We should all strive to be even half the person Bill Ganley was

I will never forget the day that I talked with Battle Ground City Council Member Bill Ganley for the first time.

It was June of 2010. I was a 22-year-old kid who had just graduated from college the month before and was convinced that my new, shiny bachelor’s degree in journalism would automatically get me a reporter job at any newspaper of my choosing.

Little did I know, however, there is actually quite a collection of obstacles you have to go through before a media outlet will trust that you actually know what you’re doing and hire you. Especially when you are that 22-year-old kid who just graduated.

I applied for an open reporter position at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground that June. I turned an application, resume and writing samples in to then-Publisher/Editor Marvin Case, who quickly looked them over and told me to check back. I think I waited about a week until I eagerly arrived at Marvin’s office again wanting to know if I was going to get the job.

Marvin sat down with me for a few minutes and asked me several interview-type questions, ending the conversation with a final instruction: “I want you to pick a meeting to go to during the next week, any meeting, city council, school board, whatever. After the meeting is over, I want you to go home and write a story and send it to me within one hour.”

These instructions seemed simple enough. I mean, in my mind, I was obviously already going to be the most badass, award-winning journalist around, right? I went home and looked online for a meeting I could attend and found the only one that would work with the timeframe I was given — a Battle Ground City Council retreat meeting. The council “retreats” are generally long meetings during which the council members discuss their goals, etc.

I had attended meetings before, of course, in order to cover them for my different journalism classes and for the student newspaper, but this time was different. This time I was going to be covering an actual city government meeting, talking with city officials who I had never met and writing a story about it that was going to determine whether or not I would be offered my first official job as a reporter. I don’t get scared easily, but let me tell you, I was petrified.

I called my parents and talked with them about it, explaining how nervous I was that I was going to this meeting with a bunch of people I had never met. My dad, who was a teacher at Battle Ground High School for more than 20 years, offered me a simple solution that I will never forget.

Battle Ground Council Member Bill Ganley was overwhelmed with emotion last year when he was surprised with the unveiling of the William J. Ganley Public Safety Complex in the city of Battle Ground. Photo courtesy of Brenda Alling
Battle Ground Council Member Bill Ganley was overwhelmed with emotion last year when he was surprised with the unveiling of the William J. Ganley Public Safety Complex in the city of Battle Ground. Photo courtesy of Brenda Alling

“Call Bill Ganley,” he told me. “He’s a teacher at the school district and he’s on the city council. He’s a really nice guy.”

The next day, sweaty palms and nervous twitch and all, I called Bill Ganley. I nervously mumbled my way through explaining who I was and told him that I just wanted to feel more prepared when I showed up to the meeting that week. Bill talked with me on the phone that day for about 45 minutes, explaining to me how Battle Ground’s system of government worked, telling me about each of the different council members and explaining to me how the meeting that I was going to attend was going to be ran.

After I got off the phone with Bill, I felt 10 times more confident than I had 45 minutes earlier, and I remember thinking, “what a nice guy.”

Later that week, I nervously arrived at City Hall to attend my very first meeting. I figured out where I was supposed to go, walked up the stairs and walked into a room that contained a large round table. The seven council members (including the mayor at the time) were sitting around the table and all of them stopped talking and looked up as I walked in the room. I could instantly feel my nerves begin to take over my body again, but they were quickly put to rest by none other than Bill Ganley.

“You must be Joanna!” Bill smiled at me as he quickly got up and walked over to shake my hand. “Don’t be scared, everyone here is pretty nice!”

Bill then took me around to each city council member and introduced me to them, telling each one that I was the new “star” reporter who might be covering Battle Ground for The Reflector. Bill barely knew anything about me, he had only just talked to me for the first time during that phone conversation a few days earlier. But he already had more confidence in me than I had in myself.

I sat through that entire retreat meeting of the council (I believe it was roughly five hours long), and I can honestly say I enjoyed myself. All of the council members took the time to explain different things to me that I didn’t understand, but Bill especially would make sure they would stop if it looked like maybe I didn’t understand something. He was patient and kind, and genuinely enjoyed explaining Battle Ground politics to me.

I went home that night with a jumble of ideas in my head about what to write my story about that I was going to turn in to Marvin. I sat down, wrote it as quickly as I could and emailed it to him within an hour. I didn’t hear back the next day. I didn’t hear back the day after that. Finally, three days later, I received an email from Marvin asking me why I had never sent him a story. Panic set in; until I received a second email from him apologizing and explaining that my email had went into his spam folder. I got the job.

I began my job as a reporter at The Reflector and immediately took on the city of Battle Ground beat. During my six years at the paper, Bill was almost always one of the first council members to call me or drop in the office to see me to talk to me about what was going on in Battle Ground. We would talk about C-TRAN, we would talk about some of the drama that was going on among the council at the time, we would talk about budget, we talked about public safety and yes, we talked about painting fire hydrants.

Often times when I would call Bill to talk to him about something for a story I was working on, I would need to call him in his classroom during one his breaks between classes. He would always take the time to talk to me, but I would often times hear him answering questions for students or helping them with something. He was always there for everyone.

This past September, I went to visit Bill at the memory care facility that he was living at in the Brush Prairie area. I will admit, it was hard to see him at first. He had, of course, lost quite a bit of weight and was skinny, and was extremely fatigued and noticeably in some pain. But as soon as that big, bright Bill Ganley smiled appeared across in face when I walked in the room, I recognized the Bill that I had known the past six years.

Bill was never in denial. He knew what his diagnosis was and he knew there was no way he could predict the outcome. He used to tell me often, “The doctors just don’t really know. I could have 20 more years or I could have five months. There’s just no way to predict.”

This knowledge never slowed Bill down, though, and it did not discourage him. As his health took a turn this year, he know that the outcome ultimately probably wasn’t going to be good, but that never dampened his spirit. As I talked with him in his room this September, he told me that he was hoping to run for one more term on the city council next year. He talked about his ideas for the city, he talked about wanting to be able to go to the beach and see the ocean.

As hard as it was to hear him talk about these things knowing his prognosis, it made me smile and it made my heart happy, because I knew that up until his last day, Bill Ganley would leave this world happy, passionate, and full of hope and spirit.

The world lost a beautiful soul on Nov. 26, but the world was incredibly lucky to have this beautiful soul here for the last 57 years. Rest in peace, Bill, we will all miss you.

Bill’s Celebration of Life will be held Sun., Dec. 11, 2 p.m., at the Battle Ground Community Center, 912 E. Main St., in Battle Ground. I hope to see everyone there.

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About The Author

Joanna Nicole Yorke is a 2010 graduate of the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in political science. Yorke is a Clark County native, growing up on her family's 12-acre farm in La Center where her family still resides today. She was previously a reporter at The Reflector Newspaper, covering the city of Battle Ground, the Battle Ground School District and a variety of other areas and topics.

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