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Judge Bill Crane

We are almost certain no other LIR in the state has a former track standout and dive bomber pilot as its vice president. We do.

A Chippewa Falls native, Bill Crane played clarinet in the Chippewa Falls High School band, sitting elbow to elbow next to a girl clarinetist named Jeanne Vincent. One might say music brought them together. Then a homecoming dance had them setting down their instruments for a closer listen to the song in their hearts. They were married in California in 1946. This duo is still together, 58 years married, with three sons and a daughter to show for it.

Our membership can thank Jeanne Crane for inviting her husband to join her in LIR. His acceptance to serve as our vice president is already proving to be in our favor. He is trying to attend as many committee meetings as he can.

While studying government and international relations during his first year at Carleton College in Minnesota, a roommate convinced Bill to join the cross country track team. Bill remembers the reason – “Because it was easier than taking gym.” He insists he made the cross country team because the draft was on and lots of men were gone into the service. He was a high jumper, high hurdler and ran on the relay team. Meanwhile, he kept in contact with Jeanne who was in nurses training at Lutheran Hospital in Eau Claire. She graduated as an RN and went on to do private duty nursing. Bill left college to join the Navy. His squadron was attached to the carrier Shangri-La, based in Seattle and then in San Diego. Because the war in the Pacific was winding down, he saw no combat, and in 1947 he left the navy to resume his college education. He returned to Carleton College to finish his degree and went on to Law School in Madison where he graduated with a law degree in 1952.

His decision to become a lawyer had its beginning in the Navy. He was with a group of cadets who managed to get into a “scrape,” according to Bill. As he tells it, “A bunch of us were confined to quarters for about 10 days, although I hadn’t done anything like they thought I had. Three of us were innocent; another two did some damage. But all of us were swept up in this. I was really steamed. It wasn’t fair. After we’d sat for a few days I thought ‘they can’t do this to us’ but they did … we just sat there and by this time I got to thinking I want to be a lawyer and figure out how to get out of a fix like this.” Bill’s life from then on had a decided streak of fairness running through it. He was sensitive to injustice. A good ingredient for anyone entering the judicial system. His work as a young attorney favored the cause of the plaintiff, someone who feels wronged or injured.

Bill Crane started general practice in Oshkosh in 1952 after a stint with a firm in Rhode Island doing associate work, and then back to Oshkosh to join the law firm of Keefe, Patri, Stillman, and Nolan. Jeanne became a nurse, then an interior designer. Bill got his first real start when their chief trial attorney died unexpectedly at a Republican Convention in Chicago. Bill inherited a file drawer full of unfinished trial work and got his first baptism of fire. “It was good for me,” he says. “I got to start right in trying cases … which I liked. And I liked jury trials especially.” He was with that firm for 17 years as their chief trial man, and in 1968 was appointed to the bench by Gov. Warren Knowles, retiring from the bench in 2000. For some years he was the only circuit judge in the Fourth District.

Bill recalls “In 1978 they reorganized the court system and did away with the circuit court. It became a single-level trial court system, so all the judges were supposedly trial judges and handled almost every aspect of the law. Later they started to specialize in certain areas. Here in Winnebago County we now have six circuit judges who handle everything. When I first started, I covered cases in two counties, Winnebago and Calumet. Judge Arpin, from Neenah, was a colleague of mine for 12 years, but we were elected to serve in just one county, Winnebago”.

Bill liked to be doing plaintiff’s work; representing someone who was injured. He remembers there were a lot of automobile accidents in those days. Medical malpractice and product liability cases were coming into the courts. “I liked trial work and the discovery part of it,” he recalls. ”There is much more discovery today – with more dependence on scientific evidence. They discover and discover until they know almost everything. More cases are now settled out of court today, mainly through plea arrangements, than when I was trying them. There was no scarcity of colorful cases. I remember one in particular– the last case I tried just before I went on the bench. I was teamed up with a Milwaukee lawyer, Roger Trump, representing the Chicago, St. Paul & Pacific R.A. There was a fire at the Menasha Corporation which they claimed was started on a nearby railroad trestle. We spent a lot of time preparing, and as interesting as the case was, we lost. But you learn as you build, as you go, no matter the outcome.

While Bill Crane enjoyed some golf in his earlier years, today he walks slower but manages to get down to the courthouse one day a week to offer his judicial mind in mediating cases in small claims court. He enjoys this pro bono work. Jeanne enjoys homemaking, sewing, flower arranging, miniatures, and gardening. She delights in listening to classical music. Rather than returning to nursing after raising her family, Jeanne entered the field of interior design. These two careers meshed nicely when recommending wallpaper for hospital rooms. She knew instinctively what patients needed in that setting.

Bill’s reading tastes go from fiction to historical biographical accounts, Harry Truman and Samuel Adams his most recent. Bill says “I’ve attended some fabulous classes in LIR, ate in nice restaurants while on wonderful bus trips, and I enjoy socializing with members whenever I can.” Bill decided to join LIR after hearing Jeanne give high praise to many of the sessions she had attended. He hopes that we can spread the word too soon retired people out there, and to advertise our programs to a wider audience so that they, too, can enjoy the company of good people.

As newly elected vice president of LIR, he encourages members to consider volunteering time on LIR standing committees. We need to look no further than Bill Crane’s volunteer spirit for our own inspiration to step up and serve.