Fort Salem
Fort Salem
Almost everyone has a Bill Bear story. Or two. Or 10.

Surely, everyone in Pricetown and Buford has a Bill Bear story.

What a true character. And what a personality.

Bill always seemed to me to be bigger than life. Maybe that’s why I was so surprised to learn that Bill passed away this week in Bradenton, Fla. He was a young, energetic and enthusiastic 75.

When I first met Bill – in the mid 1970s – he and my dad were in the early stages of building their respective businesses. To say the two of them could hold court with the best of them would be an understatement.

Neither one of them knew a filter. (Unless it was at the end of the cigarettes they both smoked with too much frequency.)

At this week’s meeting of the Highland County Board of Commissioners, Board President Shane Wilkin acknowledged as much. He shared a story of taking his wife, Kristy, to Bill’s home while on the campaign trail.

“I told her: Bill does not have a filter,” Shane recalled. “He will say whatever is on his mind.”

He always did.

Bill also did more favors for more people than anyone will ever know. In fact, he did several for me.

But he shunned publicity or recognition of his generosity. When he was helping to restore the old Buford school (where I have played and coached basketball in days gone by), Bill told me about it. Two things he said he did not want: Government involvement and any photos of him passing checks.

I suspect he wrote quite a few checks for the Buford school restoration.

On two occasions, Bill was kind enough to perform the wedding ceremonies for two of my three sisters. The first took place in grand style at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Peacock Pavilion. Bill drove down and did a splendid job uniting a Catholic and a Methodist – and two of my best friends in this world.

Later, I asked Bill for another similar favor. At first, he laughed and said he was “out of the marrying business.” When I explained the situation, Bill simply said: “I’ll be there.”

And he was. In fact, it seems like Bill was – is – always there when someone needs him.

In 1993, he was there.

My friend Jamie Burton wrote this tribute to Bill’s family on the Turner Funeral Home website: “I will always be grateful for Bill, especially because of one very snowy March in 1993 while I was driving home from Athens after covering the Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs basketball team during tournament play. My car broke down just west of S.R. 104 on S.R. 32, and while driving west, I probably passed Bill going 60 mph on snow-covered roads. He could have driven right past, while me and Rory Ryan were walking along the highway, as we were trying to get someone – anyone – to stop and give us a ride. But because Bill was nice enough to kindly stuff two extra people in an already-full car, we didn't have to hike all the way back to Hillsboro. Take care and may you be reminded of Bill's generosity and kindness over the coming days and weeks. God bless your family during this time of grieving.”

Yes, Jamie, Bill saved us that day. There must have been eight of us packed in Bill’s sedan. He took us right to my front door – and refused to accept a dime. That was Bill.

Because of Bill, I met Paul Gardner, midwest regional director of The Archaeological Conservancy. Paul had this to say about our mutual friend: “Bill was such a dynamic person he seemed like a force of nature. It's difficult to imagine the world without him. He was exceptionally generous to The Archaeological Conservancy, both financially and with his time and labor. That Highland County can enjoy Fort Salem as a park is due to his generosity and community spirit. Getting to know him and develop a friendship was an unexpected privilege, and I always enjoyed the time I spent with him. Visits to Fort Salem will always be a bit bittersweet now.”

Such was the impact and impression that Bill had on those who knew him.

Bill Bear was credited with clearing and restoring the natural beauty of the Fort Salem earthwork across from his home near Pricetown.

In 2005, the Archaeological Conservancy purchased the 19-acre tract of land.

Mr. Gardner wrote about Fort Salem in "American Archaeology."

"The Fort Salem earthwork, also known as the Workman Works, was created by a group of Ohio Valley Indians (with both Adena and Hopewell cultural influence) sometime between 50 B.C. to AD 500. It is a circular enclosure about 450 feet in diameter that surrounds a conjoined mound. Due to a long period of the property being used as a simple pasture, and the presence of beech trees up to 10 feet in circumference, the site has been described as one of the best preserved earthworks remaining in private ownership in America. The Ohio Historical Society nominated the site to the Historical Register of Historic Places."

This property was cleared and preserved due to Bill Bear’s vision and tireless efforts.

On my first visit to Fort Salem, Bill was my “tour guide.” He drove me around at breakneck speed in his ATV four-wheeler, a Ranger, maybe. I kept telling myself that if Bill wasn’t scared, there was no reason for me to be. But I might have been – just a little.

The best of my editorial notes that day had to be destroyed due to content and publication restrictions. Suffice it to say, that Bill was, indeed, unfiltered.

What a man.

Bill was a U.S. Army veteran, serving with the 82nd Airborne Division, and retired as a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force National Guard.

I can only imagine Bill in his days as a master sergeant. He certainly had the “Sgt. Carter” voice for it.

On one of his trips out west, Bill was in southern Idaho and he called me. He said something like “I’m in Hailey (or Arco), Idaho and you’ll never guess whose name I am reading on a plaque.”

I replied “Jack Hope.”

Bill replied with a few choice words and then asked how I knew.

“I’ve been there,” I said.

“Well, if you know so damned much, get back to work,” Bill ordered.

I laughed for an hour.

Thanks, Bill. For everything.

You, Sir, are The Man. Take it easy on St. Peter for a few weeks.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.