John William Brinkerhoff passed away October 5, 2017 at the age of 94. He died peacefully, a few minutes after hearing the rosary said for him by his sister and son; and his family, friends and clergy were with him during his brief time in hospice. John was remarkably independent, vibrant and active until the last few days of his life. Every day, a twinkle in his eye, a quick smile and out the door early with a list of chores to get done.
John was born March 8, 1923 in Kalispell to Jacob Albert (“Bert”) and Charlotte (“Lottie”) Brinkerhoff, who were of Dutch and German heritage. He was the middle son of 3 siblings and raised on a family farm in Deer Park with his older brother, Donald, and his younger sister, Ellen. John and his siblings would milk the cows and do chores before walking, or on special occasions, riding the family draft horse 2 miles to school. Like many children of their era, they loved to go to school barefoot whenever they could. John graduated from Deer Park Elementary School in 1937 and Flathead High School in1941.
John joined the Navy in 1942 and served 3 years during WWII in the Pacific, as part of the Seabees (Construction Battalion), building airstrips and bases across many atolls and islands, including the Marshall Islands, Marianas, Palau (Peleliu) and the Solomon Islands (Guadalcanal). John and Ellen lost their brother, Donald, during WWII, who died fighting in Germany a little over a month before VE Day, May 8, 1945. Ellen and John revered their older brother and would talk about him fondly throughout their lives, giving glimpses into the hard but special upbringing they all shared in the Flathead Valley during the depression.
After WWII, John attended and graduated from the University of Montana in 1950 with a degree in Forestry. During the summer months of his college years, he manned look out towers, learned horse packing and became a smoke jumper with the U.S. Forest Service. He was called back to the Navy during the Korean War and served another year and a half, mostly on aircraft carriers.
In 1951 John married Ruth Josephine Hellman of Columbia Falls. They got married at the Alameda Naval Station in Oakland (CA) and lived in Oxnard (CA) for a short time until John was honorably discharged from the Navy. He began his career with the U.S. Forest Service in 1951 as well. John and Ruth started their family while living at USFS ranger stations in Coram, Bonners Ferry (ID) and Trout Creek. During that time, their children were born – Alice, Coleen, Donald and Greg. In the fall of 1963, John and Ruth moved their family to Missoula, where they raised their children and lived until John retired in 1977.
During his career, John was active in many community projects and endeavors. He was a charter member and director of the Flathead Credit Union, Manager-Operator of the Bonners Ferry Ski Area, member of the Bonners Ferry Gun Club, Noxon Gun Club and NRA; and instructor in the Montana Hunters Safety Program. John was also a member of the Thompson Falls Chamber of Commerce, director in the Orchard Homes Association and member of the Intermountain Logging Conference.
In 1977, John returned to the Flathead Valley, where he would live the rest of his life on the family farm where he was raised. He worked as a consultant for Canyon Logging and Plum Creek Timber for many years and farmed as well during his “retirement.” John married Helen Horner Weiand in 1985 and they enjoyed their retirement years traveling to national monuments and historical sites in the west, camping and picnicking, dancing at the F.O.E. Eagles on Saturday nights, visiting family and teaching us all sorts of fun card and dice games from decades ago.
Our Dad and Grandfather was truly a renaissance man from a bygone era. He was well read, an avid hunter, fisherman, horse packer, hiker, snow skier, water skier, dancer and card player (dice too!). John was a carpenter, farmer, gardener and sawyer as well, like many from his generation. He bestowed upon his children and grandchildren a tremendous zest for life and adventure. We love you and miss you, Dad and Grandpa. We will always remember you in our prayers and reminiscing of the countless adventures you took us on.
John is survived by his sister, Ellen Brinkerhoff (Kalispell), his four children, their spouses and eight grandchildren – Alice, John, Gene, Jake and Jesse Sol (Missoula); Coleen, Bob, Brian and Kyle Anderson (Missoula); Don, Donna, Timothy and Layla Brinkerhoff (Fort Benton); and Greg, Lia and Anika Brinkerhoff (San Francisco). John is also survived by his nephew, Rob Miller (Bozeman).
A rosary will be said 6.30 pm at Columbia Mortuary on Thursday, October 19, 2017. A memorial mass will be held 10.00 a.m. at St. Richard’s Catholic Church on Friday, October 20, 2017. Burial will immediately follow at Glacier Memorial Gardens. A lunch reception will be hosted 12 pm at St. Richards Catholic Church. Funeral arrangements are being coordinated by Columbia Mortuary (Troy Knutson, 406-892-4289). Flowers and remembrances may be coordinated through the mortuary or the church (Father Sean Raftis, 406-892-5142).