It is with heavy hearts that we remember Bill T. Crawford – if it were not for Bill, and the men and women who worked tirelessly and often at great adversity alongside him, we would not be enjoying the wildlife heritage we have. They provided a model for the rest of our country that is still the best practice to be followed and improved upon. We need more people like Bill to carry the torch for future generations.
Thank you, Bill Clark, for the wonderful story below.
Bill T. Crawford walked on this Earth for 99 years – and left footprints in our city, our county and our state that no one person will ever fill.
Bill died Thursday, December 7, still deeply involved with his world of conservation, prairies, history and music, still with the enthusiasm and drive of a teenager, despite being wheel chair-bound.
As recently as November 20, Bill was in his usual front row seat at the year’s final Boone Concert Series performance at the Boone County Historical Society, enjoying the piano he has helped save, then guaranteed its future, just one of the many gifts Bill has given to our world.
Bill was born on a farm near the MKT Railroad between Moberly and Fayette on August 30, 1918, and by the time he was 17 had already decided to become what he became – a conservationist, historian, a voice in his community for almost a century.
His career spanned the history of the Missouri Department of Conservation as we know it today. When he retired in 1983 after 34 years as the first and only chief of wildlife research, he devoted his waking hours to the completion of the Boone County Historical Society’s museum and archive center and the restoration of the historic Maplewood House. He also was possibly the longest serving member of the Columbia Kiwanis Club, working at the club’s pancake day until he was 95.
In 1935, the time had come for the citizens of the state to take wildlife conservation out of the hands of the politicians and place it in the hands of professional wildlife managers.
Bill Crawford’s dad, a Randolph County educator, was one of the first lieutenants of Columbia’s E. Sydney Stephens, who led the charge for change. He assigned young Bill to nail up signs all over Randolph and Howard Counties. Bill’s hard work, along with thousands of others statewide, brought success. By 1937, a four-person commission – two Democrats and two Republicans – set the rules for the new professional conservation staff.
By 1942, Bill had a graduate degree from the University of Missouri and hired by the new department as a fish biologist and assigned to the Cape Girardeau area.
When World War Two ended, Missouri wildlife was looking at a bleak future. Deer, fish and turkey were in serious trouble, almost non-existent, unable to recover from half a century of habitat destruction, overkill and pollution.
In 1949, Bill Crawford was elevated to become the first chief of the new wildlife division and he proceeded to hire a staff which became known nationwide for its record of restoration and population growth.
The Hall of Fame list of wildlife biologists includes John Lewis, the turkey biologist who died last month at the age of 90; Dick Vaught, the goose guru; Ken Sadler, who started the turkey restoration, then moved on to upland game birds and rabbits; Otto Fajen, a leader in pond and small stream management; George Brakhage, a waterfowl expert; Leroy Korschgen, an expert in wildlife foods; Paul Jeffries, a bowhunting leader.
Other names that passed through Bill’s department – Glenn Chambers, Clair Kucera, Jim Jackson, Spencer Turner, Joe Dillard, Wayne Porath, Tom Russell – and who knows how many others my 85-year-old mind failed to remember.
All were leaders who made MDC the premier conservation department in the nation.
In 1966, Crawford teamed with Don Christisen, an upland bird biologist, to form the Missouri Prairie Foundation, which has been influential in saving what prairies remained in our state.
Don died in 2005, but was later inducted with Brakhage into the Department’s Hall of Fame. The Foundation honored Bill in 2016 for his devotion to the prairies, their history and their future. He had been selected five years earlier as one of the rare recipients of the Master Conservationist Awards.
During the 80th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Conservation Department in the Tiger Hotel, where it all started in 1934, Bill was honored by a three-minute standing ovation – the only person still around who was there at the beginning. Now there are none.
Most Columbians know Bill Crawford more for his work as a local historian and the driving force to see the Boone County Historical Society have a home of its own.
Today, that home is at 3801 Ponderosa Drive, a 30-year-old monument to Bill’s dedication to our county’s rich history.
As an example, when John “Blind” Boone’s famous piano, long forgotten and mistreated, found its way back to Columbia, Bill made sure it had a home at Maplewood House and, when the current history center and museum opened, the piano moved there, where it has a place of honor today.
To make sure the rebuilt piano has a home for decades to come, Bill set up a $25,000 endowment and, until his death, was on the four-person board to ensure that future.
The piano has been the center piece of the “Blind” Boone Concert Series for the past decade and Bill has always been on the front row, beaming with pride, often singing along with the performers.
At the November concert by the Stephens College theater and vocal departments, Bill was so moved he shed a few tears.
When Ol’ Clark heard that his buddy, Bill T. Crawford, had died, he, too, shed a tear – more from the happiness of having known one of Columbia’s Hall of Fame citizens than from the sadness of his departure.
The January 22 Boone Concert Series performance will be dedicated to Bill.
Bill outlived two wives, is survived by four children, six grandkids and four great grandkids, a conservation department, a historical society, a piano and a community of thousands who loved his stories of the past and his views of the future.
Visitation with family and friends will be from 5-7 p.m., Thursday, December 14, at Parker-Millard Funeral Home, 12 East Ash Street and a memorial service will be at 10 a.m. at the First Christian Church.
Thanks for the memories!