William J. "Bill" Nancarrow, 91, a ranger at Denali and Katmai after WWII, passed away on April 15th.
Nancarrow was born on April 2, 1921, in Cadott, Wisconsin, to Lester and Mina Nancarrow, who farmed in southern Wisconsin. On family trips to national parks, he developed the desire to be a park ranger.
In 1939, Nancarrow graduated from Evanston Township High School in Illinois and enrolled at Michigan College of Mines and Technology, where he studied forestry. In 1942, Nancarrow, age 20, enlisted in the U.S. Army. After graduation from Officer Candidate School, 2nd Lt. Nancarrow was assigned to the newly reactivated 101st Airborne Division at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. In 1943, his unit was deployed to England. Three days after D-Day, his superior officers killed in action, Nancarrow was promoted to captain.
Nancarrow saw action on many fronts, was wounded twice, and was awarded two Bronze Stars, one at the Battle of the Bulge. At war's end he was one of only a handful of officers to survive duty from Camp Claiborne to V.E. Day.
After the war Nancarrow returned to college and graduated in 1947 with a bachelor of science in forestry – with honors. He began working for the National Park Service as a seasonal ranger before gaining a permanent position at Lake Texoma Recreational Area in Texas. He transferred to Mt. McKinley National Park on June 26, 1948.
In 1950, Nancarrow built the first NPS camp in Katmai National Monument. A year later he became the first permanent naturalist at Mt. McKinley National Park. Under the Homestead Act, Nancarrow filed on a business site at Deneki Lakes in 1952 and began work on his log home.
In 1954, rather than transfer, he left the NPS and worked at various local jobs. Nancarrow married Ree Anderson in 1965. Their son Mike was born in 1966 and their second son, Eric, in 1968. Nancarrow returned to work with the NPS in 1967 as a carpenter. He was the buildings and utilities foreman when he retired on April 2, 1981.
For many years he kept a dog team for recreational use and seasonal access to his property. For many years he augmented his family larder with moose meat from animals hunted near his home.
Nancarrow possessed a remarkable memory filled with accurate details and reflections of the area and national park. On numerous occasions researchers sought him out to benefit from his firsthand observations.
A superb artisan, Nancarrow created woodwork, antler jewelry, and scale model and full-sized dog sleds. He helped many in the local community and willingly passed on his skills and knowledge to friends and neighbors. He loved where he lived. "I have always been lucky – very lucky- to live where I do, with the wife and life I have had," he said on several occasions.
Nancarrow is survived by his wife Ree, son Eric, and daughter-in-law Susanna. At his request, there will be no memorial service.