Thursday, November 12, 2020

Memories of Bill Rice (1943-2020)

Bill Rice, an outstanding athlete at Chadron High School and the University of Montana who became a lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps, died at his home in Beaufort, South Carolina, on Monday, November 9, a week before his 77th birthday.

Rice was born in Chadron on November 16, 1943 to David and Kathryn Rice.  Among his many achievements was becoming an Eagle Scout in 1959.  As a Chadron High senior in 1960-61, he was a starting end on the Cardinals’ undefeated football team, the starting center on the Class B state championship basketball team and won the Class B high jump by clearing 6-foot-3 at the state track meet.

He then attended the University of Montana, where he majored in wildlife biology and was a letterman on both the basketball and track and field teams.  He once held the Grizzlies’ triple jump record. That’s also where he met Jackie Cooper, who has been his wife the past 55 years.

Rice joined the Marine Corps in 1966, and served in Vietnam, the Philippines and Okinawa as well as on various U.S. bases.  He retired from the military in 1989 and he and his family had lived in South Carolina since then. 

He was preceded in death by his parents and brother David, who was the state high jump champion while attending Chadron High in 1957.  Survivors include his sister Sandra Vassar of Bellevue and brother Larry of Glenrock, Wyoming, as well as his wife, their three children and their families. 


A memorial service is planned for the summer of 2021.

Thanks to Con Marshall for sharing the above information


It seems that as we wander into the realm of "senior citizenry," we become more reflective about our lives – our joys, regrets, accomplishments, and our failures.  We embrace our families and close friends as we stumble into an era of increasingly sophisticated technologies that many of us don't fully understand.  And, thankfully, we begin placing greater value not on things, but on relationships:  our parents, "though they be gone," our spouses, children, and extended families......and our friends.

Those relationships are what many of us come to realize really count in our lives.

Bill Rice was a classmate at East Ward elementary school all the way through high school.   We didn't live in the same neighborhood, so we weren't close friends, but by about third and fourth grades, we often found ourselves together.  I recall playing in Bill's backyard at 810 King Street in March of 1953.  I don't remember who all was there or what games we were playing.  But the big news event of the day (allowing me to remember that day) was the death of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin.  The Cold War was a big deal in those days, and even 9-year-old kids knew of the Russian leader.

Young Bill Rice (1958-1966) school until the Marine Corps

It was sports that allowed Bill and I to get to know one another better.  Grade school basketball, summer baseball, and sandlot football.  By Junior High we became closer because of sports.  Bill participated in both football and basketball – but he was also involved in track and field, likely because his older brother Dave was good at it, too.   Bill and I both had big brothers involved in sports, and I suspect that we tried to emulate them.

Bill was quite involved in Boy Scouts, too, and became an Eagle in 1959; he seemed to have a real passion for hunting and fishing as well.

It was in high school that Bill really began to blossom as an athlete.  A "late bloomer," his athletic prowess peaked during his senior year.  He was our tallest player (at 6'3") and a leader in the Cardinals winning the Class B State Basketball Championship in 1961.  That spring, he also won the Nebraska State High Jump Championship!  

After high school, Bill went to the University of Montana on an athletic scholarship  He was a standout athlete in basketball, as well as track and field. He graduated from Missoula in 1965.

Bill met his wife, Jackie Cooper, in Montana, and they were married for 55 years.  In 1966, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving in Vietnam, as well as the Philippines and Okinawa, among other assignments.  He retired in 1989 as a Lieutenant Colonel, and the Rices made their home in Beaufort, South Carolina.

In 2010, the Chadron High classes of 1960 and 1961 held a joint reunion in Chadron.  For the reunion booklet, Bill reported that Jackie was working as a teacher/counselor and that he had sold the lawn maintenance business he'd operated for several years after retiring.

"We spend as much time as we can with our family...a week at the beach with all and also get together at Christmas for a couple of days...Jackie and I try to make a trip out west to see our families in Nebraska (Sandy), Wyoming (Larry), and Montana (Jackie's sister and dad)."

Of course the best thing about reunions is seeing old classmates and getting reacquainted while sharing stories about all the special moments we enjoyed while growing up in Chadron.

Bill recalled his time in scouting, exploring "C" Hill, King's Chair and the many trails in the pine hills south of the CSC campus, "skinny dipping" in the swimming pool, and re-visiting the many great experiences we shared as youngsters. 

Since we rarely, if ever, can maintain contact with all our old classmates throughout our lives, it's gratifying to live with the memories of those moments we shared as youngsters – and bask in the comfort of having known and having shared an important part of our lives with one another.

Those of us fortunate enough to have crossed paths with Bill Rice are all the richer for having known him.

     ~~  Larry Miller