Former fire chief and lifetime Ridgefield resident Bill Bartel, 91, died Wednesday evening at his home.
Bartel was born in Ridgefield in 1919 and lived his entire life on the 250-acre family homestead.
In 1946 he married Bernice Lorang. Bartel and Bernice were married nearly 65 years and raised three children, Linda Hoffman, Larry Bartel and Pete Bartel, all of Ridgefield.
He was a farmer until the day he died, said his niece Mary Bochart of Ridgefield, and drove a tractor well into his 90th year. Bartel farmed strawberries, potatoes and hay, raised cattle, built pole buildings, worked as a longshoreman in Vancouver and ran a construction company. He always owned a dog and could often be seen driving the tractor with one in his lap.
In 1962, Bartel was instrumental in the formation of Clark County Fire District 12 where he served as chief for many years.
Bartel was interested in local politics and founded the Fair Tax League and campaigned for local and state candidates. “Bill was very generous,” said another niece, Evelyn Reese of Vancouver. “He was always willing to help people.”
Although Bartel never went to high school — as the youngest son in a farm family he was expected to stay home and work after eighth grade — he was all for education. “He liked school,” said Reese.
In 2004, Bartel sold 50 acres to the Ridgefield School District for a new high school. He received an honorary diploma from Ridgefield in 2004 during a special ceremony. Reese and Bochart agreed their uncle was disappointed he didn’t get to see the new high school built. Bochart said, “He never would have sold the land if it were for anything else but a school.”
Bartel was very social. Bochart said his friends and neighbors meant a lot to him and he was the anchor of the Bartel family.