Obituary of Deacon William Joseph Petzak
Deacon William “Bill” Joseph Petzak passed away, Friday, March 24, 2023 at his home. He was “Bill” to the end, with a character too large and a life too big for a short obituary. As anyone who knew him will remember, Bill was something else.
He was born on June 22, 1940 in Manistee, Michigan to Joseph and Marie Petzak. He was the younger of two children, joining his sister, Louise.
Bill had to have been “Bill” from the start because his mother apparently sent him outside— always. Memories from Manistee remained important to Bill throughout his life. He loved to tell stories about catching more perch from the fishing piers of Manistee than any dudes with their fancy fishing poles, riding like a pirate in the overhead buckets that delivered sand to container ships, and especially about the day he ran away to see the circus. In his telling, he left the house at dawn with no money and no plan. After walking the miles to and from the circus grounds and enjoying the show, he entered the house well after dark. His parents never noticed he was gone. He was seven and already “Bill” not William.
Bill moved to Boise with his parents and sister in the summer of 1948. In the foothills and neighborhoods of Boise’s north end and along the then mostly undeveloped Boise River, he continued to spend most of his days outdoors, sometimes with his father and neighborhood friends, but often and maybe even mostly, by himself. Later in life, he loved to tell stories about how he developed his skills as a wing-shooter and fisherman along the banks of the Boise River.
He played basketball and ran track at St. Teresa’s Academy in Boise, graduating in 1958 and moving to the University of Idaho where he completed a degree in forestry in 1962. At St. Teresa’s, he met the love of his life. He and Catherine were married in 1961. For the next 62 years, Catherine would do her best to civilize him. Children, friends, visiting priests, anyone who gathered around the dining room table in McCall, probably heard her exasperated, “Bill, not at the dinner table,” at least once. He was exasperating, infuriating, and impossible, really. And he was just as hugely loving, generous, and kind. Bill and Catherine didn’t do things by half measures.
Following the progress of Bill’s career with the Department of Lands, the Petzak family moved first to Orofino in 1962, to Coeur d' Alene in 1966, and then to Sandpoint in 1968. By 1977 at the time of Bill’s final promotion as Area Supervisor of the Payette Lake District in McCall, the Petzak family had grown to seven kids: Rachel, Susan, Joe, Nick, David, Anne, and Sarah moved into the “McCall house,” and the doom of about a million perch was sealed.
Working as a forester was as close to a perfect fit as Bill could have found for his working life. The mountains and timberlands of north and central Idaho rose to his need for adventure and the constant effects of being outside. From cruising timber in heavy snow, to fighting fires and planting trees, Bill relished every hour he could spend in the woods, and he loved to tell stories about his exploits in them, especially if there was a joke involved. At his retirement party from the Department of Lands in 1997, after 35 years of service, Bill was given the “burned Pulaski” award for his failure to put the “control” in controlled burns. He loved it.
Bill sometimes begrudged his “desk job,” but as supervisor of state lands in central Idaho, including 30,000 acres in and near McCall, Bill’s later professional life was focused by the directive to generate revenue from endowment lands, and he never wavered from his commitment to manage Idaho’s public lands according to the best advice and information available to him. The decisions Bill made sometimes haunted him, sometimes they were even met with disbelief around his own dinner table. After a long day, he would always have to come before Catherine’s judgement: “Bill Petzak, you did what?” The job could be stressful, but he loved it, and especially the chance it afforded to know just about everyone. Bill was always Bill, whether he was previewing a timber sale with Governor Andrus, negotiating with leaseholders around Payette Lake, or trying to sink one of his always odiferous and much-loved fishing boats with perch.
Driven by his faith, his commitment to service, and his seemingly boundless energy, Bill was ordained as a Deacon of the Roman Catholic Church by Bishop Sylvester Treinen in 1980. He served the church in this capacity for 38 years, in McCall and later at St. Mary’s in Boise. Many will remember the annual fish frys that Bill hosted at Our Lady of the Lake in McCall, serving the entire parish with fish, most of which he had caught and cooked himself. Many others will remember the annual Deacon campouts he helped to organize at Grand Jean, Idaho where he built the largest campfires anyone had ever seen, played cards and horseshoes, and told story after story at high volume. Later in his life, Bill particularly enjoyed opportunities to perform marriages and baptisms, always ready and eager to share the wisdom he had gathered over the years as a husband and father. Eventually, the years, Catherine’s love, and a lot of prayer did manage to wear off a few of his edges.
In 2000, Bill and Catherine moved from McCall back to Boise, where it had all begun. He hardly slowed down for years. He expanded his work with the church and continued to study theology, earning an MA from Loyola University. He worked in his garden and on his tiny “ranch” with two cows, four sheep, and with Drake, his last, much-loved dog as his constant companion. He spent more days fishing than ever, and he and Catherine cooked many more hundreds of dinners for family, friends, and anyone that appeared at their door. The dining room table brought from McCall sat 16 at a squeeze, and it was often not big enough, especially when the family gathered at the holidays.
In later years, as Bill finally slowed down, his love of Idaho and all the people he had served and worked and fished and hunted and lived with were with him to the end; even through the tough days of dementia, he loved to talk about the past and the people and places he had known. He forgot almost all of his jokes and had to push a walker to his last casts as a fisherman, but he never failed to brighten when the doorbell rang.
Bill passed away on March 24, 2023 at home in Boise with his wife and children by his side. He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Marie, and his daughter, Susan. He is survived by his wife, Catherine; children: Rachel (Mike) Irish of Coeur d’ Alene, ID; Joe (Kim Wilkerson) Petzak of Middleton, ID; son-in-law, John Lee; Nick (Jennifer Bryan) Petzak of Oberlin, OH; David (Molly Blemler) Petzak of Star, ID; Anne (Clancy) Anderson of Boise, ID; and Sarah (Quinn) Osgood of Wallowa, OR. He is also survived by his beloved grandchildren, great-grandchildren, numerous nieces, nephews, brothers-in-law, and sisters-in-law, all of whom held a special spot in Bill’s heart.
Funeral services will be held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Friday, March 31, 2023. A rosary will begin at 10:00 A.M. followed by a funeral mass at 11:00 A.M. A luncheon will be served at the Parish Hall following the services. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Idaho Food Bank.To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Deacon William Petzak, please visit Tribute Store