William Gene "Billy" Plank was born in Salem, Mo., April 30, 1935. He was the son of Theodore Roosevelt and Virginia Capps Plank. A brother, Thomas, blessed the family with his arrival a few years later and thus commenced many happy years of family life in Salem. Bill was possessed of a quick wit and an insatiable curiosity for all things academic. He went off to University of Missouri at Columbia at the age of 17 and embarked upon a lifetime of learning and teaching. After earning a Master's Degree in French at the University, Bill decided to fulfill his dream of living in the Wild West and obtained a teaching position in Hardin, Montana. After a year there, he was off to California, even further west, and taught in various elementary schools, eventually securing a three-year position teaching high school in the Yakima Valley. Wishing to pursue further studies in French, Bill applied to and was accepted into the French Literature program as a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington in Seattle. He was awarded his Ph.D. with highest honors in 1972.
Having finished all of his studies, Bill remained at Montana State University-Billings for forty-plus years, teaching over 5,000 students, many of whom greeted him in the streets of Billings or at the grocery store having remembered with great fondness their classes with him even 30 or 40 years previous. Bill was first and foremost a teacher, but his many scholarly pursuits include three published books, Sartre and Surrealism, Gulag 65, and Quantum Nietzsche, along with almost 300 research papers which he presented through the years around the country.
At Montana State University, Bill conceived of a program to bring lecturers of world-class quality to Billings. He had a way with words and always an offer of a trip through Yellowstone Park and managed to gift Billings with the presence of outstanding visiting scholars. The lectures became a fixture on campus and the program went on for eleven years until ill health forced Bill to give up his participation.
At a time of financial difficulties for the state, Bill proposed a reorganization of the University system, which at that time was composed of five major units and several community colleges. The changes Bill proposed went into effect, and the present Montana State University-Billings owes its name to Bill who came to the institution when it was named in fact "Eastern Montana College."
Many wonderful friends survive Bill. Richard McKamy, his mountain climbing buddy, Robert Garretson, a fellow wilderness lover, Tom Regele, Bill Gibson and Neil Jussila. Bill's very best friend, his dog, Django (named after the famous guitarist Django Rinehart), survives him but barely. His beloved upright piano afforded Bill many happy hours both in the company of his good friends and during solitary hours at home. He was a gifted and knowledgeable pianist who played entirely by ear and could answer almost any request to play an old song or ditty.
Bill passed away Tuesday, April 27, 2010, and leaves behind his wife, Darrah Link Plank; his son, Theodore R. Belcher; daughter Bianca; daughter Shannon; son Gabriel Louis (Renee); daughter Darrah Anne; and brother, Ministor Thomas Plank (Carol) of Jefferson. Grandchildren Hawkeye, Thorne, Meadowlark, and Floriane and niece Andrea and nephews Christopher and Michael also survive Bill. Aunt Pearl Wells and Uncle Cleo Plank survive their nephew, Bill.
A memorial service in Salem will be held Saturday, May 29, 2010, at Cedar Grove Cemetery at 4 p.m., with dinner to follow.
In honor of Bill's academic life, gifts may be sent to the Montana State University-Billings Foundation, 2615 Virginia Lane, Billings, Montana 59101. Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary in Billings, Montana was in charge of arrangements and condolences may be left for the family at www.michelottisawyers.com.
Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary, Billings, Mont., is in charge of arrangements