Madison/Black Earth - William Hollis Putnam died at home, surrounded by his family, in Black Earth, Wisconsin on January 27th, 2019 at age 77, after a courageous battle with the blood cancer, MDS (Myelodysplastic Syndrome).
Bill was born in Madison, Wisconsin on July 17, 1941, to Willard H. Putnam and Mary Elizabeth (O'Brien) Putnam. He attended St Raphael and Blessed Sacrament Grade Schools and Edgewood High School. He graduated from Milton College in February of 1965, with a double major in History & English. He also did graduate work at UW-Madison. He was united in marriage on June 6, 1964, to Patricia Barnes and they had two children, William and Rachel.
Bill shared his love of history when he began teaching at Madison Central High School from February, 1966 until the school closed in June, 1969. He coached hockey, including Central's City Championship Team in 1969. Bill was on the faculty at West Junior High School for two years, and then taught US history at West Senior High from the fall of 1971 until his retirement in June, 1999. Bill held his students to very high standards. He guided them on how to take notes, write essays, term papers and grasp complex concepts such as ETHOS. He had the ability to reach students who felt marginalized or who needed additional resources to succeed. He was famous for his "Scholars' Row": and for making his class fun to be a part of, even if your interests did not revolve around history. There was never a dull moment in Room 234, especially when sending students searching for a board stretcher or 100 feet of shoreline. Bill's students knew he cared for each of them as an individual and always made everyone feel accepted and respected. He encouraged respectful discourse in differing political and social points of view.
Bill also coached hockey and soccer for West from 1975 to 1982. Through his teaching and coaching, Bill positively influenced thousands of students. He said he never felt like he went to work; he absolutely loved being a professional educator and loved his students.
Bill was also an avid outdoorsman learning to fish from his Father-in-law, Bob Barnes in the Boundary Waters Canoeing Area from 1964-1980. He fished in Northern Wisconsin for over 50 years enjoying "Gods Country", on the lakes with family and friends: George Chryst, Dave Mergen, Roger Wiebe, Steve Shaw, Bob McClellen, Skippy Skrobot, Carl Reuter, Bob Martens, Dick Walser, Lee Ackley, Paul du Vair and Karl Solberg. Fortunately, Bill shared his extensive knowledge and love of the lakes near Boulder Junction & Manitowish Waters with the family's younger generation. He and his wife purchased a cabin in Boulder Junction, WI Township in the year 2001, and he personally worked on its renovation. "Put's Place" became the favorite gathering spot for family and friends. Bill's love of deer and duck hunting was fostered by close friend Bob (Gretchen) Martens in the mid 1960's. Bill's hunting spots included the Martens Farm, the Barnes family's school house near Dodgeville at Bethel Horizons, Ron Olson's "The Swamp" near Muscoda and most recently the Cusic farm. Bill also had a lifelong love of cars. Growing up working on and driving everything from his first car, a 1951 MGTD, to his 1967 GTO. He was a member of the Vintage Sports Car Driver's Association (VSCDA Group 1) from 2000-2014, racing at Blackhawk Farms and Road America. Always the chef and host, Bill was featured in a December 25, 1988 article in the Wisconsin State Journal entitled: "Large Meals Suit Bill Putnam Just Fine." He loved "feeding the troops." Bill was known to many as a lover of Rock-n-Roll and especially for his ability to dance like Elvis. He was generous, kind, thoughtful, hard-working, supportive, creative, introspective, always learning new things, a fun man to be around and a consummate gentleman. He was the quintessential Renaissance Man.
Bill is survived by his wife, Patty; son, Bill (Emily) Putnam and daughter, Rachel (Ron) Olson; grandchildren, Aidan J. Olson, William (Liam) Putnam, Heidi & Josephine Putnam and their mother, Heather Maxwell; sisters, Patty Chryst, Penny (John) Richert; sister-in-law, Connie Fox; brother-in-law, David Barnes (Vicki Rabe); and many nieces & nephews, Rick Chryst, George (Shelley) Chryst, Cathy (Bob) Greco, Paul (Robin) Chryst, Mary Ellen (Dave) Strauser, Susan (Dan) Corwith, Annie (Sam) Ballweg, Seth (Elena) Barnes, and Brianna Barnes, 17 great nieces and nephews, and 6 first cousins. Also surviving are close family friend, Lare Arra and his family, Cynthia, Liam and Ella.
Bill was preceded in death by his parents, Willard & Betty Putnam, his mother and father-in-law, Bob & Christine Barnes, two brothers-in-law, George Chryst, and Stan Fox, as well as his cousin, Bill O'Brien.
The family would like to thank Bill's medical team in Madison: Dr. Rob Olson, Dr. David Hei, Karen Huseby-Moore, NP, the staff members at the Carbone Cancer Center, the Infusion Center at Meriter Hospital, and the IMC/8th floor. Special thanks to David B., RN and Kim A.,RN. The Heartland Hospice representatives (Denise, RN) and Lisa Mahoney's very special network of in-home caregivers. Heartfelt appreciation is also extended to Bill's medical team in northern Wisconsin: Dr. Demet Gokalp Yasar, and staff members at the Marshfield Clinic and the Howard Young Medical Center in Minocqua. Thanks to "Team Bill" for their tireless support.
The family requests that memorial donations be made in the name of Bill Putnam to any of the following: *Marshfield Clinic (for the Oncology Dept., at Minocqua) Attention: MCHS Foundation, 1000 N. Oak Ave., Marshfield, WI 54449 *Howard Young Foundation, Surgical Services, PO Box 470, Woodruff, WI, 54568 *Meriter Foundation, (for the Infusion Center), 202 S. Park St., Madison, WI 53715 *UW Carbone Cancer Center, c/o 4th Floor Dr. Hei, 1 South Park St, Madison WI 53715.
A Celebration of Life/Irish Wake will be held in the spring, with an announcement to follow at a later date. Please sign the Tributes section on the Cress Funeral Home website.
After the sudden death of a long time fishing partner, Bill wrote this Reflection:
When you are sitting there at the cabin,
The moon shining across the lake;
A boat skimming by,
A fisherman on his way;
This boat leaves no wake
Only an etching on the moon.
And over the water, the call of a silent loon.
Around the next point an anchorage is sure;
Then we'll ALL fish TOGETHER around the next point.
Cress Funeral & Cremation Services
3610 Speedway Road Madison
CELEBRATION OF LIFE to be held on Sunday April 28th from 1 to 4pm, at Zor Shrine Temple on Madisons West Side. Please join us to gather and share memorable moments.
Just a tremendous teacher and influence on my life. I remember learning so much in Mr. Putnam's 9th grade history class, not the least of which was how to find your own passionate connection to history. That passion for learning and teaching about history has followed me throughout my life, including now, as a professor at Amherst College. My condolences to the Putnam family -- Bill was a force of nature. And thanks for humoring me with that poem, Mr. Putnam...
Mr. Putnam was one of my favorite teachers as a first-year student at West back in 1994. He taught me to love history and thinking about the forces underling political change. I don't have a great memory for much from high school, but I really remember several moments of teaching because of his humor and gift for keeping me engaged. I actually just happened to be looking for his information to write him a note when I found out that he had passed. I'm so sorry I missed the chance, but I'm sure he knew how many students he affected so deeply.
The Krone Family (Marsh, Muriel, Carrie and Kathy) have so many fond memories of time spent with The Putnam Family (Big Bill, Trishy, Little Bill and Rocky), ranging from Bill grilling the world’s best hamburgers to rides in the various MG’s to bribing the auto mechanic to fix my car “UP NORTH” with cases of beer. Although Marsh (“KRONE”) and Bill (“PUTS”) were first cousins, their friendship equaled that of brotherhood, sealed with mutual love and and nurtured with lots of humor along the way. Marsh cannot provide a tribute due to his own declining health, but he asked us to express his heartfelt sympathies to Trishy, Bill, Rocky, Patty, Penny and Rich, and all the grandchildren and beyond.
As a student at Madison West Senior High School, “Mr. Putnam” was not my freshman history teacher (but I had another great one, Mr. Wiebe), many of my friends and fellow classmates used to then rave, and still do today, about what an excellent teacher he was. I know several of my classmates went on to pursue legal and teaching careers because of his influence as they reported “he taught us how to think.” “And boy, nobody could tell a story like Puts could” … said one recent classmate upon learning of this passing. There must have been some kind of magic happening in Room 234.
Bill, rest easy, rest well. You will always be remembered as one of the great ones.
Love, Carrie Krone Halle
Krone and Puts
Patty, Bill, Rachel and AJ - thank you for sharing this amazing man with all of us. Each time I saw him, he had a smile on his face to welcome me and an ease about him that drew me in. He listened, he laughed, he inspired.
On my magical trips to Madison from Maryland, Linda and my brother Bill Keys always offered us “Different things to do.” Bill would treat me to meet Bill Putnam and his Lionel train layout. It was always fun to see these trains and talk with Bill Putnam about model trains. He was always inviting and friendly, and we always looked forward to seeing him on our trips to Wisconsin.
I am so sorry to hear about his passing. Our prayers are with his family, he was a friend to all
At West High, whether discussing history, politics, school policies, traditions, and students, Bill was ready with quips and candor, and above all, a smile and laughter. I never left any exchanges with him without feeling better than when we started. When visiting the Putnam house I always enjoyed Patty’s warm welcome. And then Bill, Billy, and I descended to our club men in the basement (often accompanied by Rachel) where they worked on their model railroads. On every visit there I was overwhelmed at first by the size and complexity of railroad President Bill’s project. Within a minute we were trading model railroad questions, problems, and suggestions to make our hobby a truly bonding experience. We discussed layouts, motive power, scenic techniques, freight cars. My brother, who lived in Maryland, also joined the club when he was visiting us. These memories return when I hear or read Bill Putnam’s name.
And then I smile and consider myself lucky.
Dear Trish: you and Bill were good friends to me as well as wonderful colleagues at West. The obituary was beautiful. My deepest condolences on his passing...gone too early.
Such a great friend, and so blessed that it endured over such a long time. Roger and Puts taught together at Central, then across the hall at West for 27? years. He introduced Roger to Canadian fishing, then to the North Woods. We were neighbors in the Regent Street neighborhood as well up north. He helped with many projects, and he cooked wonderful meals. Puts and I made lasagne for his hockey team. May he fish in cold clear waters with bountiful walleyes and his friends Roger and George. RIP Puts!
He wasy favorite teacher at West. The reason I started liking history. I still love history because of him. He was just great. My mom, Dorothy (Esser) Gates remembers him from highschool and said he was nice to everyone she thought he was a great person for that. Everyone was equal to him no matter who your friends were. They were in the same class. Just an all around great guy. I feel lucky that he was my teacher. My condolences to the family. Love and prayers. Peace.
To the Putnam family. I am so sad to hear about Mr Putnams passing. He will always be alive as he lives in all of us who were blessed to have him as a teacher, coach and friend. I know he and Mr Chryst and my Dad are are pulling in the Walleyes in Heaven I did always want to check his desk to see if he really had a “commie gun”. Hahaha. Trishie, Rachel and Bill. Please know that the Wiebe’s are always here for you Hugs and prayers.
Bill Putnam was a terrific teacher and a major reason I went on to pursue two degrees in (Russian) history after graduating from West High in 1986. I will always how he informed us, on the first day of our freshman year, to put away our pencils. Pencils, he explained, were for middle school; in high school, you should use a pen. Every day, he pushed us to put in our best effort. He is sorely missed. My regards and sympathy to his family.
David E. Miller
I am sorry to hear of Bill’s passing. I always enjoyed coaching against him.
Very simply - a great guy with a great wife and great children. You will be missed but always remembered. T. Roach
Mr. Putnam's enthusiasm for teaching and specifically for history was infectious. He was one of the best teachers at West High School, which is saying a lot because we were blessed with many fantastic teachers there. It sounds like he lived every aspect of his life with this same zest and that he will be truly missed by many. My condolences to his wife and family. Thank you for sharing him with us.
My very heartfelt condolences to Mr. Putnam’s family. I feel so blessed to have had “Puts” as a teacher. His classroom was one you always looked forward to walking in to. What a beautiful obituary of an incredibly full life.
-Teri Lynch Repins ‘80
In 1973 this weird sport 'soccer' came to West High. It was going to be a 'trial' to see if it could become a varsity sport. So there we were, a ragtag bunch of guys from other sports trying (unsuccessfully) to keep a ball in the air. Coach Putnam walked onto the field and stood there watching us for awhile with a big smile on his face (probably suppressing a laugh) and proceeded to teach us to play. I can't imagine the patience it took to explain to football players why you couldn't just tackle people or explain to hockey players why it was a foul to check someone into the goal. But he did it and somehow we got better. Maybe even good. He taught us to play soccer but also gave me a lifelong love and appreciation of the game. That's great coaching. Thanks Mr. Putnam, you were a great guy and a great coach, you'll be missed.
If you ask them, most people can recount "the best teacher they ever had". The one who inspired them, engaged them, changed the way they viewed the world. Their favorite teacher. I imagine Mr. Putnam must have been this singular teacher for scores of his students, because he certainly was for me.
Bill Putnam treated everyone with equal respect, regardless of their age. he encouraged civil debate and challenged ideas without demeaning personal beliefs. He was creative, fun and an enthusiastic participant in teachable moments. He was approachable and fair, and managed to make even a bunch of West Jr. High 8th graders feel special and heard. His good humor and kindness will remain with us always.
My heart goes out to Mrs. Putnam, his children and their entire extended family. And William and Rachel, thank you for sharing your dad with thousands of his other "kids" - students who were privileged to call him teacher, mentor and friend.
The Schoolhouse hunting group
Such a great teacher, Mr. Putnam was my favorite! Thinking of you all during this difficult time.
Bill sorry you lost your dad. Prayers for you and all your family. Paul Wydeven
Mrs. Putnam, Bill and Rachel-I’m so sorry to hear about Mr. Putnam. I have great childhood memories of him and the neighborhood. What a neat man, I wish I had known him better. Thinking of you all. God Bless, Matt Murphy and family
Me. Putnam was my teacher at Central, such a wonderful and patient teacher who was able to captivate and hold the interest of his students like no other teacher could. He dealt with those of us who thought it was just a learning and taught us it was an education , a window to our future and an experience one would never forget. I was recently telling my grandaughter , a junior at Madison East about Mr Putnam and the mark he left in my life , how he made learning a fun and interesting experience and taught me the value of education. Truly The Very Best Teacher I had the great blessing of having. Rest In Peace Mr. Put
I write today knowing Uncle Bill “Puts” would probably rather I get a cold MGD and clean my reels for the upcoming fishing season. However, for those of us still here I want to express what Bill meant to me…
Naturally as family Bill and I had a relationship my entire life and we always hit it off in my estimation because we had so many mutual interests. However, our relationship hit its most meaningful chapter in the summer of 2016. I was coming off a rough undergraduate experience and took the summer to regroup my life in the Northwoods. I will forever cherish drinking red wine and cold beer as Bill attempted to feed me what seemed the whole grocery store worth of food. Then we would talk about our mutual passions history, fine wines, and especially north country fishing.
That summer took an interesting turn when I took my last football scholarship check and bought a 1980 14 foot Alumacraft with a 1978 25hp Johnson two-stroke outboard. When I arrived unannounced at Bill’s cottage with my boat he gave his trademark laugh. I knew we were in for a good time. That summer we worked on that boat rigging the electric running lights, riveting in accessories and installing a new locator. One day we were swearing trying to get the electric cables to the front of the boat for the front running light. Bill once again gave me his patented laugh and said to me, “It isn’t really your boat until you make some memories with it.” I can say no truer words have ever been spoken. Since then I have had many memories in that boat. However, no single memory stands out more than the last and only time Bill and I fished in that boat. It was a dark snowy late autumn day on the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. As we concluded the trip I had a weird but peaceful feeling as we rounded Bonies Mound with the snow coming down. I knew it would be my last time fishing with Bill. As the outboard hummed I just took in the moment wishing we would never get to the landing. I knew then Bill was right, it was moments like these that make a boat your boat. Bill was the right person at the right time in my life. While I will certainly miss Bill. I look forward to getting back in the boat and making more memories knowing Bill’s spirit dwells somewhere out beyond the shadow of the pines.
Billy; so many experiences we shared, from best man in our wedding to everyone's favorite uncle.You set the bar higher for all of us to follow. You made this last walk with great courage, dignity and love of and for family. I am proud to call you my brother.
Mr Putman was by far my favorite teacher in high school. I will always remember the day one of the guys threw his desk out the third floor window. It was bedlam in that room for a moment after that. Mr Putnam barely raised an eyebrow!
I enjoyed catching a few minutes with Bill in the teachers’ lounge at West in the mid 70s. Bill often had something that he was complaining about.
Bill's Obituary, along with the various tributes and photos, serve as powerful reminders of all that he accomplished during his life. Bill had the capacity to build relationships with others, and thus make a difference in so many lives. I was very blessed to have had him as my brother. I will never forget what a courageous and informed patient he was during his final illness. He was committed to doing everything within his power to maximize the time he had, and he was very realistic when he determined that he would deal with this by "keeping his horizon short." Those of us touched by his life will be inspired to carry on his legacy, and thus he will also influence future generations.
You will forever be a part of our fond memories of Madison Central High School. You were a caring understanding teacher and amazing hockey coach. You knew how to communicate with your students and your players. You took hockey to a new level. When Central was closing, every school wanted you to run their hockey program. We will forever be grateful. May you Rest In Peace 🙏
We are truly going to miss Uncle Bill & will always remember him especially UP NORTH at the cabins. He absolutely loved up north fishing & cooking. Thanks for all the great history lessons, recipes & secret fishing spots. One of our most memorable times together is when Uncle Bill taught Katy, JoJo & Keller how to make a "Fun Fort" on the back lot. Truly was a fun-bonding time! We will miss you!
Love, Paul & Robin
"The Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles." Isaiah 42:31
Mr. Putnam. You were with out a doubt my favorite High School teacher. Of course it helped that you coached hockey before I was on the West High team but you had a way about you that I think everyone that knew you appreciated!!! RIP my friend. I enjoyed our many conversations. -Shaun Lund
Bill was my History teacher at Central Jr High, 1965-1967 and also in High School at Central High 1968-1969, and also at Madison West, 1970, my senior year, always an interesting class, and a fun educator, a class you never had an urge to "skip"!!!
Rest in Peace Mr. Putnam, I will always have fond memories of you.
Dick Van Abel
Connelly Springs, NC
I was inspired by “Puts” as “History Teacher Extrodianaire” and “Terrific Hockey Coach” while I was at Madison West 1973-76. He had a way of inspiring that I have tried to model. We all wanted his bright mind, ability to ask a question and hearty laugh. A laugh well lived is one that changes the world and Coach did that through all he taught. Thank you Coach!
Bill Putnam was my History Teacher at West Junior High School back in 1969 or there abouts. He was an awesome person, friend and teacher. He taught the subject matter well with enthusiasm and also spoke about many lessons in life. He was a great Hockey Coach at West High School! He was well -loved by all of his students. I know I was truly blessed to have known Bill as an Educator, Mentor and Friend!!
With Love and Hugs,
Mary Lou McCormick or Mac as he used to call me!
I have been blessed to have such a wonderful, wise, giving " big brother;" my Brother Bill. My friends and I drove him nuts when we were young. Now the years have passed and I have received unconditional love from him. Bill wrote this reflection after George died and the last line: "Around the next point an anchorage is sure; then we'll ALL fish TOGETHER around the next point." Dear Brother, your ANCHORAGE is SURE.
Up north memories
Uncle Bill introduces the next generation to fishing at his cabin on Rudolph Lake.
The cousins remember Bill
The cousins remember Bill.
Mr. Putnam was one of my favorite teachers. I remember dreading my first history class as a freshman and he kept us all engaged with the word "History" meaning "his story". I wish I could remember the whole breakdown but I do remember that people use the word "freedom" instead of "sovereignty" - "You may do whatever the law does not say you cannot do". Woah! Only an amazing teacher could get someone to remember that after 32 years! His class was so fun.
Coach, Thanks for giving me the opportunity to play high school Hockey! Wihout this opportunity I would have probably dropped out and would never have gone on to college. Thank you! Thank you for chewing me out for being stupid and smoking on ash st. vs suspension. Thank you for not suspending me for coach Chopper seeing me at Tubby's Place during the season (hey I was 18 already). I think of those events often. And lastly, thank you for righting the wrongs of 1980 by making them right in 1981.
Mr Putnam..there wasn't a day in his class where a student wasn't encouraged to be engaged and learning. He had a way of connecting with students while also holding us to high expectations for learning. He was also incredibly fun. Those are qualities only the very best teachers can master in their craft of a lifetime of teaching. I will remember his smile and his great laugh.
No time on earth is long enough to share with those we love,or to prepare our hearts for good-bye.
Trish and family ,We are so sorry to hear of Bill's passing.He was one of the nicest men that we have ever known. God bless you,
Mike and Jill Bowles
No words can describe. Most of my teachers and professors I forgot as I exited their classroom for the last time. But Bill Putnam impacted my life and those of thousands of others. I have thought about him and thanked him out loud regularly for the past 35+ years. We ask if we made an impact on the world and if our life will have meaning. Mr. Putnam, you had an impact on an entire generation and helped shape us into the men and women we are today. Thank you sir.
I have probably told more stories about my freshman year history class than almost any other class I took in high school. Thirty five years later and I still remember with deep respect and appreciation the way in which Mr. Putnam pushed every student to do their best. I recall once going to speak to him (indignantly) about a B I received on a test. Another student received the same grade for a much less comprehensive essay. He cut me off, asked if this was my best work, and then in response to my silence, told me he wasn’t grading me against other students—he was grading me against myself, and that this was not my best work and therefore wasn’t getting an A. I worked harder after that, and it was the last B I got from him despite taking positions in essays that were political polar opposites from his. So it’s also where I learned that you can disagree as long as your positions are reasoned and supported. I appreciate the room he made for passionate disagreement in his classroom, and the way it made history relevant and exciting. His impact on me was profound. My sincere sympathy to his family.
“Puts” made such an impact on my life. I will never forget him. I turned 50 on Sunday. It makes me so sad he passed away on my half century birthday! He was my history and home room teacher. My last name was McCormick and every day he would say to me “Be careful Mac” We had a lot of special talks and he gave me good solid advice. He was such an amazing man! I am blessed to have known him! Condolences to your family as I know he will be missed. I will never forget him!
I will never forget being in one of his history classes, I hated history but Mr Putnam always had away of making all those overhead projector notes alittle more interesting. We meet him our freshman year but he was a tea her that was always there. Thanks Mr Putnam!!
I always enjoyed Bill. He had a twinkle in his eyes that put me at ease. He was always kind and friendly to us "younger cousins". May he rest in peace. A great man, a life well lived!!
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