AUGUSTA — Canoe racer and designer Prof. William Franklin Stearns, 78, died on May 8, surrounded by family, after living with Parkinson’s.
Bill was born in Berlin, N.H., to Walter and Barbara Fife Stearns, growing up in Rumford. He competed on the Stephens High track and ski teams and became an Eagle Scout. He attended Bowdoin College and served four years in the Air Force during the Korean War. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Maine at Orono.
He met Mexico resident Fern Crossland in math class, marrying her in 1959. In 1960, he joined the math faculty of the university, where he taught calculus to thousands of Maine students until retiring in 1997.
He was an avid outdoorsman and canoeist. He and Fern raced in the second Kenduskeag Canoe Race in 1968. He entered every Kenduskeag through 2004, serving four decades on the race committee. He was the principal founder of the Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society (PPCS), insisting that canoeing be paired with food.
He was instrumental in expanding whitewater racing in Maine and helped organize the first national championships in 1970, on the Dead River; he and Fern frequently won the national crown in their class. In the1970s, they participated in the Allagash Dash, paddling the length of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in fewer than 20 hours.
In 1974, he guided a team of canoeists from federal and state agencies in a study of the Penobscot River’s eligibility for designation as a Wild and Scenic River. He designed and built canoes, many for Lincoln Canoe Co. He and Fern authored The Canoeist’s Catalog in 1978.
In 2006, the PPCS awarded him the inaugural Bill Stearns Award in recognition of his life service. In 2009, the Maine Canoe and Kayaking Racing Organization honored with him with the Muir the Merrier award for drawing people into canoeing.
He raised his children in Stillwater and served as Scoutmaster, later moving to Milford and then Orland. He served on the boards of the Natural Resources Council and of Bald Mountain Ski Area. He helped run the Caribou Bog Ski Race. He was on the board of the Friends of the Sunkhaze National Wildlife Refuge and volunteered as a bateau sternsman for the Penobscot Riverkeepers and Leonard’s Mills. Most recently, he worshiped with the Narramissic Friends Society.
He is survived by his wife, Fern Crossland Stearns of Orland; daughter, Kathleen Stearns Friday and husband, J.B., and their children, Nathanael and Hilda of Hilo, Hawaii; son, David and wife, Sheryl, and their children, Aidan and Keira of Blue Hill; daughter, Laurie of Brunswick; son, Alan and partner, Austin Brown, of Hallowell; sisters, Nancy Stearns Martin of Windham and Carol Stearns Clement of Spruce Head; aunt Janet Hawkes of Kennebunk; and many nieces, nephews and other relatives in the Stearns and Crossland families.