William “Bill” Robert Lee
“Loving husband and father, a true American”
William “Bill” Robert Lee, 81 years young, of Springdale, Ark., formerly of Midland, S.D., succumbed to heart failure at the VA Medical Center’s Palliative Care facility in Fayetteville, Ark., at 6:55 p.m. on February 5, 2013.
Bill was born in Midland to William and Electa Pearl (Johnson) Lee on May 5, 1931, and raised on his dad's homestead, Golden Willow Ranch, north of Ottumwa. He was educated at the Mattison County School where he graduated the eighth grade. Bill finished his schooling by GED while in the military.
Before joining the Army, Bill was the 4-H leader for the Prairie Rangers and served with Helen Heeb and Walt Sandal. He won the Congress Award and was given a trip to Chicago. He was all prepared to enter the service of the Army and actually postponed it so he could make that trip!
It was during a 4-H camp trip that he first met Connie Carr, who was only about 11 years old at the time, and it was not love at first sight. Bill was Camp King that year and since he was 17 years old there was no romance in the air for the two of them. But “meant to be” has a way of making things happen.
Bill joined the Army in January of 1953 and was stationed at Camp Roberts in Petaluma, Calif. He served during the Korean War. He was a sharpshooter with the M1 rifle and was a squad leader for a medic unit. Bill was a member of a top secret team in the ASA (Army Security Agency). Unbeknownst to his family, Bill was out of the country many times, behind enemy lines, helping to get wounded soldiers to safety. He was honorably discharged in June 1959. It was after Bill returned home from the service that he and Connie met again and the sparks quickly flew. They were married August 6, 1960, in Philip at the Methodist Church.
A blessed couple, they had a full life in their loving marriage of 52 years. They had three children together. Bill loved to go on family hunting and fishing trips. Many times, at the beginning of the hunting season, he would let his kids follow him as he was “tracking a deer.” Now, any hunter knows the deer wouldn't be caught within hearing distance of three kids. Bill would take them “carefully” and “quietly,” walking through the creek beds or wherever they happened to be.
Bill is remembered as a strong, yet compassionate man. He loved to work with his hands and loved remodeling houses. Most of their homes while growing up had some part of the house in a remodeling project. Many times Connie wondered if she would ever be rid of all the sawdust. Bill loved rock hunting. Many a vacation was spent out in the middle of nowhere looking for agates, geodes, and whatever rock could be polished. He had a tumbler which he used to get them polished, but somehow he never got around to making the jewelry he intended to create. There was always a box of “beautifully polished” rocks somewhere in the garage or his shop, waiting to be turned into a treasure. But the real treasure was Bill.
Bill had a love for gardening, especially flowers. In the spring, people would slowly drive past wherever they lived to admire his flowers. He battled many a pesky gopher, even naming a few, all the while trying to find ways to prevent them from destroying his beautifying projects. Bill loved woodworking and building things with his hands. He could be found in his shop working with his jigsaw building something, and all his kids have jigsaw puzzles that he created for them as Christmas gifts one year. Bill had a gentle spirit, filled with love and he was loved mightily in response by all who knew him.
He also loved to play cards. He and Connie found some wonderful neighbors who also loved to play cards. They spent many evenings playing Joker, Whist, Pinochle and a number of other card games.
And just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be any more to Bill Lee – husband, father, brother, son, patriot, woodworker, amateur horticulturist, hunter, fisherman, and loyal friend to many – not done yet! Bill was an IFR-rated pilot who owned two planes – a Piper Cub and a Cessna Sky Master. And, of course, he taught his boys to fly. His son, Todd, recalls a very important lesson. It seems Todd was having a bit of trouble picking up the details his dad was trying to give him. Finally, Bill said to his son “Let’s start simple. When you push this forward, the cows get bigger. When you pull it back, the cows get smaller.” Well, that made it all come together for Todd and, once again, dad was king.
Even though that’s a pretty fulfilling life, Bill kept busy with work and his affiliations as well! He and his nephew, Walter “Junior” Van Tassel, became partners on the Golden Willow Ranch and raised their families together. In 1963 Golden Willow Seeds was started, so along with the ranch that raised registered Black Angus cattle and farming, the seed business included certified seeds and custom grain cleaning. Bill was as passionate about his work as he was about his family. He used Conklin products in his farming activities on the ranch. He was sold on the products so he started selling them to his friends and neighbors. Driven to succeed at anything he did, Bill ultimately became Conklin’s “Salesperson of the Year” with the company’s first $50,000 month from one person! He was one of the first of eight area managers for Conklin.
There was a “tough” side to Bill and it was reflected in his involvement with his community. You can’t be in demand to participate on numerous boards without having a gift for knowing when to take a stand. Bill served on the South Dakota State Board of Agriculture where he developed industry and educational relationships through numerous board meetings at South Dakota State University in Brookings. He served with SDSU President Briggs on the Board of Directors for the SDCIA (South Dakota Crop Improvement Association), the Board of Directors for Certified Seeds, and the Board of Directors for the Prairie Village in Madison. In 1973, Bill was awarded the South Dakota Farmstead Beautification Award from the Haakon County Conservation District. He was a lifetime member of Granite Threshing Bee in Granite, Iowa. Additionally, he was a past Master of the Masonic Lodge in Midland, and was a 32nd Degree Shriner. Bill was a busy man!
Declining health, caused by exposure to chemicals in the seed cleaning dust, forced Bill and Walter to dissolve their partnership in 1970. Bill and Connie then purchased the Bernard Armstrong Ranch north of Midland. In 1974, they decided to move the family to the Rapid City area to be closer to the health care Bill needed. It wasn't long before they decided the doctors in Sioux Falls were better and they moved to the eastern side of South Dakota.
Bill became disabled in 1989 when a drunk driver hit his semi-truck, sending his rig over the side of the mountain near the Tennessee/North Carolina border. This added more health issues to Bill’s already difficult condition and, in 2008, Bill and Connie decided to retire. A move to Arkansas where they could be near the Ozark Mountains they loved and be in a warmer climate was an easy decision to make. This also put them closer to Branson, Mo., where they loved to visit many of the music places.
The driving force behind Bill’s ability to overcome all adversity and come out on top was that he dearly loved his family. When the grandchildren started arriving, Bill loved sharing the things he had passion for and passing along his knowledge in such a wide array of topics. He looked forward to sharing with each new generation as the great-grandchildren started arriving. He was proud of the accomplishments of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. One of his granddaughters shared with Grandma recently that "Grandpa was always so strong and could fix anything." Everyone agreed. He collected antique tractors and was a big International Harvester fan. Connie was indulgent about Bill’s love for all things “tractor” and Bill was able to add another thing to his long list of passions.
Not long ago, Bill ran into another Korean War Vet. They got to talking and discovered they had been on some of the same missions together. They were able to reminisce about the daring helicopter pilot who was able to fly them in and out of some pretty rough experiences as they helped injured soldiers. Bill was so very proud to have served his country. He was proud to be an American – through and through. He was proud to serve his country. When he was given his Korean War Veteran cap a couple of years ago, he proudly wore it everywhere he went as a reminder of the country he loved.
Bill is survived by his wife of 52 years, Connie (Carr) Lee; a daughter Sandra (Jack) Nantais of Centerville; two sons, Mike Lee of Fairview, Mont., and Todd (Tammy) Lee of Apple Valley, Minn.; a sister, Fern Konst of Philip; a brother-in-law, Jim (Deanna) Carr of Pueblo, Colo.; eight grandchildren, Dan (Kenzi) Lee, Ashley Osterkamp, Nick Lee, Veronica (Robert) Knockenmus, Alisha Lee, Hannah Lee, Elliott Lee, and Katie Lee; three step-grandchildren - Adam (Sarah) Nantais, Erica Nantais, and Joel (Holly) Nantais; three great-grandchildren, Paige Knockenmus, Robert Michael Knockenmus and Landon Michael Lee; multiple nieces and nephews; and a host of relatives and friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents, William and Electa Pearl (Johnson) Lee; half-sisters, Ruth (Caster) Blumenthal and Edna (Caster) Jones; half-brother, Grover Caster; baby grandson, Eric Lee; infant nephew, Richard Konst; nephew, Walter "Junior" Van Tassel; and niece, Esther (Konst) Burns.
Bill always gave more than expected, and he will proudly serve God in Heaven. But his family is left with the memories of a soft, gentle, compassionate man who loved them all. He will be greatly missed.
A celebration of life service was held at the American Legion Hall in Philip, S.D., on Saturday, February 9, with Pastor Dallas McKinley officiating.
Music was provided by Barb Bowen, pianist, and Susan Van Tassel, vocalist. Ushers were Mickey Daly and Lawrence Schofield.
Pallbearers were Todd and Mike Lee, Steve and Jim Van Tassel, and Nick and Rodney Konst.
Burial with full military honors by the American Legion Post #173 of Philip was at the Masonic Cemetery in Philip.
His online guestbook is available at www.rushfuneralhome.com