Bill Gast

Formerly of Baker City, 1946-2018

William Richard Gast Jr., 71, a former Baker City resident, died April 4, 2018.

The world lost a gentle, yet strong man who quietly carried the burdens of a difficult and challenging past while forging success, by any measure, as a husband, father, civic leader, and friend, his family said.

Bill will be interred during a private, family ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery later this year.

William Richard Gast Jr. was born on Aug. 18, 1946, at Chicago. He was the third of five children born to William Sr. and Huldah (Kilmer) Gast. As a child from the South Side, Billy was loyal to his mother, a teammate to his brothers, protector of his sister, and always on the move. Thus it was no surprise that he decided to volunteer for the Army immediately after graduating from Calumet Senior High School in 1964.

Bill attended basic training as an artilleryman at Fort Sill in the summer of 1964, where his audacity led him to volunteer to become a paratrooper. After graduation from U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Bill was assigned to C Co., 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade. May 1965 meant a deployment to Vietnam and, on Nov. 8, 1965, Bill fought in Operation Hump — the first major battle of the Vietnam War, which was a deadly and oft-forgotten precursor to the more famous Battle of Ia Drang.

Following Vietnam, Bill received orders to the remote duty station of Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. There he met a cute and irreverent young woman, who was much more interested in horses than Army boys. Eventually, his good looks, charm, and relentless effort finally got her to look his way. On a snowy March 17, 1968, Bill married Bonnie Marie Burns at the little chapel in Dugway.

Bill’s marriage and new look on life propelled him. He and Bonnie soon left Utah, horse trailer in tow, and arrived in Carbondale, Illinois. There, he would be the first in his family to attend college, thanks to the G.I. Bill. Through sheer grit and determination, Bill graduated with his Bachelor of Science in forestry in 1971 from Southern Illinois University. Motivated by his academic achievement, Bill and Bonnie decided to move “back home,” where Bill enrolled in Utah State University to earn his Master of Science in forest management.

It wasn’t long before Bill felt the call of the outdoors, so he found work with the U.S. Forest Service. One of his first postings was in Oakridge. Again, the young couple moved. Shortly thereafter, in 1974, his daughter, Amanda, was born. Two moves later, in 1976, his daughter, Gretchen, joined the family.

Bill was an ambitious man who succeeded at balancing both career and family. He volunteered for duty during every forest fire and accepted any challenge he was presented. As a result, he was offered promotions into the senior management levels of the Forest Service.

Although the jobs called on the family to constantly move around the Mountain West, he made certain that his wife and girls always knew they were safe and secure. He never failed to attend his daughters’ sporting events and music recitals, while also ensuring that they knew how to throw a football, erect a camping shelter, prevent erosion while hiking, escape from a bear, explain “offsides” vs. “false start,” and drive a stickshift.

In 1988, Bill made his final move with the Forest Service, serving as the deputy forest supervisor for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Baker City. While there, he became an avid and active member of the Elks Club, Rotary Club, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Baker County, Baker High School Boosters, and Veterans of Foreign War (VFW).

Additionally, he found an outlet for both his personal motivations and athletic drive through weightlifting. He was a natural, and he soon began participating in, and winning, regional Masters-level tournaments.

Sensing his family had finally found their home, Bill happily settled in Baker before retiring from the Forest Service in 1999. At that time, Bill became a successful real estate agent and he and Bonnie continued to enjoy friends, civic commitments, and their horses in Griffin Gulch.

In 2014, feeling the itch to move one last time, Bill and Bonnie decided to seek the sun in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. It was there that Bill could finally relax and stop moving. He enjoyed playing catch with his grandsons and watching his granddaughter turn cartwheels.

Throughout his journey as a devoted husband, loving father, and proud “Pop-Pop” to his grandchildren, Bill bravely and quietly carried the heavy, silent wounds of his experiences in war. It is only with his passing that he is finally able to shed his pack, and rest peacefully, after a life well-lived.

Bill is survived by his wife, Bonnie (Burns) Gast, of Lake Havasu City, Arizona; his daughter, Amanda O’Neil and her husband, Sean, of Newport, Rhode Island; his daughter, Gretchen Dionne, of Lake Havasu City, Arizona; as well as five grandchildren: Brenden, Grady and Cormac O’Neil and Reagan and Chase Dionne. Bill is also survived by his siblings: Robert (Mariann) Gast of Crestwood, Illinois; Richard Gast of Oak Lawn, Illinois; and Sandra Gast of Oak Lawn, Illinois.

He was preceded in death by his parents and his brother, Ronald.

Those wishing to remember Bill may consider a donation to the Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 27, Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

‘Bill’ Thomas

Baker City, 1953-2018

William Eugene “Bill” Thomas, 64, of Baker City, a former longtime resident of Juneau, Alaska, died Feb. 28, 2018, at his home.

There will be a celebration of Bill’s life on Saturday, May 5, at 2704 Main St. This will be an open house from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Bill was born on Nov. 11, 1953, at Columbus, Ohio, to Carole Joanne Daley and Edwin Ira Thomas. He graduated in 1971 from Juneau-Douglas High School.

In 1984, Bill married Sherry Davis. Bill and Sherry traveled the world together, visiting Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, Costa Rica and many other destinations.

Bill worked for 30 years on the Alaska Marine Highway (Southeast Alaska Ferry System), working in the engine department before coming “on deck” to serve as an officer. Bill retired in 2002, completing his career as chief mate on the ferry named the Taku.

Bill was an avid reader, especially of philosophy, history and classical literature. He enjoyed writing, playing his drums, cooking and making ice cream for the neighborhood.

Bill and Sherry began playing pinochle in Alaska and he resumed his passion for the game in Baker City. Bill always looked forward to taco Tuesday at the golf club. Friends and neighbors appreciated his kind and patient help with computers and other technical challenges. Everyone who knew Bill was aware of his keen, and often dry, sense of humor.

Bill shared his life with a series of cherished feline companions.

Survivors include his former wife and best friend, Sherry Thomas; stepdaughter, Tanya Owen (Don), stepgrandchildren, Jake and Charlie Rae; his sister, Patricia Srebrnik (Henry); and a 20-pound cat named Oakridge “Oaky.”

Memorial contributions may be made to the Mollie Atwater and Friends Spay/Neuter Fund, P.O. Box 402, Baker City, OR 97814.

‘Polly’ Nicely

Baker City, 1926-2018

Emma Pauline “Polly” Nicely, 91, of Baker, died April 8, 2018.

There will be a private ceremony at the family ranch in Baker City.

Polly was born on May 25, 1926, at Trimble, Colorado, to Clare Ellen Logan and James Shelby Griffin.

She worked at Baker Bowl for more than 20 years and was loved by all her customers.

People would see her at the grocery store and say “Hi, Granny.” She would say “I don’t know who that is but I must have cooked them lunch!”

She was a proud member of the American Legion, Eagles, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Rebekah Lodge. Polly lived a long life. Some of it was hard and some of it was really good.

“The smile never left her face and she always knew there was something new coming around the corner,” family members said. “She will be missed by many.”

She was preceded in death by her husband, Phil O. Nicely Jr.; her daughter, Caroline Kay; and her sons, Bob and Philip.

Survivors include her daughter, Monty; five grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Joann Wilson

Former Baker City resident, 1937-2018

Joann Wilson, 80, of John Day, a former Baker City resident, died March 31, 2018, at her residence.

Her graveside service was Friday, April 6, at the Prairie City Cemetery. Pastor Mike Harvey of Grace Chapel in Prairie City officiated.

Joann was born on July 1, 1937, at Halfway to Oakley H. Cox and Enola E. Derrick. She attended Baker High School and following school she proudly became a homemaker taking care of her family.

In her spare time, Joann enjoyed crocheting, reading, embroidery, sewing, and painting. She also enjoyed baking, making cinnamon rolls and goodies for her friends and family.

Survivors include her daughter and son in-law, Vonna and Jim Anderson of Prairie City; grandsons, Jacob Anderson of Terrebonne, and Jamison Anderson of Lakeview; granddaughter, Michelle Abell of Homer, Alaska; and six great-grandchildren.

She was preceded in death by her husband, W. Ralph Wilson; and her son, Jonathan B. Wilson.

To light a candle in honor of Joann, go to

Dennis Bluhm

Formerly of Halfway, 1953-2018

Dennis Monroe Bluhm, 64, of Joseph, died peacefully on March 26, 2018, at the VA Hospital in Portland, with his longtime companion Patrecia Shanaman by his side after a long, courageous fight with heart disease.

A traditional funeral service will be Saturday, April 14 at 2 p.m. at the Oregon National Guard Armory, 404 S. 12th St. in La Grande. Interment will follow at Grandview Cemetery in La Grande. Friends are invited to join the family for a potluck reception to be held following the interment at the American Legion Hall, 301 Fir St. in La Grande.

Dennis Monroe Bluhm was born on Sept. 15, 1953, at St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton to Alfred and Dolly Jean (Hendrix) Bluhm. Dennis lived in Pendleton until 1957 when his family moved to Halfway. He grew up and attended school in Halfway through the ninth grade. He was very close with his older brother, David, and younger sister, Rosemarie, and they shared a special bond. In 1969 he and his family moved to La Grande.

While in high school he worked at a local service station. In 1972, he graduated from La Grande High School. Following high school he joined the Army and Oregon National Guard. He served the Oregon National Guard for 27 years and was E-5 sergeant and worked as a tank mechanic.

His trained occupation was a diesel mechanic. Dennis worked for Boise Cascade trucking for several years in La Grande. Dennis also worked for the U.S. Forest Service. In later years, he worked at Chinook Winds hotel and casino in Lincoln City.

Dennis lived in many places around Oregon including La Grande, Halfway, Pendleton, Beaver and Hermiston; however, The Dalles and Joseph were his homes the last several years.

In 1978, Dennis married Bonnie (Nelson) Bluhm. Together, they had two daughters: Lisa, born in 1978, and Lacey, born in 1982. They were married for 11 years and later divorced.

For many years Dennis and his longtime companion Patrecia lived between Joseph, the Oregon coast, and The Dalles. His two girls were his greatest joy and he treasured being with them, as they were his pride and joy. Dennis cherished the outdoors and was an avid fishermen and hunter. He loved to travel, collect rocks, being on the Oregon coast, and spending time with his girls. He also enjoyed woodworking and making things.

He lived in Beaver, on the Oregon coast, for several years and while there he worked at the Chinook Winds Hotel and Casino in Lincoln City. When his illness got worse he retired and went to The Dalles. He retired to enjoy the time he had left with his girls and companion Patrecia and his family.

Army values describe Dennis best: loyalty, duty, Respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

Dennis is survived by daughters: Lisa (Bluhm) Smith and son-in-law Chris Smith of Spokane, Washington, and Lacey Bluhm of La Grande; his sister, Rosemarie (Bluhm) Caudle and brother-in-law, Jim Caudle of Kennewick, Washington; his sister-in-law, Cheryl Bluhm of Elgin; nephew, James Bluhm of Elgin; great-nephew Cameron Bluhm of Lakewood, Washington; companion of 25 years, Patricia (Pat) Schanaman and her daughter, Pattilynn, and grandsons Aaron and Andrew; his Aunt Skip (Ora) and uncle, David Romine of Clarkston, Washington; stepbrothers and stepsisters, Dolly, Dan, Judy, Vicki and Bill; a special cousin, Jim Hendrix III; and other cousins and relatives and many friends.

He was preceded to death by his parents, Alfred and Dolly Jean Bluhm; his brother, David Bluhm; his stepfather, Paul Tate; and many other relatives.

For those who would like to make a memorial donation in honor of Dennis the family suggests either The Wounded Warriors Project, VFW Post in Union, American Diabetes Foundation or the American Heart Association through Tami’s Pine Valley Funeral Home & Cremation Services, P.O. Box 543, Halfway, OR 97834. Online condolences may be made at