Bill Raney

Bill Raney

Bill Raney, author of Letters to Zerky, was born in Grand Forks, ND, and spent his teen years in Port Angeles, Washington. It was there he got a ham radio license and started cruising the world on the airwaves. After two and a half years at Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, he dropped out to become a beatnik in San Francisco’s North Beach district in the late 1950s and the 1960s. It was there he met and then married JoAnne Walker, who owned and ran The Movie, a small art theatre in North Beach.

In April of 1967, soon after Bill and JoAnne adopted their son Zerky (Eric Xerxes Raney), they left for the journey detailed in Letters to Zerky: A Father’s Legacy to a Lost Son and a Road Trip Around the World. Upon their return to California, thirteen months later, they moved down the coast to Santa Cruz, where Bill got a bank loan and started the Nickelodeon Theatre, now a Santa Cruz institution. It is still going strong today.  One month after the Nickelodeon opened, JoAnne died in her sleep of an undiagnosed cerebral aneurism, and about year after that Zerky died.

Two years after JoAnne’s death, Bill married Nancy. Together they ran the Nickelodeon Theatre, with periodic getaway trips to exotic places. After selling the Nickelodeon in 1997, they moved to Spain for six months. Upon their return to the U.S., they bought an old 42-foot trawler on which they lived for the next eight years, cruising the Pacific Coast from Santa Cruz north to Alaska and back. It was towards the end of their wandering lifestyle on the boat that Bill came across the letters he had written to Zerky on that trip so many years before. He also rediscovered some old pictures and JoAnne’s diary. Bill realized they could be a book that might serve as a memorial to Zerky and JoAnne. Today the Raneys live in a redwood forest outside Santa Cruz, California.  Bill’s wanderlust still grips him from time to time, although his seventy-four years have slowed him down. Zachary, Zerky’s adopted brother, grew up to become a baseball pitcher, and is now a teacher living in San Diego. In addition to Letters to Zerky, Bill wrote and recorded a song about the trip, Zerky’s Waltz, which can be heard at Bill has also refurbished an old VW bus, which is now the “Zerky Mobile”. He intends to drive it as far as he dares (spare parts are hard to find). Bill is also in the process of establishing a small “park” at the Santa Cruz High playing field, in memory of Zerky.  

JoAnne Walker Raney was born in Consumers, Utah, then a mining camp up in the mountains, now a ghost town. After graduating from Stanford University in 1955, having majored in International Relations and studied Russian, she moved to Paris, and then hitchhiked through Yugoslavia (during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising). A few of her adventures there are recounted in Letters to Zerky. She returned to San Francisco in the late 1950s to buy and remodel The Movie, a small art theatre that had come up for sale in North Beach. She and Bill were married in 1966. In May of 1967, on the eve of The Summer of Love, as runaways began trickling into San Francisco, with flowers in their hair, JoAnne sold her little theatre and she, Bill, Zerky and their little dog, Tarzan, departed on their around the world adventure. Upon returning to California thirteen months later, the Raneys moved down the coast to Santa Cruz. While Bill worked to make the Nickelodeon Theatre a reality, JoAnne chose to focus on being a full-time mother to Zerky and to Zachary, their second adopted child, and soon to a third child, Karina, when JoAnne unexpectedly became pregnant. Eight months later — and a month after the Nickelodeon opened — JoAnne, and her unborn daughter, Karina, died of an undiagnosed cerebral aneurysm. See the Waltzing Around the World website.

Bill Raney appears in

  • This broadcast is a favorite legacy show that we produced under our old name Travel'n On and before re-branding as WORLD FOOTPRINTS. Get insights into interesting conservation efforts like Green Living Project and Waterkeeper Alliance The son of America’s 64th Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., talks with World Footprints hosts Tonya and Ian Fitzpatrick about his involvement with a new documentary, Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk 3D. “It was a chance to go down the Colorado River,” he says. “That’s important to be because my father took me on this river when I was 13.”  An environmental attorney and activist, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., was named by Time Magazine as one of its “Heroes for the Planet” in 1999.  RFK, Jr., also talks about work with Waterkeeper Alliance . Rob Holmes, Founder & President of Green Living Project, is traveling through Central America to Maine filming the work and volunteer [...]