News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

William “Bill” MacDonald September 3, 1944 — November 2, 2019

William “Bill” MacDonald passed away on November 2, at the age of 75, in his Sisters home with family and friends at his side. A devoted father and loving husband, he will be remembered for his perceptive forethought, generosity, and witty sense of humor. Bill’s greatest passion was opening the door to music and personal accomplishment for his students at Sisters High School, teaching them the art of lutherie; the refined hand-crafting of stringed instruments.

Bill was born September 3, 1944, in Schenectady, New York. He served four years in the U.S. Air Force during the Viet Nam War era as an aircraft electrician. Bill went on to earn an aviation degree and begin his career as a charter pilot captain. An adventuring spirit carried him overseas, then across the United States where the beauty of Oregon captured his heart. Bill continued his aviation career in Oregon. Here he found himself on the flight of a lifetime, piloting a planeload of USGS geologists, on May 18, 1980, to document and photograph the major eruption of Mount Saint Helens.

Bill met and wed his wife, Rita Garolis, in Portland. Thereafter he proudly declared himself “an Oregonian by marriage” and the two eventually settled in Sisters.

Bill is survived by two sisters, Kathy Hart and Patricia Onderdonk; his wife of 36 years, Rita; and their son, Graham MacDonald.

Being a true Renaissance Man, Bill was adept at most any pursuit he put his mind to. Amongst other interests he was a sailor, a wood craftsman, a philosopher, builder, fisherman, inventor, musician, a bird-watcher, computer engineer, and ultimately a Master Luthier. The art of lutherie truly harmonized Bill’s musicality and myriad talents into a vocation which challenged and rewarded in equal measure. His devotion to perfecting it never wavered.

A member of the Guild of American Luthiers, as well as the Big Island Ukulele Guild of Hawaii, Bill taught Sisters High School students instrument-building for 12 years in partnership with the Sisters Folk Festival Americana Project. Parallel with guitar-building classes, Bill brought to life a ukulele-building program at Sisters High School. His enthusiasm in mentoring the Americana Project students through the successful completion of their own guitar or ukulele expanded every semester.

Hearing a student strum their first, tentative chords on an instrument they had devoted endless hours to create, a twinkling grin lit up Bill’s face as if to say “See? I knew you could do it!” In May 2019, Bill was presented the Americana Folk Award for his contributions to the Americana program and My Own Two Hands. This honor he cherished with humbleness and gratitude.

A Celebration of Life will be held at 10 a.m., Thursday, December 12, at St. Edward the Martyr Catholic Church, 123 Trinity Way, Sisters, Oregon. A reception at the church immediately follows, with memories of Bill to share.


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