Nov. 24, 1936 – April 20, 2019
Longtime and highly respected Helena businessman, William McBride Spilker, died on Saturday, April 20, 2019.
Bill, as he was known, was born to Alda G. and Harvey H. Spilker on November 24, 1936, in Red Cloud, Nebraska. He grew up in small towns in Nebraska where he learned the Midwestern values of honesty, hard work, keeping your word, and integrity in relationships. He graduated from high school in Minden, Nebraska, and the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He received a Rotary graduate fellowship and studied at Lincoln College in Christchurch, New Zealand. After returning from New Zealand, he married Barbara Jo (Bobby) Bible, and completed his military obligation at Ft. Knox, Kentucky and Ft. Benning, Georgia.
After his Army service the two of them returned to Minden where he joined his father in a crop and cattle feeding operation but his father’s early death took the joy out of that endeavor. For several years he did economic development work for the Burlington Railroad and Northern Gas Company in Omaha, Nebraska. In both these jobs, Bill traveled extensively in Montana, and he knew if an opportunity to move to Montana came his way he would take it. It wasn’t just the beauty but the Western value of independence that he found admirable. In the fall of 1969, Bill and Bobby moved to Helena where he became the Economic Development Director for the state.
Being a salesman at heart lead him to the private real estate business where he excelled. In 1977, he and a partner, Donald J. Erickson, started The Landmark Company. The real estate brokerage was based on just a handshake and lasted more than 30 years. He was named Helena Realtor of the Year and in 1991 he was named Montana Realtor of the Year. He was considered a “go-to” guy for working out difficult real estate transactions and more than once, one of the local judges asked Bill to help mediate a property dispute. He always liked best the young, first-time homebuyers because he thought home ownership could be an important aspect of a person’s feeling a real part of the community. He and Don were integral in the formation of Junior Achievement which helped high school students learn about forming and developing a successful small business.
His friends joked that they hated to see him coming because they knew they would be getting out their checkbook. He was a prodigious fundraiser for people and causes he believed in. Many Republican candidates benefited from this talent. Several people told him his conservative credentials would hurt him in his business in this mostly liberal community but he maintained that if a businessman was honest, and knowledgeable and competent in his business, his politics didn’t matter and he proved it.
His most important fundraising project was to serve as the chairman of the committee that raised the local funds for the expansion of facilities of St. Peter’s Health. The committee exceeded the goal. Previously he served on the St. Peter’s Health Foundation Board. He also served on the boards of The Florence Crittenton Home and the Helena Chamber of Commerce.
Bill became vitally interested in land use issues and he closely followed that legislation and was appointed to the Environmental Quality Council. After he retired he served twice as the doorman in the Montana House of Representatives.
The couple shared an interest in collecting western art and were strong supporters of the Northwestern Rendezvous of Art which, for many years, held their annual show in Helena. They attended important western art shows in California, Arizona, Oklahoma and Indianapolis and most enjoyed meeting and befriending many of the artists and the other collectors. He took on the project of raising money for awards for the NWR artists.
In 1991 Bill joined the Green Meadow Country Club where he became an avid, but not very good, golfer. For many years he and his group were early morning golfers which gave them a chance to get acquainted with the grounds’ crew. He came to understand that those employees didn’t receive tips as did much of the help so he started raising money from some of the members to give the grounds’ crew a Christmas bonus. It started small and was anonymous. The yearly fund has grown substantially but neither the employees nor the Board of Directors knows who gives or how much. Bill was also known at the club as part of a group that followed the rules, didn’t swear and included one woman, not a wife of any of them.
Bill is survived by Bobby, his wife of 59 years, and two sisters and brothers-in-law, Dr’s. Barbara and Howard Stowe of Reston Virgina, and Dr. James and Jean Peck of Lincoln, Nebraska. Several nieces and nephews also survive. He was a preceded in death by his parents and younger sister Nancy Tempero Van Pelt.
A Memorial Service will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, April 26th at St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral, 511 N. Park Ave. in Helena. A reception will follow in the lower level of the church. The family requests donations in Bill’s name be made to St. Peter’s Health Foundation, 2475 E. Broadway, Helena, MT 59601, St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral Foundation, PO Box 819, Helena, MT 59624, or the Lewis and Clark Humane Society, PO Box 4455, Helena, MT 59604. Please visit www.aswfuneralhome.com to offer the family a condolence or share a memory of Bill.