William "Jack" Stratton

William "Jack" Stratton, who spent more than 40 years of his life in the shafts and drifts of the Homestake Mine and the Sanford Underground Research Facility, passed away on May 13, 2019. 

Photo by Matthew Kapust

A tribute to William "Jack" Stratton

Stories of the late William "Jack" Stratton, Sanford Lab Yates Shaft Foreman, told by those who lived and worked with him.

William Stratton, better known as "Jack" to those who worked with him, spent more than 40 years of his life in the shafts and drifts of the Homestake Mine and the Sanford Underground Research Facility. Jack took on many responsibilities at Homestake and Sanford Lab, most recently as the Yates Shaft Foreman, where he has overseen shaft operations and top-down maintenance.

Barely 18 years old when he started with Homestake, Jack grew into a leader, a mentor, a friend. He married, raised a family and earned a bachelor’s degree. He welcomed grandchildren and great-children and in 2001 said good-bye to his wife, Anna, after 34 years of marriage.

In the early hours of May 13, Jack passed away, leaving behind his children, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He also left behind another family—the people with whom he had worked for so many years. A man of integrity, Jack’s leadership skills and tremendous sense of humor left an indelible mark on the people in his life. In the following paragraphs, we pay tribute to Jack Stratton, our co-worker, our mentor, our friend.

Mike Headley, Executive Director

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jack for the past 10 years and feel truly honored to have known him and learned from this great man. Jack was dedicated to the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority; but, more importantly, to people he served with. Jack didn’t shy away from saying what needed to be said, but he was kind and respectful—and always put the safety of the team and his people first. He understood the importance of this project and he made sure his team understood the value of their contribution to the success of Sanford Lab. His leadership of the Yates Shaft team has been simply wonderful and has advanced SURF to be one of the top underground laboratories in the world. He will definitely be missed.

A few months after I started, there was a forecast for snow and I said to Jack, ‘We should probably call off work early.’ Jack smiled and said, ‘No, it won’t be bad.’ We got three feet of snow and for 10 years, we laughed about that every time it snowed.

Rodney Hanson, Ross Shaft Foreman

I hired on at Homestake in January of 1991 as a shaftsman under Jack. I have always looked up to him and respected him and he was very influential in my career. I always loved to reminisce about the good ole days with him. Jack had a lot of knowledge about the shafts and with him there was nothing we could not tackle. I considered Jack a good friend besides being my foreman. I just wish I would have taken Jack down the Ross Shaft one last time. I will really miss him.

Bryce Pietzyk, Underground Access Director

Jack loved Homestake, and he loved being back when Sanford Lab opened. He enjoyed sharing his knowledge, showing people what to do and did everything he could to help his team and others succeed. He was a quality person who treated people right and cared about everyone—and was respected by everyone. Every time you saw him, he was happy and cheerful, and you just got a good feeling.

William McElroy, President, Ainsworth-Benning (former Underground Access Director)

I’ve encountered less than a handful of people in my life that I can say played a role in making me who I am today. Jack Stratton was one of those few. When I first reported to the Sanford Lab, I was eager for a new challenge. But I didn’t know what I’d signed up for. I was instantly overwhelmed by the scope of my responsibilities and was wondering how to apply my past experiences toward my new challenge. I soon realized I needed guidance in order to succeed. I introduced myself to Jack—the fella with the well-groomed hair, toothpaste commercial smile, bowl of Hershey mini-candies and the Labrador Retriever calendar. From that point on, Jack was a friend. He shared his knowledge because he truly wanted me to be successful. He wanted the Lab to be successful.

On my last day working for the SDSTA, I wanted to escape the building without having to go through a tearful goodbye with Jack. I just about made it, but I saw Jack sitting in his office. I paused and thought to myself, ‘for all he has done for me, a few tears on my way out was a price I would gladly pay.’ I will miss my friend. I will miss my mentor. I will miss one of the kindest people I ever met. 

Cage to the collar.

Pat Urbaniak, acting Yates Shaft Foreman

I worked for Jack for seven years, and he was a great boss. We didn’t always agree, but we could always work out our differences. He had a great personality, and everybody loved him. He was just one of the best people you could ever meet.

Tom Regan, ESH

I’ve known Jack for 50 years, since 1970 when I started working at Homestake. He was one of my first heroes, one of the most influential people in my life. We were part of the team that reopened the facility for science and I was honored to work with him again.

On those early trips after re-entry, Jack and I walked the levels, stringing telephone wires every place we went. He was just a lot of fun, but picked up on all the serious things. I knew I could always count on him, from beginning to end. He had a positive attitude and a great sense of humor. A way of teasing that made you feel good. I remember one guy I worked with at Homestake who always ate sardines. I didn’t like the smell of those sardines, and Jack knew it so he would try to get me downwind. He’s teased me about that ever since.

Dan Regan, Surface Operations Foreman

Many years ago, Homestake used a ‘Bell Line System’ to communicate with the hoist operators when loads were strung underneath the cage. Workers in the drift had to lean in to the shaft and pull on the Bell Line, which would signal to the Hoist Operator that it was time to move the cage. This system worked for a long time, but it was outdated and Homestake decided to install new communication technology. Jack recognized the need for improvement and worked with my team to get us trained on the new system. There were no complaints because of the excellent process. He even gave me an ‘atta boy’ recognition for the work I had done implementing the communication system in the shafts.

I really appreciated Jack's integrity and recognition of the work we did. And he was glad to come back when Sanford Lab opened. For all of us, it isn’t just a job. I know Jack would agree.

Ricky Allen, Underground Access Leadman

I’ve known Jack since 1969 and was just an extraordinary person. A unique and an extremely excellent individual—not only in his professional life, but in his personal life. We had many conversations about work and life and you could trust 100 percent that it would stay between you and him. It would never go anywhere else. He was like that everywhere. He cared about his people and about doing the job right. He was a straight-up guy who stood up for us and cared about his people.

Mark Hanhardt

I'm really sad to lose Jack. He worked with my dad (Jim Hanhardt), so I've been familiar with his name since childhood. He and Dad got along really well, and so I got to hear a lot of Jack Stratton stories. I wish I could remember the details of any one of them, but they're all lost in a background of rowdy cage rides, exciting underground adventures and crazy pranks.  After Dad passed, Jack told me some of the old stories and occasionally would call me into his office to talk about Dad and go over old pictures he'd found. So, in addition to being the kindest coworker in the world, he was also a link to my Dad that I really needed.

He pulled me into his office a few weeks ago after I had laughed at something in the hallway, and he said it always brings a tear to his eye to hear me laugh because for a second he thinks it's my dad.

Amber Kenney, Mike Bonkalski and Jim Niehoff, Fermilab ESH group

Though, we may have not known Jack as long as most of you, we found him to be committed to SDSTA, the science mission and safety for others. With his friendliness, as well as his candid and straight talk, we always knew where Jack stood with respect to his position or opinion; that was refreshing. 

This world could use more people like Jack. He will be sorely missed.

Tim Kneafsey, Paul Schwering, EGS Collab Project (SIGMA-V)

Several members of our team had direct interactions with Jack to coordinate on substantial equipment maneuvers via the Yates Shaft. In every instance, Jack demonstrated enthusiasm, efficiency, and a friendly yet professional demeanor that made him an absolute pleasure to work with. He very much was an exemplary representative of the culture at SURF that everyone at EGS Collab has come to know and deeply appreciate. … A remarkable individual.

Matt Kapust, Creative Services Developer

The hardest thing about talking to Jack, was getting out of his office. He could keep a conversation rolling. But it was always interesting.

Amelia Pearson, Receptionist

When I would walk into my office in the mornings, sometimes there would be a bag of candy for me to put out for everyone to enjoy. I always told him he didn’t have to buy candy for the reception office, but he kept doing it anyway. I very much enjoyed when he would sit in the reception office and chat with me for a bit. His laugh could make someone in the worst mood smile. I am going to miss hearing him say, ‘I will be on the Ramp checking on my guys,’ then his whistling down the hallway.

Cabot-Ann Christofferson, Majorana Demonstrator

Jack was a wonderful supporter of all of sciences needs and a pleasure to work with. I spent many afternoons talking to him about what was going on underground, he was always curious and ready to help. He told fun stories of early escapades of life while Homestake was in operation. We laughed and delighted in all the characters he had worked with over the years. I will miss him tremendously as a member of the Sanford Lab team.

Peter Girtz, ESH Operation Tech Support

Jack Stratton—the storyteller of all storytellers. Rarely do you get an opportunity to meet someone so special and for him to make such an impression on so many people's lives, is truly amazing. I will miss his wisdom, smile and that radio announcer voice. Keep a watchful eye on all of us, Jack, and keep us safe!

Brooke Anderson, Technical Coordinator Support

Jack had a smile and a laugh that was so contagious, a person couldn’t help but be happy around him. He would always listen and give the best advice. I learned so much from him and am proud to say he was my dear friend who will be so missed. 

Nancy Geary, CFO

I think everyone enjoyed his stash of candy.  He was so generous and thoughtful to all.

Deb Meyer, IT Manager

Jack always had a song in his heart, a smile on his face and was the most generous human I’ve ever known. I will miss seeing him every day.

Michelle Andresen, Safety Coordinator

Three years ago, Brooke (Anderson) and I decided to spruce up Jack’s office for an Easter prank/surprise. We purchased light-up chicks in yellow, pink, purple, green and blue then placed all the chicks all over his office. He was pleasantly surprised and stumped. The next year, we added to the chick collection with 20 more chicks and light-up snails.

And Jack got us back. Two years later, we found massive bunny head balloons at our desks. ‘Payback ladies,’ he said. This year we added guppies. His office was a rainbow of creatures!  We had so much fun decorating his office and never getting caught. His giggle each year made it all worth it.