Obituary: William Rainey

William Rainey, 81, of Clancy, died of COVID-19 on November 11, 2022.

Bill was born on September 21, 1941 in Paterson, New Jersey. He was the third of five sons born to Harold and Marion Rainey.

He, his brothers, and their neighborhood friends had a mischievous mid-century childhood filled with adventures that would no longer be considered safe, or perhaps even legal, today. They fired homemade rockets and ran semi-frantically through Garret Mountain Reserve, a nearby park surrounding Lambert Castle. The family hunted and fished together and visited a family cabin on Lake Hopatcong in the summer.

He ran track and cross country at Clifton High School, graduating in 1959. He went west to study at Montana State University for three years before returning to New Jersey.

In February 1964 he joined the army. He served as an artillery forward observer on the border between West and East Germany and spent a lifetime collecting stories of his duties and his off-duty explorations of Europe by train, bike and skis.

After returning to the United States in December 1965, he returned to Montana, ended up working as a delivery driver for Hamilton Stores in Yellowstone National Park, and spent the winter of 1966 as a snowman removing snow from buildings in the Old Faithful area. While working at the park, Bill met Mary Anne Crouse, who became the love of his life.

The couple married on September 17, 1967 at Holbrook Congregational Church in Livingston, Montana, where she was raised. They moved to Bozeman so Bill could continue his education at MSU before transferring to Western Montana College in Dillon, where he received his bachelor’s degree in secondary education in December 1969. Mary Anne sometimes called him a permanent student, as he received elementary education certificates and completed coursework for an uncompleted master’s degree.

His teaching career took her to Harrison, Three Forks and Geraldine. Both particularly enjoyed a job at Heart Butte on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation, where Bill devoted himself to helping students in academics, sports, travel and pow-wow drumming. In 1978, a teaching position brought the Rainey family, which had grown to include two daughters, Anita and Susan, to Clancy. Putting down roots and establishing a stable family life became a priority.

Bill’s work extended beyond teaching, processing fuel tax returns, missing surveys for the forest service, working at a fire protection station, his own janitorial business and eventually returning as a janitor at Clancy School for 16 years before retiring in 2005.

In retirement, Bill was a member of a writing group that encouraged him to capture the stories he loved to tell. He also devoted himself to cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation at St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena, where he had trained for almost 20 years following open-heart surgery. He loved to travel.

However, he never stopped being an educator, offering his knowledge and love of learning as a 4-H leader, volunteer math tutor, Science Olympiad coach, and volunteer at Montana Wild. He especially loved sharing photos and information about birds.

He proudly claimed the title of “Professional Birder” for leading Birds & Beasleys birding walks, carefully planning trips, coordinating with other guides and welcoming new and experienced birders. He led the participants to the best places to show them interesting guest and resident birds.

As a citizen scientist, he carefully kept records of every species he discovered, then fed the data into the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird project. Clancy Library staff provided technical support and encouragement.

He enjoyed Last Chance Audubon programs and outings, including Christmas Bird Count. About a decade ago, he took an ornithology class at Carroll College – a gift from his wife – and joined a band of like-minded nature lovers who went out in search of birds every week and called themselves the Tuesday Morning Birders. He loved finding a rare bird, but in the hobby he also made a rare group of excellent friends.

Bill is survived by daughter Anita and son-in-law Scott Burke of Medford, Oregon, and daughter Susan Rainey of Lafayette, Colorado, brother and sister-in-law Noel and Edna Rainey of New Jersey, brother Harold Rainey of Minnesota, and 4 nieces and 3 nephews and their children. Of them, he was particularly close to Kelly and Tim Schiereck and their daughters Meghan and Erin; Kristen Rainey; Lisa and Adam Brownell and their children Ellie and Jonas.

He was predeceased by his wife Mary Anne and brothers Thomas and Robert.

A memorial service will be held at Clancy United Methodist Church on Saturday, November 19 at 11 am, followed by lunch. The service will be streamed live on the church’s Facebook page.

Memorial donations can be made in Bill’s honor to any of the above organizations he loved or to your choice. please visit to offer condolences to the family or to share a memory of Bill.