William (Bill) Martinelli, 85, of Knights Ferry, California passed away on May 2, 2020 in his home surrounded by his family. Bill was a master storyteller and he loved nothing more than his family and his relationship with Jesus Christ.
Bill was born in Glendale, California on March 4, 1935 to Marty and Lorraine Martinelli and soon became a big brother to Marty Jr. He grew up in Playa del Rey with the beach as his front yard. Bill’s dad Marty was a high school teacher and the family spent most of their summers camping in the Kings Canyon area for weeks at a time. He graduated from Venice High School in 1951, lettering in football. Bill’s immediate family was not a rodeo family but he blazed his own trail and learned to ride at a stable owned by friends. After high school, Bill attended a horse shoeing program at Cal Poly before he began his rodeo career, earning his PRCA card in 1955. Bill traveled about the nation with Bob Edison and Jim Charles, riding broncs in famous arenas such as Madison Square Garden. When he wasn’t in the arena, Bill was nearby telling stories of their antics on the road. In 1958, Bill was drafted into the Army and sent to Korea at the age of 23. When he returned to the states, he continued to ride saddle broncs. He made appearances in the National Finals Rodeo eight times, from 1962-67 and 1971-72 and won the average in 1965. Between his NFR runs, Bill joined up with an elite rodeo crew to bring the western rodeo to Europe. He traveled by cargo ship from the Port of Houston in Texas to Leghorn, Italy with horses and cows and continued to rodeo around Europe. Bill’s rodeo career and friendship inspired Chris LeDoux to write “Running through the Rain” and a documentary titled “The Story of a Rodeo Cowboy.”
In the summer of ’69, Bill went on his first date with his future wife Kay and together they watched the first man walk on the moon. The couple married on September 29, 1971 in Tijuana, Mexico. Bill and Kay had countless adventures together during their 48 years of marriage including driving the Winston scoreboard to rodeos around the country and buying their ranch in Knights Ferry. Bill and Kay have four daughters together; Mickie, Angie, Megan, and Tasha.
When Bill and his family settled down in Knights Ferry, he was a rancher, horse shoer, and one heck of a horseman. Later in life, Bill bought a commercial fishing boat named the Vera J that he docked in Half Moon Bay. He mainly fished salmon but he enjoyed walking the docks admiring boats and chatting with other fishermen. Bill found true joy spending time with his family, especially his grandkids and great-granddaughter.
He was a very special man with a big heart and a tough handshake.
Bill is survived by his wife Kay; daughters Mickie Martinelli Stauss and husband Luke of Grove, Oklahoma; Angie Martinelli and boyfriend Harash of Monterey; Megan Peterson and husband Chris of Knights Ferry; and Tasha Sweet and husband Jason of Knights Ferry; grandchildren Rossi and husband Matt Glover; Will (Thor), Hanna, Kaeli, Logan, Deagan, Vincent, James, Troy, Pete, Jake, and Luke, and great-granddaughter, Leddie Mae.
Bill is preceded in death by his parents, Marty and Lorraine Martinelli, and his brother, Marty Jr.
Celebration of Life details will be released at a later date.