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William "Bill" Wiseman '54 February 27, 2017 3:01 PM updated: February 27, 2017 3:05 PM

Published in Great Falls (MT) Tribune from Feb. 26 to Mar. 1, 2017

Bill Wiseman(1932 - 2017)
William "Bill" Wiseman

Bozeman —William R. "Bill" Wiseman left our world on February 15, 2017 in Bozeman, with his family at his side, at the age of 84. He succumbed from a decade-long affliction with dementia.

Bill was born June 1, 1932 on the Wiseman family farm in Moore County, Texas. He was raised as a farm kid during the dust bowl years of want and woe in that part of the country. But the rains came back, the big war ended the Great Depression, and Bill graduated from Dumas high in 1950 with the family farm intact.

He was always a sharp student. He was both the president of the Dumas High School Honor Society and drum major of the marching band. But the wider world was calling, and Bill left north Texas to enroll at Texas A&M on an ROTC scholarship. He was the first in his family to attend college. He was a member of the famous Aggie Corps of Cadets, and remembered fondly his role as President of the Singing Cadets, who traveled all over Texas giving concerts.

In 1954 Bill graduated college and went into the Air Force. He also married Iva "Boots" Libby, his lifelong wife and mother of his four sons. These early years of their marriage consisted of near constant travel as Bill became proficient in flying larger and more complicated aircraft, culminating in ten years as a B47 and B52 pilot and aircraft commander. The family was always either arriving or leaving someplace. Bill and Boots lived in 22 different houses in their first 20 years of marriage. That was not unusual in the Strategic Air Command.

Bill was immensely proud of his military service. He was at the tip of the spear of the nuclear arsenal back then, in the Cold War. During the Cuban Missile Crisis he and his crew slept on cots in the hangar in Spain with their bomber, ready to go on a moment's notice on what was essentially a suicide mission "somewhere behind the Iron Curtain." He always played this down, in his low key way, but the commitment to his country was immense.

So was his commitment to his family. When the Cuban Missile Crisis was over, Bill performed an amazing feat of airmanship, piloting his three-man crew from Spain to Kansas with a broken aircraft rudder. Pilots will recognize the skill and daring involved with flying 8,000 miles, performing two in-air refueling operations and landing with no rudder. But he wanted to be home with his wife and kids, so he did it. And kept it completely secret for fifteen years, as this was a court martial offense against the strict policies of Curtis LeMay's Air Force.

Bill also spent a year (1970) at MACV headquarters in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Afterwards, he got his family transferred to Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, and began his very own Montana story. Excepting a three year stay in Germany in the 1970's, Bill and Boots lived in Great Falls for 44 years until Boots' passing two years ago.

He adopted some of the outdoor life, getting his teen aged brood of boys into skiing and wilderness camping, habits that they all keep to this day. He also sent all of his sons to college, which was a lifelong goal.

Bill retired from the Air Force in 1978 and began a second career as a stock broker in Great Falls, helping people all over Montana plan and achieve financial success for nearly twenty years.

In 1987, Bill and Boots were able to acquire an odd little geodesic house on the shore of Flathead Lake near Lakeside. He personally designed and drew the blueprints for a massive remodel, resulting in a beautiful home that he and Boots spent their summers in almost to the end. Bill loved to sail his 25 foot sailboat, often having the lone craft out on the immensity of Flathead Lake.

Toward the end of his second career, Bill gave in to his lifelong interest in politics, and was elected to the Montana House of Representatives, serving from 1993-1998. He sat on the House Appropriations Committee for three legislative sessions and never saw an appropriation that he thought could not be reduced.

Bill loved singing and he loved helping people. He was a kind, friendly, honest and generous man. He tutored Native American teenagers, taught high schoolers personal finance, spent many hours fund raising for the Optimist Club, and much more. He performed in the Great Falls Symphonic Choir and his church choir for many years. He was on the board of the Great Falls Symphony and did major work to keep it afloat. He was a long-time deacon in the First Presbyterian Church in Great Falls.

Even at the end, when dementia had robbed most of his intellectual capacity, he could recall and sing melodies and tunes. Stuck in a wheelchair, and deprived of the use of his hands, Bill would do what he could to bring a smile to his fellow patients by singing to them. Bill's generosity was kindly returned late in life: his family would like to especially thank the amazing staff at Spring Creek Inn in Bozeman for the love and decency the gave to Bill, every day, in the last few years of his life. They encouraged him to keep on singing, loud and proud, all the way to the end.

Before his own passing, Bill lost his son Scott and his wife Boots. He is survived by his brother and sister Keith Wiseman and Nancy Piercy of Texas, his sons Don (Vicki) Wiseman of Ketchum ID and Moab UT, Brady (Cyndy Andrus) Wiseman of Bozeman, and Kelly (Babs Noelle) Wiseman of Bozeman, his grandchildren Haley Wiseman of Bozeman, Katie Matteson of Portland OR, and Mikey Matteson of Anchorage AK, and a great grandson Zaiden Wagner.

A delayed funeral service will be held the second weekend in June, at the First Presbyterian Church in Great Falls.


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