William Robert Young was born during a spring flood of Chester Creek while his parents lived at Westtown School, near Westchester PA. According to his mother, Mildred Binns Young, crossing the creek in their car was quite an adventure but they made it to the hospital “in time.” Bill, as he was known to most, lived the first ten years of his life at Westtown School, in the Dean’s apartment overlooking the Meetinghouse and the Granolithic, the long walkway through campus. For him it was an idyllic existence; life as a faculty brat was full of friends and adventures.
In 1936 his parents, Wilmer and Mildred Young, chose to move to the Mississippi Delta to help the American Friends Service Committee found the Delta Cooperative Farm, a bi-racial community in the deep South, so far ahead of its time that it was really in some ways a very dangerous place to live. During the Mississippi Flood of 1937, Bill and his family became “rivergees,” refugees living in a cotton warehouse in Memphis. By 1939 the Philadelphia Meeting had given up trying to help support such a precarious project so far from Philadelphia. Wilmer Young was given the task of finding a new AFSC project site somewhere closer to Philadelphia. Bill and his mother spent that year in Chapel Hill NC and the next year moved to the newly created Little River Farm near Abbeville, SC. That project was relatively successful in helping tenant farmers take control of their lives and the land they worked, diversifying crops while sharing a sorghum mill, a timber mill and other cooperative aspects of their lives. Bill made friends among an entirely new group of people and could tell stories in wonderful Mississippi and South Carolinian accents of his friends and neighbors.
From Little River Farm, Bill went on to Westtown where he was something of a legend (for example, he strung a telephone wire through the basement from Boys’ End to Girls’ End) but when he graduated in 1944 he was prime “cannon fodder.” For the next 6 months he had to work hard to achieve Conscientious Objector (CO) status, despite being a birthright Friend.
Eventually he got his CO status and was sent to several Civilian Public Service (CPS) camps. When the war ended in 1945, Bill was working at CPS camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains. When the COs were not released they went on strike. Bill was part of that strike; he drove the strike leaders to Washington D. C. in his Model A panel truck so they could plead their case before the Justice Department.
After a year of waiting for trial in L. A. and finally winning their case, the COs went back to civilian life. Bill began attending Swarthmore College. But when the draft was reinstated for the Korean “police action” in 1949, Bill chose not to register. He spent the next seven months in Danbury, CT federal penitentiary. When asked in later years what he was most proud of in his life, he said it was his conscientious objection, or civil disobedience. When interviewed by the Lewiston Tribune in 2017, he said, “Isn’t it alright to refuse to kill people if you don’t want to?”
When the U.S. government under President Ronald Reagan decided to step out of wind power, Bill retired from the Bureau and bought the world’s largest wind generator for $20,000. That generator failed spectacularly in 1994 but Bill decided to stay in wind power, eventually becoming president and half owner of Wyoming Wind Power.
After losing his wife, Liz, to suicide in 1964 he brought up his children on his own, sending all of them to Westtown School. Later he helped send three of his grandchildren to Westtown and attended all of their graduations. He was an important part of the social and environmental conscience of Wyoming, writing many letters to the editor and co-founding a chapter of the NAACP and a Community Action program in Casper. He attended the annual Scattered Friends Meeting at the Jensen Ranch near Chugwater and, later, the Wyoming Friends Meeting.
From 1970 on the “Place” on the west end of Casper Mountain was Bill’s long term project. While he didn’t build a cabin of clay and wattles, he recycled a government house and lived there when he wasn’t in Medicine Bow working on his wind project. He developed a water system with artesian springs, raised a garden, a few cattle and fruit trees. He never failed to enjoy the view across Red Butte and the Platte River, the stars and planets at night, the eagles circling as they soared home to Jackson Canyon (which he donated to the Nature Conservancy).
As Bill aged into his 80s he gradually retired and moved to Moscow, ID so that his daughter Karen could “care for him in his dotage.” For the last 15 years of his life he was a stalwart and beloved attender of Pullman Moscow Friends Meeting, “our resident atheist.” Even while he was bed-bound his final year he was always ready to spend time in Silence with Friends.
Bill had a copy of the Hampton Genealogy which traced his Quaker family back into the 1660s in England so one could say Silence was bred into his bones.
Bill thought of himself as a Renaissance man, with interests in science, art, music, theater, philosophy. When his children were grown, he nurtured his deep sense of beauty by collecting art prints. Tinkering was also one of his lifelong interests; he repaired everything from watches to road graders, fence chargers to wind generators. He spent much of his life exploring photography and took many beautiful black and white photos that he developed himself. Music was always important to him, and he was a reader, reading widely and avidly until his last year when dementia got in his way.
However, he was still happy to be read to, while watching the weather unfold outside his window and his wind sculpture spin. He finally slipped away on a cold winter day just before Christmas, peacefully, with friends beside him.
Bill was predeceased by his wife, Liz Riker. He is survived by his three children, Karen Ashton Young, Jeremy Laurence Young (Brandwina L.), Julie Russell (George Russell), 5 grandchildren, 6 great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.