William Blair Renshaw, Jr. (known first as “Billy,” then “Bill,” and finally as “Ren”) passed away February 4, 2011 in Colorado Springs, CO, where he had resided since 2009. Ren was born on July 31, 1925, in East McKeesport, PA to William Blair and Margaret Croushore Renshaw. He was preceded in death by his son Blair (William Blair Renshaw, III) of Santa Monica, CA, and by his sister Doris Renshaw Allen of Eugene, OR. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Roth of Colorado Springs, CO, daughter Jeannine Elizabeth Renshaw (John Varner) of Santa Monica, CA, son Alan Jeffrey Renshaw (Molly Niles Renshaw) of Venice, CA, his daughter-in-law, Gina Oster of Santa Monica, his stepchildren Evan Roth (Michele Walther) of Paris, France, and Kelly Roth of Raleigh, NC, and by his five amazing grandchildren: Annabel, Cole, Mackenzie, Riley, and Violet.


Ren led a full life in which he explored the world and his place in it. His love of life and adventurous spirit will be missed by all who knew him. As a youngster (“Billy” and later, “Bill”) in East McKeesport, PA, he raised chickens and sold eggs to pay for trombone lessons, spent a summer working on a farm in Ohio, hitchhiked with his friend Leland to South Carolina to visit Uncle Clarence at Fort Jackson, and kept a daily journal for three years in high school, documenting the ordinary (records of his faithful trombone practice) and the extraordinary (a detailed report on an after-school fist fight “to settle things” with Herbert). Upon graduating from high school in 1943, he joined the Army and was quickly thrust into the European Theater of WWII with the Black Hawk Infantry Division 86 (Company C, 342nd Infantry). His division was the last to be deployed to the European Theater. The Black Hawk Division carried out a 42-day march through Germany and Austria. They were in Austria on VE Day and later liberated the Dachau concentration camp. Ren always acknowledged the role his trombone played in keeping him alive in Europe – the dance band that formed during basic training was called upon to serve as Regimental Headquarters Guard, keeping them mostly behind the front lines. During the War of Occupation, the trombone again came in handy. Young Bill was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, where he entertained the troops by playing his trombone in dance bands, Broadway musicals, the GI Symphony, and General Eisenhower’s Marching Band. The war experience had a huge impact in forming Ren’s anti-war and global perspectives and his appreciation of being alive.


Upon returning from the war, Ren earned a BS degree in Agricultural Economics from Pennsylvania State University. In college he was active in the YMCA World Student Service and was awarded a distinguished scholarship for “developing high standards and Christian living.” Summer experiences during college were rich ones, including an adventure with East McKeesport friends in following the wheat harvest from Texas to Montana and participating in prestigious leadership institutes in Winter Park, Colorado and at Union Theological Seminary in New York. After graduating from college in 1950, Ren returned to Germany to act as a Field Secretary for the World’s Committee of YMCA Aid to Displaced Persons and Prisoners of War. He was headquartered in Hamburg, Germany where he led a team in providing basic needs, education, and entertainment to refugees in a DP Camp, while helping them locate and prepare for living in new home countries. Ren then lived in NYC for a year where he worked for the Institute of International Education and took political science classes at Columbia University before moving to Ann Arbor, MI, where he earned a master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of Michigan.


Ren’s first jobs in city management and planning were in Kansas City, Missouri; Xenia, Ohio; and Arcadia, California. In California, he met and married Jean Rehkop in 1958. Ren then spent several years working for the U.S. State Department in Tehran, Iran. During these years he and Jean started their family, with Blair’s birth in Iran. Back in California, daughter Jeannine and son Alan were born while Ren worked professionally as a management leadership consultant and worked personally on developing his inner knowledge and living a healthy lifestyle, quests that he pursued throughout his life. He relished most his opportunities to use his management skills to work for social justice and international cooperation. In the late 1960’s he provided leadership in the War on Poverty efforts in Los Angeles, in the 1970’s he worked for the U.S. Public Health Association to support family planning training in India, and in the early 1990’s he lived for four years in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he helped Russian citizens learn how to start up and run successful business ventures. In the 1980’s he explored a lifelong dream of becoming a farmer. He moved to Oregon, bought a small farm, and with his son Alan, tried his hand at making a living from the land while simultaneously earning a second master’s degree in counseling from Oregon State University. Although not a successful venture financially, the farm was an important and meaningful phase of his life.


By 2000, Ren was retired and back in the Los Angeles area where his five grandchildren were all born. Never one to be idle, he participated in his grandchildren’s lives and took on various building jobs (decks, fences, remodeling) for his children and for others. He especially loved working with wood. He also got involved in commercial acting and appeared in several print advertisements and TV commercials. Fortuitously, he took up ballroom dancing and became active in the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica where he served on the Board of Directors and led/co-led adult education workshops on Emerson, Thoreau, and memoir writing. The dancing and the church came together when he met Kathy Roth at a church dance in 2000, and they began a romance and a partnership full of love, mutual respect, family, dancing, hiking, and adventure. They were married on May 30, 2009.


Ren was an avid hiker who cherished the friendships he made hiking with the Bay Area Sierra Club Singleaires. Although he loved hiking the High Sierras, his ultimate hike was in 1999 when he trekked in Nepal with three of his Sierra Club hiking buddies. He loved music, especially classical, jazz, and swing. Ballroom dancing became increasingly important in his life after finding Kathy as his regular dance partner. He also enjoyed working on projects to improve the two houses he and Kathy shared, and he loved gardening and creating salads from his backyard crop. He exemplified the idea of a lifelong learner, challenging himself to read widely (especially history, politics, philosophy, poetry and early Christian history) and watching anything educational on his beloved public TV station. He was faithful to a yoga practice that brought physical and spiritual calm.


Before his bypass surgery in May, 2010, Ren wrote:


“I have lived a good, long life. When I think about those who have had their lives cut short – like Leland1 and Blair2 -- and the many boys who have died in wars during my lifetime, it brings clearly to mind how fortunate I have been.”


Please click on “Share Your Memories” to add your own memories and thoughts.  His family would love to hear them!


A memorial service will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica on March 5, 2011 at 3:30 pm.
Address: 1260 18th St. Santa Monica, CA. 90404-1296 (Corner of 18th and Arizona)




1. Leland Stegemerten, a high school friend who was President of the class and died in WWII


2. William Blair Renshaw, III, Ren’s first born son who died in September, 2009.