William Scott Chapman, 89, of Gardiner, Montana, died peacefully on April 22, 2023, at Spring Creek Inn, Bozeman, Montana. He was born on December 20, 1933, in Fort Collins, Colorado, and taken shortly thereafter by dogsled to Snake River Ranger Station where his parents, Louise and Scotty Chapman, served in the National Park Service. That was the beginning of a fascinating and impressive life.
Bill, as he was known, grew up in Yellowstone National Park, summering and wintering in differing locations for years, believing he was a miniature adult as other children were few and far between. He grew up like no other kid got to, with adventures like chasing a bear that was chasing his pet Canada goose. Eventually he attended high school in Gardiner in the basement of the Eagle’s Hall. The students would bring their hunting rifles to school and stack them against the wall, ready to run out the door when someone would holler that the elk were crossing the Yellowstone River to Deckard Flats.
He finished high school in Bozeman, living in Ma Bridgewater’s boarding house. He first laid eyes on the love of his life, Loretta Lee, in the halls of Bozeman High School, and during their first year of college together, dropped out to marry. They worked at the OTO Ranch outside Gardiner, and later moved to the family acreage outside of Gardiner, where Dad remodeled a log chicken house to create the family home. He was drafted then and spent two years at Fort Sam Houston in Texas where he served as the Service Club illustrator. Loretta joined him, and their second daughter, Margo, was born there.
Over the next several years Dad designed and built a house in Gardiner, became father to four kids, and quit rodeoing to be an artist and illustrator which was his lifelong passion. He built Juniper Studio and taught oil and watercolor painting and created interpretive panels and commercial art for the Park Service, Montana Power Company, and many others. In the 70’s he wrote and illustrated a brief history of the Park in comic book format, “Yarns of the Yellowstone,” and Loretta distributed them to sales points around and throughout Yellowstone Park. He learned to fly, earned his Airframe and Powerplant certificates, taught ground school, and became a flight instructor. He especially enjoyed flying animal surveys for the Park Service and other and other agencies. He created a glorious stained-glass window for the Gardiner Community Church, rebuilt airplanes, and owned and operated Sagebrush Aero, a fixed-base operation at the Gardiner Airport for over 30 years. His dream was to build a helicopter, and it was two-thirds finished at his death.
Bill and Loretta loved traveling together and took many trips to Mexico and on Mom’s genealogy hunting trips. They loved having company sitting around the great fireplace Dad designed 60 years ago. The fireplace was the heart of the house he designed and built in his 20’s. His creativity and sense of design showed in everything he touched, from the house to the hangars to his paintings and illustrations (NOBODY could draw a horse like Dad could!) to his teaching - we remember him building 6-foot-high kites and box kites with heavy plastic and flying them off the travertine rims using rolls of binder twine. Life was not boring in his presence!
Bill loved his dogs, and they loved him. He loved his wife, Loretta Lee Chapman, who preceded him in death in 2014. He loved his kids, too - Linda (George) Carson, Margo (Randy) Kirchhoff, Dave (Martha) Chapman, and Doug (Pam) Chapman. He had twelve grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren with one more on the way. Dad’s brothers, Dan and Jon Chapman, were some of his best friends. Dan served his brother weekly for eight years, making sure Dad was safe and well-fed.
Our family deeply appreciates the love and kindness shown by the wonderful people in the Gardiner Community Church and in the community of Gardiner, with visits, firewood, cookies, company - we are in your debt. Especially during Dad’s last years in his hometown, the kindness of neighbors allowed him to stay in his house longer than expected. Our heartfelt thanks!
Dad’s life got rougher over the past eight years as his cognition couldn’t keep up with his body. He spent his last year and a half at Spring Creek Inn Memory Care in Bozeman, and the family wishes to express tremendous gratitude to the staff. They kept a special box of homemade cookies for him, they encouraged him in many ways including helping him to draw and paint (which he did!), and Dad accommodated to that life quickly and peacefully. Our greatest prayer is that Dad has joined Mom at the throne of God.
Private family services will be held.
Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service. www.dokkennelson.com [dokkennelson.com]