-long Green Bay Packer Backer. At an early age passed down from his dad and family Bill found solace in everything mother nature had to offer, enjoying birding, bird hunting, sport fishing adventures in the countless lakes and rivers of northern Wisconsin and Canada and the annual deer hunting camps shared with the companionship of family and friends.
Bill was a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Stout with a Bachelor of Industrial Arts degree. His first teaching job would begin in Elroy, WI from 1958 to 1969 at Elroy Highschool and Royal Highschool.
For three decades Bill enjoyed his job as an Industrial Arts teacher, introducing and teaching hundreds of students' valuable practical skills that they may carry at some degree for a lifetime. Drawing from his strong personal connection with the outdoors, fishing, hunting and camping, many of the shop projects Bill would often encourage would be outdoor oriented projects like: making fiberglass recurve bows, arrows, building fly rods, tying flies, custom gun stocks, knife making, leather tool work, snow shoes, smoke houses along with a wide range of personal projects students might envision. One of the most memorable projects built by a student with Bill's guidance in his shop class was a single passenger aluminum Gyrocopter built by Lyle Genz in 1963. In 1967 the students in his shop classes would fabricate 57 laminated fiberglass recurve bows inspired by the fact that Mr. Neumann, the shop teacher, had the year prior harvested a 10-point whitetail buck with one of several fiberglass recurve bows and arrows he had made himself. At least one of Bill's students from the 10-year tenure of teaching in Wisconsin would become an Industrial Arts teacher, Gerald Krouse.
Harboring a childhood dream to someday explore the allure of the countless wild lakes and rivers that littered the province of Manitoba Canada via canoe and to fish those same waters. In the summer of 1965 Bill's childhood dream came to fruition when Bill teamed up with a willing companion to make that adventurous journey, Ben Berhow, also a teacher and colleague. To make this canoe trip through the back waters of Canada Bill and Ben would rely on an aluminum 17 ft. Grumman canoe Bill's father had purchased in the 1940s. Relying heavily on a book THE NEW WAY OF THE WILDERNESS written by Calvin Rutstrum, an experienced outdoorsman, wilderness traveler and camper of an earlier era. Guided by this book, Bill meticulously researched, planned and outfitted this summer long 700-mile canoe camping expedition with provisions, fabricating packs and outdoor equipment and plotting canoe routes, portages and logistics etc. In later years Bill would describe this 700-Mile Canoe Trip as "...an adventure of a life-time...". As a life-long saver of everything with meaning, symbolism or metaphorically right up to the time of his passing Bill had in his possession every receipt, tickets, correspondence, journal, photos, postcards and the canoe etc. from that 1965 700-mile canoe trip.
In the summer of 1966, while making his first "walk about" in Alaska, Bill and Charlie Pinkepank of Wausau, WI would rendezvous in Ketchikan, AK with Hank Aegerter of Ketchikan, AK, who had taught Bill to fly back in WI. This trio would conjure up an idea to purchase the former Stan Bishop 84-acre homestead on the Hooligan River, a tributary draining into the Unuk River, 65 miles from Ketchikan, AK. Utilizing their collective skill sets in 1967 this partnership began building a rustic log cabin fish camp which they named UNUK RIVER POST.
Bill married the late Frances Anna Beier in Madison, WI on August 22, 1969. Bill had taken an Industrial Arts teaching job in Petersburg, AK. Following a small family wedding Bill and Fran left the same day in Bill's Chevy pickup, complimented with his home-built plywood canopy stuffed with personal effects and "Alaska or Bust" crudely brush painted across the back of the canopy. Bill and Fran's honeymoon involved the cross-Canada road adventures from Wisconsin to Prince Rupert, BC, Canada and an Alaska Marine Highway ferry ride to Petersburg. Beginning in the summer of 1970 and for many years following Bill, Fran and the partners would construct from scratch log cabins and accoutrements, entertain sport fishermen, friends and family at the UNUK RIVER POST.
Since making Petersburg home Bill was a devoted and active member of the Petersburg Lutheran Church. Fran was a devout Catholic but that was never an issue between them. Using his wood working shop skills combined with his giving back nature he designed and created the wood Lord's Prayer plaque that adorns the wall of the Petersburg Lutheran Church.
As the years passed by Bill and Fran evolved into "people collectors". With their outgoingness and embracing others they had crossed paths with, touching the lives of numerous people with wide ranging back rounds from many far-flung locations, many have been enduring life-long friendships.
In the early 1980s Bill would again enter into another remote land partnership with four close friends and purchased the Olympic Mine located on Woewodski Island, AK.
Bill would retire from the Petersburg School District in 1988. With retirement came the morning "Coffee Group", which evolved into a morning ritual in his Great Story Telling Room for only 1 hour from 8AM to 9AM.
The number of folks meeting in the "Coffee Group" would depend on the time of year, it may range from 1 to 20 folks showing up for coffee. Bill didn't drink coffee, and he made marginal coffee...but more importantly he and everyone enjoyed the varied company and discussed their plans and shared the "stories" folks would bring, and he enjoyed meeting the friends of friends or family of friends that they might bring for coffee. Bill was a life-long "saver of stuff", he never threw anything away that carried a memory or story. Most visitors entering Bill's Great Story Telling Room are generally awe struck with every wall cluttered with outdoor related stuff, ranging from random furs, collection of mounted deer antlers, bear mounts, deer head mounts, a variety of outdoor photos, numerous antique rifles, which many he had begun collecting at the age of 12, and the largest bullet collection in Alaska boasting 2000+ bullets, neatly displayed and labeled on plaques adorning the cedar wood walls. And Bill, always the avid photographer, had 93 photo albums each bulging with photos labeled by year/location documenting his life journey beginning in the 1940s to the present line shelves spanning a bay window blocking out sunlight. To Bill, every item came with memories and a story, be it a photo, an antique rifle, animal hide, a mounted deer antler, rusty lamp, a single leather moccasin, or his 1950 Boys Scout card with Rocky Marciano's signature, or the curly mallard duck tail feathers mounted on a plaque from the last mallard his best friend of 30 years, Syd Wright had killed the day Syd died, he cherished them all.
Anyone visiting Bill's Great Story Telling Room would surely have remembered the bell hanging aside where Bill would be seated at a comfortable reach. This prominent baseball size jingle bell would dangle from a green cord leading up to the ceiling laced through a couple tiny pullies going across the ceiling for 12 feet ending tied to a striker device that would ring a 10-inch brass mushroom shaped bell fastened to the wall when the cord was pulled. This bell was from an old steam donkey from a 1950s logging show trapped inside a beaver pond along the Hooligan River and discovered by a dear friend, Rae Stedman in 1972, while she was hiking and visiting Bill and Fran at the UNUK RIVER POST. In Bill's Great Story Telling Room, he had house "coffee conversation rules": NO talking about Politics, No talking about Religion and No talking about Health Issues! If anyone did, Bill would clinch the baseball size bell hanging near his hand and pull on the green cord and Ring the brass bell attached to the wall!!
In 1994, at the age of 47 Bill's wife Fran would be diagnosed with "PICKS", a little known, yet ruthless form of dementia. With this life-changing health care-giving challenge, Bill was bombarded with plenty of advice from his many friends from all walks of life in how to navigate her condition and how and where he should seek care for Fran. However his reply would be, "...thank you, ...but I will do it my way...". And he did.
Meanwhile, in 1999 Bill and his Olympic Mine partners would design a large log cabin with plans for recreating to accommodate their extended families and friends. At the end of the year, the partners along with other close friends began construction of a large log cabin on the beach. Several years later Bill would construct a separate smaller stick cabin on the property naming it the "South Pacific" for he and Fran where they often utilized for winter forays.
Seemingly always in a quest to acquire that rare and remote wilderness land that may offer different wilderness recreating opportunities, Bill again ventured into another remote land partnership purchase in 2002, initially with seven close friends. This land was located on Knig Slough on Farm Island, of the Stikine River. Not long after a cabin was designed by Bill and partners, this custom kit cabin would be erected along the banks of "Swampy Creek". This cabin would include an elevated "3-story watch tower" for watching birds and the variety of wildlife across the Stikine River estuary.
With both Bill and Fran's love, devotion and faith, along with the creativity, ingenuity and positive attitude and determination by Bill that he and Fran would continue to enjoy the wild places like he always had in his life, Bill kept Fran alive and active much of it caring for her out in the wilderness, dressing her like him, dragging her along everywhere, bouncing around in his river boats between their home in Petersburg, to their "Swampy Creek" Stikine River cabin and exploring the Stikine River with jet boat and their "South Pacific" cabin on Woewodski Island. Bill always claimed; "...it was easier to care for Fran out at one of his remote cabins vs in Petersburg at their house..." so Bill would spend as many days as what the weather would allow a year at either his "Swampy Creek" cabin or "South Pacific" cabin.
For many years, if Bill were returning to his house in Petersburg from one of his remote cabins to replenish his supplies, Bill would then routinely send out emails to the "Coffee Group" giving his friends an opportunity to connect up again to swap stories. This email might read like; COFFEE MON.-TUE. SEE YOU THEN.
It was at one of those morning "Coffee Group" get togethers in 2004 when the coffee group was apparently jacked up on caffeine that a plan was hatched to create a Crop Circle on this newly acquired estuary land on Knig Slough on the Stikine River. Typically drawing from his broad shop skills background, Bill designed, staked out and etched in the estuary grass with a weed eater/lawn mower adjacent to the "Swampy Creek" cabin a 50-yard-high HELLO letters and accompanied by a 75-yard-wide circumference waving happy face Crop Circle. Over the years this HELLO Crop Circle has become a noted landmark in the area for aviators flying overhead. It's possible to find this Crop Circle on Google Earth.
Bill's love for birds and birding was always reflected at his remote properties, at both the UNUK RIVER POST along the banks of the Hooligan River and again at his "Swampy Creek" Stikine River cabin. At each of these cabin site locations he was always building/maintaining a large quantity of Tree swallow houses to attract swallows to watch and perhaps, more importantly, relying on the swallow's abilities to consume their weight in insects daily to keep the insects at a minimum. But at the "Swampy Creek" cabin Bill was treated to an army of Rufus humming birds, utilizing custom designed humming bird feeders to accommodate the hundreds of humming birds buzzing the property. With some years going through as much as 5 gallons of humming bird food a day and as much as 600 lbs of sugar a season.
It was common knowledge amongst most of Bill's friends that he disliked heat and sweating and was miserable when the air temperatures broached near 70 degrees. Along with hot days he also hated bright sunny days! If he wasn't sporting a pair of his modified wrap-around pair of sunglasses designed to block any bright sunrays that might pierce his eyes, without sunglasses he might be caught squinting like a mole that just emerged from a deep dark hole into the daylight.
While navigating the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly routines of caring for Fran and her ever changing dementia stages, yet incorporating river boat adventures at either his "Swampy Creek" cabin or "South Pacific" cabin, Bill had a deep-seated desire to preserve heirlooms, stories or memories. As time passed he contemplated a way to give back to the community and the area where his deep family roots started. So in 2007 Bill initiated a collaboration with the Gillett Area Historical Society in his hometown with the idea to create a Museum for the community and the surrounding area. Ultimately this collaboration would result in Bill generously contributing financially in purchasing a grand old refurbished house built in 1910. This house happened to be one that Bill knew as a kid growing up in Gillett. Not long after the Gillett Museum was established, Bill spent months cataloging, photographing, crating and packing up all the family heirlooms and vintage photographs from his parents and grandparents he had inherited, that he and Fran had brought cross country over the past 40 years. He rented a U-Haul and had Petersburg friends drive these family heirlooms across country and delivered to the Gillett Museum collection.
All the while Bill would be immersed in all these various projects, Bill never complained about the challenges or the daily routines of caring for Fran as her body gradually shut down from her dementia, Bill often stating; "...it was always Frannie's perpetual smile that kept him going...". At the onset of Fran's PICKS dementia diagnosis back in 1994 Fran was given 2 years to live. Seemingly with the power of Fran's perpetual smile Bill managed to keep Fran alive and physically going for 15 years up until her passing August 20th, 2009 while they were at their "Swampy Creek" cabin on the banks of Knig Slough on the Stikine River. The Bill and Fran Neumann story is truly a remarkable journey and an inspirational and an Over the Rainbow Love Story.
Bill was a great man who inspired and touched many lives. We will always carry your memory in our hearts, yet despite the hole Bill's passing leaves in our lives for us who are left behind. It brings us great comfort knowing Bill has reunited again with Fran, the Love of His Life.
Bill was preceded in death by his parents; Otto and Tootie (Bocher) Neumann and his wife Frances (Beier) Neumann. Bill is survived by: Fran's brothers, LaVern Beier of Juneau, AK who has known Bill before Fran going back to 1966, Dick Beier of Wilton, WI, Verdell Beier, of Centerville, TN, Kim Neidiffer, of Petersburg, AK, his caregiver and beloved friend, Jim Edgars, of Petersburg, AK, a former student and a son he never had, Wisconsin cousins and families and numerous friends scattered across the 50 states.