William Sawtelle Choate



FRESNO, CALIF. — William Sawtelle Choate, born June 30, 1931, in Philadelphia, Pa., passed away May 14, 2012, at his home in Fresno, Calif.

After graduating from Searsport High School in 1950, Bill attended Bowdoin College before joining the U S Navy. After one year in the service he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, from which he resigned to return to his family’s home in Searsport and commence studies at Bangor Theological Seminary. In 1955, Bill met Gretchen Haimbach, who was visiting her sister at the seminary. At this time he worked as student pastor at the Congregational church in Lincolnville. Bill and Gretchen were married in 1957 and took up residency in Jackman, where Bill was serving as student pastor of the Moose River Congregational Church. He later served Maine churches in Caratunk and the Forks. Upon graduation from the seminary in 1958 he was called to serve the Congregational Church in Newport. In 1961, he resigned as pastor and returned to school in order to complete a B.A. in English at the University of Maine. Bill taught English at Maine Central Institute for one year before he and his family moved to Fresno, Calif., where he pursued a teaching career first at Central Union High School and then at Bullard High School. His successes as a teacher included developing a course in the Bible as Literature for high school students at Hoover High, and Experienced Based Career Education at Edison High. While at Edison, he was recognized as Teacher of the Year by Fresno County Schools. Bill was also active outside of school serving as an officer for the Fresno Teachers Association and editing Chalk Talk, the publication of the teachers association. He sang in the church choir and served as chairman of the Board of Deacons at College Community Congregational Church. He assumed leadership roles in a number of anti-war protests during the Vietnam War era. In 1989, Bill retired from teaching to work as a fund-raiser for Witnessing Ministries of Christ, a mission to the untouchables of India. He accepted an appointment to the Senior Legislature to pursue his interest in senior issues and was an officer in the Fresno/Madera Area Agency on Aging, treasurer for six years of the Sunrise Rotary in Oakhurst; and received special awards from the last three of these for his service to their causes. He taught Adult Bible Study and for a time served as part-time associate pastor of the Community Church of Oakhurst. In 1997, he was called to serve as pastor/teacher of Grace Community Church (UCC) in North Fork where he continued to serve until his retirement in 2007. In 2006, he and Gretchen were named Citizens of the Year in North Fork, Calif.

The Rev. Choate is survived by his wife, Gretchen, of Fresno, Calif.; daughter, Eleanore, of Long Beach, Calif.; son, William Sawtelle Choate Jr. and wife, Jann, of Fresno Calif.; son, Aaron and his wife, Teri, of South Lake, Texas; three granddaughters, Kristen, Gretchen, and Nicole as well as two grandsons, William Sawtelle Choate III, and Sean. He is also survived by his brothers Edward C. Choate Jr. (Joan); Nathaniel Choate (Dorothy) of Virginia and Searsport; and Robert R. Pyle (Miriam) of Northeast Harbor; as well as sister-in-law, Judith Choate of Wellsville, N.Y., and Searsport. He was predeceased by his mother, Louse Sawtelle Libby; his father, Edward C. Choate; a sister, Louise G. Choate; and a brother, David M. Choate of Wellsville, N.Y., and Searsport.

Following a celebration of his life June 30, 2012, at Grace Community Church, the Rev. Choate’s ashes were scattered at his beloved mountain home in Coarsegold, Calif., with a portion reserved to return to Islesford near the museum founded by his namesake grandfather, William Otis Sawtelle.

Bill is remembered as devoted son and brother, loving husband, father, grandfather, pastor, and teacher, friend, and community leader. A ready smile, unique sense of humor, concern for friends, family and community, and an inner light that inspired all who knew him well, characterized this truly great man.


Know when to pay your respects.