William Rainey, 81, of Clancy, died Nov. 11, 2022, of COVID-19.
Bill was born Sept. 21, 1941, in Paterson, New Jersey. He was the third of five sons born to Harold and Marion Rainey.
He, his brothers, and their friends from the neighborhood had a mischievous mid-century childhood filled with adventures that wouldn’t be considered safe or possibly even legal today. They fired homemade rockets and ran half-wild through Garret Mountain Reserve, a nearby park around Lambert Castle. The family hunted and fished together, making summer visits to a family cabin at Lake Hopatcong.
At Clifton High School, he ran track and cross country, graduating in 1959. He headed west to study at Montana State University for three years before returning to New Jersey.
In February 1964, he joined the Army. He served as an artillery forward observer on the border between West and East Germany and collected a lifetime of stories about his duties and his off-duty exploration of Europe by train, bike and skis.
After returning to the U.S. in December 1965, he headed back to Montana, landing work in Yellowstone National Park as a delivery driver for Hamilton Stores and spending the winter of 1966 as a winterkeeper removing snow from buildings around Old Faithful. While working in the park, Bill met Mary Anne Crouse, who became the love of his life.
The couple married Sept. 17, 1967, at Holbrook Congregational Church in Livingston, Montana, where she had grown up. They moved to Bozeman so Bill could continue his education at MSU, before moving on to Western Montana College in Dillon, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in secondary education in December 1969. Mary Anne sometimes called him a permanent student as he earned an elementary education certification and completed course work for an unfinished master’s degree.
His teaching career took them to Harrison, Three Forks and Geraldine. They both particularly enjoyed a job in Heart Butte on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation, where Bill was dedicated to supporting students in academics, sports, travel and pow wow drumming. In 1978, a teaching job brought the Rainey family, which had grown to include two daughters, Anita and Susan, to Clancy. Putting down roots and building a stable family life became a priority.
Bill’s work ventured beyond teaching to processing fuel tax refunds, surveying for the Forest Service, working at a fire retardant station, his own janitorial business, and finally back into the schools as a custodian at Clancy School for 16 years before retiring in 2005.
In retirement, Bill was part of a writers’ group that encouraged him to capture the stories he loved to tell. He also was dedicated to cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation at St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena, where he had exercised for nearly 20 years after open heart surgery. He loved to travel.
He never stopped being an educator, though, offering his knowledge and love of learning as a 4-H leader, volunteer math tutor, Science Olympiad coach, and volunteer at Montana Wild. He especially loved sharing photos and information about birds.
He proudly claimed the title “professional birder” for leading bird-watching hikes through Birds & Beasleys, carefully planning outings, coordinating with other guides and welcoming birders new and experienced. He took participants to the best places to show them interesting visiting and resident birds.
A citizen scientist, he kept careful records of each species he spotted, then entered the data in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology eBird project. The staff at the Clancy Library provided technical support and encouragement.
He enjoyed Last Chance Audubon programs and outings, including the Christmas Bird Count. About a decade ago, he audited an ornithology course at Carroll College – a gift from his wife – and connected with a flock of like-minded nature lovers who went out in search of birds each week, calling themselves the Tuesday Morning Birders. He loved to find a rare bird, but in this hobby, he also found a rare group of excellent friends.
Bill is survived by daughter Anita and son-in-law Scott Burke, of Medford, Ore., and daughter Susan Rainey of Lafayette, Colo., as well as brother and sister-in-law Noel and Edna Rainey in New Jersey, brother Harold Rainey in Minnesota, as well as 4 nieces and 3 nephews and their children. Of them he was especially close to Kelly and Tim Schiereck and their daughters Meghan and Erin; Kristen Rainey; Lisa and Adam Brownell and their children Ellie and Jonas.
He was predeceased by his wife Mary Anne and his brothers Thomas and Robert.
A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Clancy United Methodist Church, with a luncheon to follow. The service will livestream on the church’s Facebook page.
Memorial contributions can be made in Bill’s honor to any of the organizations he loved mentioned above or one of your choosing. Please visit www.aswfuneralhome.com to offer a condolence to the family or to share a memory of Bill.