The family of William F. Cates announces his passing on June 13, 2020 in Vancouver.
William Francis Cates was born to James Earl and Catherine Elizabeth (Simpkins) Cates on July 18, 1926 in Prior Lake Minnesota. He was the second child and oldest son in a family of seven children. As a child of the Depression, Bill learned to hunt and fish at an early age and these became life long passions. His parents farmed and worked a dairy operation in the town, and Bill helped with this as he grew. He attended elementary school in Prior Lake and finished his high school in nearby Shakopee.
Bill was 15 years old when Pearl Harbour was attacked in December of 1941, and as soon as he finished high school in 1944, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a Gunner’s Mate on a minesweeper in the Pacific theater.
When the war was over and his enlistment done, Bill returned to Minnesota. He helped briefly with the family business, which by then had turned to home construction, and then began undergraduate work at St. John’s University near St. Cloud. After earning a Bachelor of Science, he was accepted into the University of Minnesota’s school of veterinary medicine, graduating with his DVM in 1954. This was the same year he married his sweetheart Ladonna Marie Scharf.
Bill worked a short time in the area while he and Donna started their family, but in 1955 they headed west to Mitchell, South Dakota, where he tried his hand at private veterinary practice. They were there a couple of years, and then returned to Minnesota, where he started on his PhD. He finished this in the early 1960s, working as an instructor at the U of M veterinary college at the same time.
All this time, the family was growing, and Bill and Donna now had five children to chase after. By the mid sixties, big changes were in store. The University of Saskatchewan was opening a veterinary college, the first in Western Canada. In 1965, Bill was offered a professorship there and the family moved to Saskatoon, where his youngest child was born, making it a family of six for Bill and Donna.
Bill enjoyed taking his family on weekend outings to places like Beaver Creek and the Forestry Farm. Sundays were special days that often involved a visit to the Victoria Ice Cream Shoppe and ended with the family gathered around TV to watch Walt Disney or Jacques Cousteau. His son Jim commented he knew Dad never played hooky from work because he always came home smelling like a cow pasture. When his children were young, it was common to see one or more of them in tow when Bill was called out to attend a sick animal.
Throughout their marriage Bill and Donna were inseparable. Their passion for dancing included several decades as members of The Happy Wanderers Square Dance Club. Bill was a quietly committed Catholic. When the family first moved to Saskatoon St Phillips Neri Church was still an unrealized vision and masses were held in a school gymnasium. Bill and Donna contributed towards building the church, supported the church’s projects in South America and were among the first lay people to dispense communion.
Bill played a pivotal part in getting the Western College of Veterinary Medicine started. He taught at the U of S and worked his practice on the surrounding farms and ranches. His specialty was bovine theriogenology - herd medicine and reproduction. He was very active in research and much respected in his field, and worked at the college until he retired in 1994. He was professor emeritus for several years after that, but he and Donna enjoyed retirement and made a number of trips to Arizona and Texas, always trying to fit in a little bird watching wherever they went. They bought property at a lake north of Saskatoon, and enjoyed their time there as well.
He and Donna moved to Vancouver in 2010, where their daughter Kitty helped them out as they grew older. Bill suffered a stroke in 2011, and moved into a care home, and the family was glad that Donna was able to join him in the same home shortly thereafter.
Bill is predeceased by his beloved Donna (2015), and his siblings Jack, Anne Mae, Rosie, and Jim. He is survived his older sister and her husband (Kate and Duke Schrader), his sister in law (Pat Cates), his youngest brother and wife (Larry and Betty Cates), his six children (Steve, Cindy, Kitty, Jim, Barb, Michelle) and by his 4 grandchildren (Joel, Ryan, Zoë, and Connor).
Due to Covid concerns, a date for Bill’s Celebration of Life is yet to be determined and may not occur until next summer. In the meantime, a few family and friends have shared stories and photos of him at www.kearneyfs.com. The family invites and encourages all who wish to add a story or condolences to do so. Because Bill was so grateful for the military GI Bill that paid for his 11 years of higher education, a scholarship has been set up in his name. In lieu of flowers, donations of any amount would be greatly appreciated:
Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary #6208 (Bill Cates),
Attn: Treasurer Mary Lou Lannon,
16494 Red Oaks Rd SE, Prior Lake, MN, 55372-1834
Remembering my Father (by daughter Kitty Cates)
When I think of you Dad, a cascade of parenting vignettes come to mind.
On the night before Easter when I was five I woke to find my older sister wasn’t in her bed. When I went looking, I found her, my older brother, mom and you in the basement making Easter eggs. I was crushed to learn the Easter Bunny wasn’t real but most of all I was upset I hadn’t been included in that secret! But your response to my tears resolved this crisis. You helped me cut giant rabbit feet out of cardboard and then the two of us created bunny tracks with them in the snow leading to our house. When we’d finished, you scooped me into your arms and said “tomorrow morning you can point these tracks out to your younger brother and sister and from now on you can help make the eggs too!”
By the time I got to the ripe old age of 8 or 9, you’d started a new tradition whenever my sisters or I had a birthday. You’d take us out for a fancy dinner date. I loved that it was just the two of us decked out in our finest-you in your suit, me in my dress. While I’ve long since forgotten what we ate on these occasions, I’ll never forget the first time the waiter asked if we wanted drinks. You looked at him and then at me and replied, “Yes I think the young lady would like a Shirley Temple”. I sat up taller and prouder because you were ordering me liquor….or so I believed for years and bragged about to my friends.
When our family first moved to Saskatoon in the mid sixties, you and mom took us on many family outings. Your favourite things included taking us kids camping and fishing. Remember how you’d wake us up just before sunrise (around 4:30am) so we could throw our lines in the water while the fish were really biting? We were all very skinny children and even in the middle of summer, it’s freezing at dawn. Your remedy for the cold was always the same. “Eat a sandwich” you’d say. Dad, if your listening, a sandwich never cut it! And your daughter Barb wants you to know “neither did that luke warm tomato soup in your thermos”.
Throughout my childhood I was often in doctors offices or the ER with allergy-related infections caused mostly by itching and scratching my hands and inner elbows raw. This made it difficult for hospital nurses to insert an IV and painful for me. What I recall most of these incidents was you never left my side. One particular time when I was 6 or 7 years old, the nurse made so many failed attempts at getting the IV in a vein, that Mom couldn’t handle my wailing anymore and burst out crying herself. You sent her home to get a good nights sleep while you stayed. To take my mind off my fear and pain, you read to me about the funny antics of “Amelia Bedelia” and clowned around until you had me rolling with laughter. Your efforts worked so brilliantly I recall the nurse rushing back in to warn my laughing so hard risked pulling out my IV!
Dad, your last years after your stroke in 2011 weren’t easy ones. Many times as I was feeding you or pushing you out into the sunshine in your wheelchair, I’d think how we’d come full circle. For a man so proud and independent as yourself that must have been tough. But your indomitable spirit constantly amazed me. I marvelled at your capacity to genuinely discover joy every day even when you were incapacitated or in pain. In that last photograph my husband Jock took of you before Covid restrictions you have a huge smile on your face. Like so many other evenings prior to that one, the two of you were enjoying a visit with some of the other guys at the care home. This is the way I’ll choose to remember you: laughing and smiling. Wherever you are now Dad I hope you’re still smiling and at peace.
God daughter Jackie Cates:
Bill was my godfather and my father Jack’s older brother. My fondest memories of Uncle Bill centre around learning so much from him. Such as names of native plants in Minnesota, like milkweed. He taught me how to make mud to alleviate bee and horsefly stings. Like when he took Kitty and I with him once out to where Cates Edition is now in Prior Lake. Kitty got stung, so he took care of it. All the while calming Kitty down. (Does she remember that?) (Footnote: yes she does)
Memories of Brother Bill
by Larry Cates (younger brother by 11 years)
As the youngest member of our family of seven I have the fewest memories of my older siblings. I am not one to embellish on the events of the past but I will do my best.
I can vaguely recall in the early 1940’s when our Dad still had the dairy. He would deliver milk around Prior Lake. Bill and Pete (Anna Mae) would stand on the running boards of our old panel sided truck and when Dad would come to a customer, the one that was on that side of the road would jump off and run the milk or cream up to the front door and pick up the empties to refill. We used glass bottles back then, cleaned, refilled and resealed with cardboard caps.
After our Dad purchased a little John Deere model H tractor, he would rent Bill and the tractor out to the local farmers to cultivate their corn fields. Bill would also use it to pull the hay wagon when threshing time came around at Uncle Bill Simpkins’ farm. That was a whole day family affair as we all went up to the Simpkins farm.
Bill also worked in the sugar beet fields around Shakopee. He and some of his buddies would get off early from high school and pick beets before heading home.
He graduated from high school at 17 and enlisted in the Navy for a three year period. He and most of his buddies (Buck Arndt, Gene Simpkins, Ed Simpkins, Ole Smith, Frenchie Bueadette to mention a few.) went into the service at that time. He did Boot Camp at Sand Point Idaho, then he spent some time in Florida. (I believe it was during this time that he contacted both Scarlet Fever and Rheumatic Fever.) From there he was shipped overseas and was aboard a Mine Sweeper off the coast of Japan. He was a Gunners Mate and one of his jobs was to set up on the bow of the ship and to explode mines with a 30:06 rifle. He was an exceptional shot. After returning from the service he and brother’s in law Duke Schrader and Bud Ryan worked for Dad as he was trying to start up in the construction business. They took on the jobs that most others did not want to do such as re-roofing old barns or other farm buildings.
Mom’s house was the gathering spot for Bill’s friends, especially if they were in trouble. One night after a fracas at Rosie’s Tavern some of them came back up to the house and I can recall Mom picking beer bottle glass out of Ole Smith’s head. Bill had to pack ice on his own eye which turned from black to a yellow with purple highlites.
The first fall home he started college at St. John’s and then switched over to the U of M to pursue Veterinary Medicine. I remember him coming home at night to study and after a few hours of that he would take a break and read a Tarzan comic book “to relax his mind”.
One of the departments at school was experimenting with making different types of cheese. Bill would often bring home samples of Minnesota Blue Cheese, usually one of the worst smelling kinds. He would invite Father Barry down to share with him but dad couldn’t stand the smell of it so they had to go outside and sit on the back porch steps. During his last few years at the U he tutored some of the football students to help them keep their grades up.
Bill’s first new car was a 49 Chevy. When he bought it home he also bought a bucket of undercoat tar. It was beyond his budget to have the car dealer put it on so the job fell to me to cover “every square inch” under the body and fenders. My only failure was I did not get it on thick enough. I also got to put the first 500 miles on it. All at under 50 miles per hour. His girl friend, Donna, wanted to ride along on one of the trips and do the driving. Bill had said no one but me was to drive his car so she had a bit of a bent nose at that.
We did a lot of squirrel hunting those fall seasons while he was going to school. He taught me how to hold the gun while team hunting and how to shoot accurately. Also, I was allowed only seven bullets per hunt. The limit was seven squirrels so there was one bullet per squirrel, no wasting ammunition.
My sister Roe told me about Bills first date with Donna. Donna was one of Roe’s good friends. Bill invited Spike and Roe to go along. Roe had no idea who Bill’s girl was until they stopped to pick her up. It was Donna, much to Roe’s surprise. The dating was kept on the quiet side. Donna’s step-father did not like Bill. When Bill and Donna were married it was a secret affair. I was his Best Man. It took place in the Twin Cities and just our family and a few close friends were there.
Bill did some instructing at the U of M for a short time and then went to Emery SD to set up a practice. He loved traveling to the different farms and would always carry the double barreled shot gun along for pheasants. One day in his haste to get a pheasant he pulled at the gun to get it out and blew a hole in the car floor and shot out the front tire. There were a few hard years in the Dakotas and Bill gave up his practice as the local farmers had no money to pay for his services.
They returned to MN where Bill again did instructing at the U of M. In 1965 they moved to Saskatoon where Bill got to establish a Veterinary Medicine Department.
Bill and I rarely wrote letters but did get to visit when passing through or during family reunions.
Bill and I rarely wrote letters but even when we went our separate ways we stayed in contact. Betty and I moved to Alaska in 64 and on our trips back to MN we would stop in Saskatoon to see Bill and his family. Other times we would see them in the summer when the whole Cates family would gather in Prior Lake for re-unions. When Bill retired, he and Donna would visit us on their way to the southern states for their annual “snow bird winter vacation”.
Rest in peace brother. I’ll miss you.
Fellow Veterinarian Professors Meg and Jim Smart (as told by Meg)
William F. Cates (Bill) was an unforgettable person, my dear friend and colleague. He was loved and respected by his clients and by the hundreds of veterinary students he taught. Bill loved a “hands-on” field-work approach to teaching. Every year he went to get dairy cows for the students to follow their reproductive cycle. He also ventured to ranches in Alberta and Saskatchewan to do pregnancy testing with the students. He always had a story to tell upon his return.
Bill had a keen sense of humour. My husband Jim was also one of Bill’s fellow colleagues and a vet professor at the University in Saskatoon. On one occasion Jim had surgery on his hand and was in hospital on a Jobes pump to help reduce the swelling. He was under strict orders from his surgeon to rest in bed. Being the same size as Jim, Bill decided to put on Jim’s work coveralls and and visit the pharmacy where the surgeon’s wife worked. She didn’t know Jim personally but when she saw Jim’s name on the coveralls she immediately phoned her husband to report that Jim had just been in the pharmacy and was going out on a call! Right away the surgeon signed Jim’s hospital discharge papers and ordered the nurse to discharge him immediately. The nurse confronted my still bed-ridden husband to ask if he’d been out working. Thinking she was joking, Jim replied, “Yes of course I was.” She responded, “Well then you are out of here!” When the truth was revealed, the surgeon was very apologetic, but we all had a good laugh.
The pranks went both ways. One ongoing prank involved Bill continually sneaking into my office to put his cigar butts and ashes in the ashtray where I kept my spare change. After this happened a number of times I thought “I’ll get you Bill Cates”. When I knew he’d be away from his office for awhile, I snuck in and sewed the legs of his work overalls together.
For years, Bill wore the same old decrepit pair of work loafers that became central to his persona. One day, courtesy of his colleagues Frank Bristol and my husband Jim, the beloved shoes went “missing.” Bill was really flummoxed by this, and it stayed a mystery until some time later when they reappeared as a bronze statue award for theriogenology students (which was Bill’s area of expertise). Band of Brothers!
On a more serious note, Bill supported and represented me at the University Review Committee when I needed to find out why I wasn’t deemed qualified for promotion to full professor. Upon further review, I was promoted the following year because of Bill’s advocacy and his strong sense of fair play and justice. This was probably related to his tour of duty as a Marine in Japan at the end of WWII.
I visited Bill in Vancouver shortly after his stroke. This was an emotional time for both of us as he held my hand and we cried; what a wonderful visit we had. For another visit I baked two Saskatoon berry pies as they were Bill’s favourite. He shared the first one but hoarded the second!
We love you Bill. Our lives were enriched by both your and Donna’s friendship. Do not forget the square dance of life.
Meg and Jim Smart
Albert Anderson- U. of S Vet student in the first graduating class (1965-1969)
This note is written from a very fortunate member of the very first class to register at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).
We were like a family … students, faculty, and staff. Dr. Bill Cates was one of the family, respected by all and a definite mentor to those of us entering large animal practice. His casual and friendly demeanour earned immediate respect. Fifty years later at reunions he is still referred to as Dr. Cates, not Bill. Rarely a lecture went by where he just couldn’t avoid adding a story on hunting or fishing. His practical approach to training Veterinary students in the 1960’s is still a topic discussed, reminiscing about the 6:00 a.m. sessions catching cows at Olympic Meats to learn palpating skills. His interest in students was very genuine and led to many contacts for practicums and job offers. The interest continued after graduation with long discussions and updates upon chance meetings.
Personally, Dorothy and I have connected with his family in Vancouver which helps keep the memory of his enormous contribution to the values I tried to copy in my 35 years as a large animal practitioner. I believe the reason he was so well respected by our Class of ‘69, was that coming to Saskatoon was an unbelievable opportunity for all of us students, including Dr. Cates.
Photos ( click unto photo to see full picture)
Photo 2-Bill on the far left in the back row is the oldest son in a family of seven. Year 1939 Photo 3 - Bill on the right with cousin Ed in the Navy 1944. Photo 4- Bill “dating" Donna in the early 1950’s while she spent 3 years in a TB Sanitarium Photo 5 - Pheasant hunting with first born son Steve in 1956 in the Dakotas Photo 6 - Bass Fishing in Prior Lake with son Jim in 1961. Photo 7 -Proud father of six in the mid 1970’s. Back row: Jim, Donna, Kitty, Steve. Front Row: Michelle, Bill, Barb, and Cindy Photo 8 - Cutting his 25th wedding anniversary cake- Bill style Photo 9- Testing out his sleeping bag in the early 1980’s for the Musk Ox Preservation Project in the Northwest Territories Photo 10- One of the many cartoons Bill would routinely make in order to bring a bit of humour to his lectures.