Remembering Bill; Sheely’s legacy is friendliness, hard work

Published 8:56 am Monday, May 21, 2018

It is often said the true measure of a man is known in how dogs and children react to him.

As it happens, children and pets followed the late Bill Sheely around, “like he was the pied piper,” said his widow, Carol.

After he retired, “he would say that he didn’t miss anything but the kids” he met along the course of the years he owned the Beaver Trails Campground, she added with a chuckle.

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Bill died in November 2017; a celebration Bill’s life will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday at Beaver Trails Campground, now known as Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resort at Beaver Trails. Friends are invited to share their stories about Bill.

His story is the story of the campground, said his daughter, Sandy Wentz.

“I am really so proud of what he did, how he worked so hard; at the beginning, we had nothing,” she said. “That he became so successful — I am in awe.”

The familiar sign welcoming campers to Beaver Trails. Photo Provided.

It was far from an easy proposition in the beginning. Bill was first a farmer, on whose land the campground was established, just off Interstate 90 east of Austin. He got the idea at a farm show, when he noticed a camping area did not have enough spaces for those wanting to camp.

That gave him the idea to establish his own campground.

It was far from easy. Carol worked at jobs in Austin in order to carry insurance for the family; Sandy was helping run the campground office while her mom was working and Bill was working outside.

“I ran the store, registered people,” Sandy said with a smile. “In the beginning it was just us — we didn’t have anyone else” working at the campground. Today, she can quickly reel off the first prices charged — “Four-fifty, five-fifty and six-fifty,” she said, whose prices rose by $1 from tent camping to water and electric, to those sites with sewer.

The campground grew as Bill installed more amenities on the 80 acres, from the swimming pool and mini golf, to areas for ping pong, craft programs and other kids’ programs.

Then there was a petting zoo, said Sandy.

“I’d come home and there would be a llama,” she said with a chuckle.

“I thought the swimming pool was really cool,” she added. She also enjoyed taking showers in the campground bathrooms instead of the family bathtub.

All of it was hard work. Bill built every bit of it,” Carol said, adding the campground had a full machine and carpentry shop, filled with equipment purchased when Austin High School was selling off its shop equipment.

People were drawn to the gregarious Bill.

“He was just an outgoing guy,” Carol said.

Bill Sheely in the early days of Beaver Trails Campground – with a four-footed friend. He was known to draw children and pets to him “like a pied piper,” said his wife, Carol. Photo provided

Bill was a leader, as well, serving as president of NFO and Historic Bluff Country, and was a Boy Scout leader for Pack 124 in Austin. Chuck earned his Eagle Scout, while Sandy earned her First Class Award in Girl Scouts.

It took a stroke to slow Bill down at the age of 53 in the latter part of the 1980s, but it did not get him down. Although a leg and one of his arms was affected, he kept working. Eventually, the campground had 25 full- and part-time employees.

Upon retirement over 30 years after they began, Carol and Bill spent a year of traveling across the U.S. in a camper. The only drawback, said Carol, was “that we wanted to improve every campground we stayed in.” Eventually, they settled in Dover, Pennsylvania, near Sandy and her family. Bill always made sure, however, that they returned to the area for the Steele, Freeborn and Mower county fairs.

“He knew everyone,” Carol said. “He loved sitting at the fairs, talking to people.”

His friendliness and work ethic put his kids on the path to their own successes, said Sandy. Chuck has his own machinist’s shop, while Sandy managed a children’s store for several years.

“I started working there when I was just 18 years old, right out of high school,” she said. “You never heard of that happening back then. I never would have been able to do that then, unless I’d had the experience at the campground.”

Bill’s legacy will also live on in his grandson, Matthew, Sandy’s son, who at 12 began to help out summers at the campground.

“He learned responsibility and how to work hard,” his mom said. “And, I am forever grateful that he had that experience with his grandfather.”