Saturday, February 24, 2018

Remembering Bill Strickler

By Frank Boles


On Thursday, February 22 I attended a funeral for a good friend of the Clarke Library, William J. Strickler. Bill spent more than two decades as a member of the Clarke Board of Governors, many of those years as the chair. He was thoughtful, kind, cared tremendously about the library, and had a refreshing sense of humor about himself and the situations he observed. He also had little time for pomposity or pretense. Over the years I saw him lead the Board to many sound decisions, tell various people in a few polite but well-chosen words why they were being ridiculous, and stare down University presidents who forgot who they were talking to (from the safety of the sidelines – some fights a university employee does not want to be in the middle of).

When I first met him in 1991 he told me he just wanted two things from the new director: straight talk and pie if there was going to be lunch after the Board meeting. It was typical of his approach to most things.

I knew Bill well enough to recognize that he’d be more than a little annoyed if I wrote a long, flowery obituary. He’d just tell me to stop. So, I will simply tell two stories Bill told me, as best I remember them. I think they capture the self-depreciating wit and unique sense of irony that were among the reasons I so liked him.

Bill was a CMU graduate who by his own admission came close to flunking out one semester because he spent most of his time shooting pool. He fancied himself pretty good at the game, able to regularly win small wagers with his friends. One day when a pool shark from the Detroit area was in town Bill challenged him to a match. The shark eyed up his mark and said sure, let’s play one for fun.

That game went pretty well for Bill, who having shown his mettle against a pro from Detroit was feeling his oats. Then the shark said “want to make it interesting? Let’s put some money on the table.  How about a $50.?” Bill was flabbergasted.  That was serious money. But he both had a $50 and felt he couldn’t back down.  “Sure,” he said, with a bit of false bravado. The shark graciously allowed Bill to break. Bill sank a ball or two, then missed a shot. The shark, demonstrating a skill previously not shown when playing for fun, ran the rest of the table and, with the hint of a smile, pocketed Bill’s $50. Shortly thereafter Bill decided pool might not be a good investment of his time.

A second story involved Bill’s prospecting for natural gas in Wyoming. Bill was a petroleum geologist, and a good one. He transferred skills he learned in the Michigan Oil Patch into some very successful wells out West. Out West, however, environmentalists launched serious and frequently successful opposition to well drilling permits.

As is often the case among people who regularly attend public hearings, Bill became acquainted with those opposed to new drilling. A friendly and polite man, he always had a good morning and a kind word for his opponents. One day at a hearing, the regular representative of the environmental group spoke in opposition to a new drilling permit very near where Bill was already operating a successful well. The permit was denied.

Bill, always one to recognize irony when he saw it, walked over to the environmental spokesperson and told her “I guess I owe you one.”  “Why?” she asked, with more than a little surprise in her voice. Killing the proposed permit had made Bill’s nearby existing well much more valuable.  To settle up he sent the environmental group a financial donation.  It was just too good a joke for Bill to pass up.

I am going to miss Bill’s help, advice, and unique sense of humor. And I hope that not only I, but an environmentalist somewhere in Wyoming, is thinking fondly of him today. You don’t run into too many people like Bill.