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Bill Watt

July 11, 1932 - February 14, 2020

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William Floyd “Bill” Watt, Sandpoint, Idaho, native and founder of Encoder Products Company, passed away peacefully from natural causes on February 14, 2020. He was 87.

Bill was born in Sandpoint in 1932 to Floyd Watt of Sagle, Idaho, and Ida Kallio of Finland. Bill loved to fish as a kid and was always tinkering with electronics. He graduated from Sandpoint High School in 1951, where he excelled in academics and played several high school sports.

Bill married Fern Guilford of Weiser, Idaho, in 1953 after meeting at Idaho State University, where he studied electronics. Following graduation, Bill joined the United States Coast Guard and worked as an electronics technician, serving in Astoria, OR, and Ketchikan, AK. After Bill was discharged from the USCG, Bill and Fern moved to Costa Mesa, California, where he worked for aerospace manufacturer McDonnell Douglas as an electronics technician.

In 1969, while working for McDonnell Douglas, Bill invented a motion feedback device for industrial automation called the Cube Encoder. The Cube Encoder revolutionized the field of industrial motion control and became an industry standard.

Bill and Fern had four children while living in California, but in 1972 they moved their startup company to Sandpoint in order to raise their children in the same beautiful small town where Bill grew up. Bill traveled the country in those early years, selling and setting up a distributor network for his encoders.

Over the following decades, Bill and Fern built Encoder Products Company (EPC) into a world-class manufacturer and assembled an engineering department that continues to design and develop high quality, precision encoders for the automation market. EPC has received numerous vendor and business awards over the years, and the company celebrated its 50th year of business last summer. EPC currently employs 140 people at its corporate headquarters in Sagle as well as other locations around the globe. Bill’s work was his life, and he always remembered, with great affection, the many employees and managers he worked with over his lifetime.

Bill stepped down as CEO in 2018, naming three of his long-time employees to replace him in key roles; Chief Technology Officer John Meschko as President/CEO, Bob White as CFO/Treasurer and James MacLachlan as Vice President. Bill and Fern’s wishes were for the company to continue on in the community, which it will through a family trust and its Board of Directors.

Bill was a kind, gentle man who enjoyed golf with his Encoder golf team; fishing with his wife and family in the San Juan Islands; boating on Lake Pend Oreille and to Poett Nook in Vancouver Island, Canada; and relaxing in Kona, Hawaii. He and his wife had great adventures together, traveling to many countries in his lifetime. Bill and Fern were deeply devoted to each other and loving to the end. He was a great father, grandfather, and husband. He will be deeply missed by his family.

Bill is survived by his wife of 68 years, Fern; sister Mary Ann Goody (Dick); son Chris Watt; daughter Janell Heiland (Randy); son Steven Watt (Miki Hirano); daughter Sheryl Barlow (Tye); and his grandchildren: Evan Watt, Vivian Watt, Jacob Heiland, Miranda Heiland, Aki Hirano, Brianna Barlow, Koby Barlow, and many nieces and nephews.

A celebration of Bill’s life will be held at the Elk’s Golf Course in Ponderay on Tuesday, February 25th from 3:30 – 5:30 pm. A private family burial will take place in early summer. In lieu of flowers, donations to Bonner General Health Hospice would be appreciated.