August 20, 1926 – May 4, 2018
Funeral services for William F. “Bill” Craft will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, May 10, 2018, at Shell Community Hall. Following lunch, a graveside service with military honors will take place at the Donald J. Ruhl Memorial Cemetery in Greybull, Wyo., at 2 p.m.
Bill was the fifth child born in a rural home just outside of Worland, Wyo., to Ukrainian immigrants Lena and Henry Craft on Aug. 20, 1926. Bill joined siblings, George, Margaret, Helen and Viola; shortly thereafter, Bill gained two younger siblings named Lloyd and Claude. As a child raised in the Depression, the value of hard work was inherent and sacrifice a way of life. Bill worked tirelessly with his family on the farm from a young age and received a formal education in Worland through his sophomore year of high school. Despite the grueling hours on the farm, Bill snuck in a couple of minutes here and there to pursue his fishing passion and volunteered his talents by singing in the church choir. At the age of 16, he moved to Denver and took a job selling vacuum cleaners until enlisting in the Army Air Corps in July of 1944. Bill was stationed in San Antonio and served as Medic until December of 1945 when his military career abruptly ended with an honorable discharge to return home to support his family through his father’s illness.
Soon after returning home, Bill’s sister, Helen, introduced him to the lovely, Ione Schmeltzer, with whom she worked at Stockgrower’s State Bank. Ione and Bill dated for five years and were married in Basin, Wyo., on Jan. 21, 1950. Following their union, Bill took over a maintenance position at E & D Cafe in Basin, which was owned by Ione’s parents, Edward and Della. No stranger to surviving hard times, Bill willingly worked concurrent jobs throughout his life; while working at the cafe, he was a repairman and assisted in the parts department for the local John Deere dealer and continued his farming career, often exchanging labor for rent. After moving to a farm south of Manderson, Wyo., in 1952 and renovating the diminishing home, Ione and Bill decided to start a family.
The following years were filled with God’s abundant blessings, a career change and a few leaps of faith. Between 1951 and 1961, Ione and Bill had nine healthy, beautiful children and Bill started a new career. In 1960, Bill ran for the Wyoming House of Representatives and in 1961, just after his youngest child was born, he headed to Cheyenne as a freshman legislator. In addition to sacrificing for his family, Bill sacrificed for his community during a tumultuous political climate in Wyoming’s history. During his time as a legislator, acting on the Labor Committee, Bill played a critical role in the development of the Right to Work bill. The drafting process of the bill was riddled with strife and danger. Bill and the other legislators endured threats to themselves and their families from the Teamsters, who made their way to Cheyenne to disrupt the progress. Nevertheless, he and the other valiant legislators persisted and the bill was eventually made law.
Embarking on a political career was not the only change Ione and Bill faced. In 1963, the couple bought a 640-acre farm and, with a partner, purchased Paintrock Lodge in the Big Horn Mountains. However, in the spring of 1967, inclement weather and a failing cattle market forced the sale of the farm, at which point they bought their partner out of Paintrock. The lodge became the mainstay for the Craft family. Summers were spent maintaining the lodge, entertaining guests, cooking and guiding hunters. Winters were spent in Greybull, Wyo., where the family finally settled. Years of toiling for scarce reward finally began to pay off in the 70s and 80s and the family could celebrate their business’ success and finally fulfill their hearts’ philanthropic desires by generously and consistently donating to a wide variety of charities, including the Catholic Church, and supporting their grown children’s endeavors without hesitation. After decades of faithful service to countless loyal guests, in 2006, Ione and Bill made a heartbreaking decision to sell Paintrock Lodge at the ages of 81 and 80, respectively, and retire in their family home.
Bill is remembered today as a pillar of fortitude – courageous in pain or adversity – not only for his impactful political service but for how he has taught his family the importance of working as hard as necessary to provide, making learning a lifelong mission, giving back to the community and those who helped you along the way and never backing away from a challenge.
Bill went home to Jesus on Friday, May 4, 2018, at the age of 91; he was preceded in death by his parents, Lena and Henry Craft, and siblings: George, Margaret (Akers), Helen (Benson), Viola (Faure) and Lloyd. Bill is survived by his incredible soul mate and wife of 68 years, Ione Craft; his brother, Claude Craft, of Basin, Wyo.; his nine children: Billy (Marva) Craft of Sheridan, Wyo., Mary (Mark) Butler of Doylestown, Ohio, John (Debbie) Craft of Basin, Wyo., Julie (Chris) Perry of Casper, Wyo., Connie (Tom) Gustafson of Shell, Wyo., Diane (Jerry) Breed of Windsor, Colo., Dorean Fink of Greybull, Wyo., Annette (Craig) Gersmehl of Cheyenne, Wyo., and Edward (Julie) Craft of Greybull, Wyo.; a remarkable legacy of 105 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren combined and numerous friends, who all cherish his influence in their lives.
Memorial donations can be made in Bill’s name to Bonnie Bluejacket Memorial Nursing Home, 388 Highway 20 South, Basin, WY 82410.
Arrangements have been entrusted to Atwood Family Funeral Directors.