Title: William E. (Bill) Shemorry Photograph Collection
Date: ca. 1870s-2004
Collection Number: MSS 10958
Quantity: Approximately 153 linear feet
Abstract: The collection consists of office files (research, newspaper and magazine clippings, article drafts, and published articles), slides, photographs, negatives, and glass plate negatives related to Shemorry’s career as a newspaper publisher, photographer, reporter, historian, researcher and author in Williston, N.D.
Provenance: The Shemorry Collection was donated to the Williston State College Foundation and then transferred to the State Historical Society of North Dakota to be processed in the fall of 2006. Preliminary processing was completed by Larissa Harrison and Lotte Bailey. The inventory and initial finding aid was compiled by Emily (Ergen) Schultz in the summer of 2007. Processing and digitization of the collection was performed by Emily (Ergen) Schultz from May 2008 to June 2009, and Amy R. Bellefeuille from January 2010 through January 2011. On July 19, 2011, the collection was donated to the State Historical Society of North Dakota by the Williston State College Foundation. Additional material was donated by Rich and Mary Mahar on August 2, 2011.
Property Rights: The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.
Access: This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
Citation: Researchers are requested to cite the collection title, collection number, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnotes and bibliographic references.
William “Bill” Emmett Shemorry was a veteran newspaper man whose pen and camera recorded the events around him for over fifty years. A native of Williston, N.D., Shemorry was born on August 12, 1914. His parents, William H. and Emma V. (Gundrum) Shemorry, had moved to Williston from Pennsylvania in 1907, attracted by the economic opportunities of the area, which included free government land to anyone who would homestead and improve the land.
A graduate of Williston High School, Shemorry later attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he studied commerce. Shemorry left college when he was nearing graduation, however, having worked off his payments toward a four-cylinder Henderson motorcycle. Once the bike was his, Shemorry drove home to Williston for good. He briefly opened his own motorcycle shop in Williston, and sold motorcycles, as well as printing and work uniforms.
Shemorry’s work with newspapers began in the mid-1920s as a newsboy selling both The Williston Herald and The Williams County Farmers Press. In 1939, he took a commission job with the Press, then under new ownership, where he collected unpaid subscriptions all over Williams County. When winter snows closed the roads that year, he was hired to sell advertising and help with the writing.
Bill Shemorry married his first wife Corinne Gweneathe Joynes on November 12, 1939, in Williston, N.D. Corinne was born on January 24, 1918, in Rolla, N.D. to William Herbert and Edna Ruth (Conn). She graduated from high school in 1935 and moved to Williston where she first worked as a waitress at the Luzon Cafe, then was employed by Herman Zahl to sell advertising for The Williams County Farmers Press. Bill and Corinne had two daughters, Gayle born in 1947, and Jan born in 1950. When the Farmers Press was sold to the Herald in 1953, together with friends they organized and co-published a new newspaper, The Williston Plains Reporter. As advertising manager for the Reporter and co-publisher of The Williston Petroleum Picture, a monthly supplement to the Reporter also begun in 1953,Corinne and Bill Shemorry both received numerous awards during their years of reporting. They operated The Williston Plains Reporter for 25 years before selling it to The Williston Herald in 1978, which was the same year Bill and Corinne divorced. After that Bill Shemorry focused exclusively on his own writing and photography. Corinne worked at the Williston Co-op Credit Union until she retired in 1990, she moved to Grand Forks in 2007, and passed away on November 1, 2010.
Shemorry photographed the highlights and happenings of the Willistonarea for decades, and there are more than 75,000 film negatives in his collection. In addition, Shemorry acquired “old-time” photographs, prints, and glass plate negatives of the Williston area, which date back to the late nineteenth century.
Besides conducting a photography business that was primarily aerial, oil field, and commercial, Shemorry regularly wrote newspaper features. His first was the “Rambler” column (The Adventures of Private Bill) in the Press-Graphic, which detailed his WWII exploits from 1943-1946. Later newspaper columns included “History Remembered,” “Wings over Williston,” (Plains Reporter), “Nostalgia” (Williston Basin Oil Reporter and Williston Daily Herald), “Best Little Stories,” and “The Way it was 50 Years or So Ago, During World War II” (The Herald). “The Adventures of Private Bill” and “The Way it was 50 Years or So Ago...” columns were compiled into books. In addition, Shemorry’s recollections, “As World War II Ended, G.I.s in Liuchow, China, Prepared for A Skirmish,” were compiled into a brochure. At the same time as he was writing articles, Shemorry regularly accepted assignments for news and photographic features, as well as for advertising sales.
Shemorry held photography exhibits in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as in Williston and Bismarck, North Dakota, which featured scenic and oil field photographs. During his publishing days with both the Press and the Plains Reporter, Shemorry received many state and national awards, and was a past president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association.
For decades, Shemorry was an active member of the Williston Fire Department, first joining in 1947, and retiring as an honorary member in 1979. In 1953, he organized the Williston Volunteer Rural Fire Department and served both as Chief and President for 19 years. He was the Civil Defense Chief of Williams County for three years in the early 1950’s, and appointed Director of the Civil Defense Council of Williams County, a position he held until 1961. Shemorry was also active in the Air Force Ground Observer Corps in the early 1950’s.
During World War II, Shemorry served briefly with Company L, North Dakota State Guard. Upon entering federal service he was assigned to the 164th Signal Photo Company as a combat photographer. From 1944 - 1945, Shemorry photographed operations of United States and Nationalist Chinese forces on the Salween River offensive front in western China, as well as the offensive on the eastern front.
Shemorry was in Tibet for several months photographing a horse purchasing expedition, and was “loaned” to the 20th Bomber Command to photograph preparations in the Che eng Tu area for the first raid made on the Japanese steel center of Yawata. At the close of hostilities, Shemorry was sent to Chikiang, where the Sino-Japanese peace accord was signed. Afterwards, he was loaned to the War Crimes Commission and recorded photographic evidence of atrocities in the Shanghai area.
During these war years, Shemorry photographed Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek, General Joseph W. Stillwell, and many other notables of the time. He received three battle stars and was awarded the Chinese Victory Medal. Shemorry was discharged with the rank of T-4 in January 1946. When he was publisher of The Williston Plains Reporter, Shemorry gave priority to veterans’ activities. Issues of the Reporter preceding Veteran’s Day and following Memorial Day almost always carried feature stories and, for a few years, full page pictorial coverage.
On the night of April 4, 1951, Shemorry photographed the discovery of oil in North Dakota. His night shot of the derrick over the Clarence Iverson No. 1 reflected in a pool of run-off water to make a double image. The photograph is regarded, within oil circles, as an outstanding, timeless shot, comparable to other famous oil photographs. He was the only photographer on site, and Shemorry’s Iverson picture was published in Life magazine, US News and a number of other national, regional, and local publications.
After a newspaper study mission in 1967, Shemorry’s photographs of Poland, Russia, Iran, India, Thailand, South Vietnam, Gulf of Tonkin, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and Hawaii, formed the basis for a series of special newspaper sections which were later gathered into a book. Following this, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Shemorry never received it, he laughed, writing that “it went to someone far more deserving, a photographer who covered the fighting in South Vietnam.”
Throughout the years, Shemorry was active in the Jaycees. He served as president in 1939, and received the Outstanding Young Man award in 1940. Shemorry held memberships for many years with the Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, National Editorial Association and Sigma Delta Chi. He was a lifelong member of the North Dakota Firemen’s Association and served as state president in 1952. Shemorry was a president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association from 1973-1974, and was inducted into the North Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2002. In addition, Shemorry taught several photography classes at the University of North Dakota, Williston, during the 1960’s.
Shemorry also received the State Farmer Award from the Future Farmers of America. His memberships also included the American Legion, V.F.W., China-Burma-India Veterans Association, Elks and Moose Lodges, Williston Chamber of Commerce, Williston Petroleum Club, International Fire Chief’s Association, Missouri Valley, the Board of Directors of the Coyote Foundation (1988-1994) and the North Dakota Fire Chief’s Association. Shemorry was a Parade Marshall numerous times, a frequent guest speaker, and received the Williston Oktoberfest Ehrenberger (“valued citizen”) award in 1994.
Shemorry’s publications include: 100 years of Odd Fellowship in Williston: A History of the Odd Fellows Fort Buford Lodge, No. 18, Williston, North Dakota, The Curtain of Darkness Has Been Lifted: A History of the Williams Electric Cooperative, Inc, Report on Russia, Poland & Iran, Report on Asia, The Lost Tales of Old Williston, Photo 100: Nostalgic Highlights of a Century 1887‑1987, More Lost Tales of Old Dakota, A Force for Good: The Centennial History of the First Congregational Church, Williston, N. Dakota, Williams County Centennial Memoirs, Mud, Sweat and Oil: The Early Years of the Williston Basin, Alexander Old Settlers Picnic, 1946‑1995: Lem Burns and Historical Highlights of McKenzie County, Phil Jackson: The Man with the Longest Reach, Golden Anniversary Souvenir Edition of Alexander’s Old Settlers’ Day Picnic, Wild Cow Railroad (McKenzie County), and Best of “The Best” Little Stories.
Shemorry also contributed articles and/or photographs to “Rigging Up”: A Tribute to the 35th Anniversary of the Discovery of Oil in the Williston Basin, “The 50th Anniversary of the Discovery of Oil in North Dakota,” Williston Basin Oil Reporter 40th Anniversary, 1991 Energy Festival Edition, and A Tribute to Oil’s 50th Anniversary, 2001 Williston Basin Oil Reporter Commemorative Edition.
Projects that Shemorry was researching included histories of Williston’s National Guard Company E, Williams and McKenzie County newspapers, old-time features of McKenzie County, early day aviation, the Williston Basin’s first oil boom, pioneer women, a biography of former Congressman Usher L. Burdick, and his own memoirs.
Shemorry married his second wife Gloria “Glo” Mahar on Christmas day in 1980, and they made their home in Williston. He became a stepfather to his second wife’s five daughters and two sons. Shemorry’s first daughter, Gayle Williamson, resides in Hudson, Wisconsin with her husband David. They have three adopted children, Kyle, Peter and Jonathan. Shemorry’s second daughter, Jan Lee of Grand Forks, N.D., is a school teacher in Lakota, N.D. Her husband, Bill, is vice president of the Lakota State Bank, and they have three children, Anthony (Kristina) Lee of Kansas, Christopher (Andrea) Lee of Nebraska, and Lyndsay Lee of Connecticut.
William E. “Bill” Shemorry passed away on April 11, 2004. The lifetime of work by Shemorry is an invaluable resource for the history of Williston, North Dakota, and for the surrounding areas. As Thomas A. Kvamme wrote in The Scope, “Much like the history he sought to record, his name will live on through his works... Shemorry gave us more than 70 years of his life striving to record history. Now that ball has been shifted for others to carry on.”
Sources cited and consulted:
Kvamme, Thomas A. “Junior High Would Be A Perfect Fit to Honor Shemorry.” The Scope 14 April 2004.
Shemorry, William E. (Bill). Photograph Collection. Mss 10958. State Historical Society of North Dakota.
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