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John Bowdish

April 21, 1931 — December 19, 2021

Whitefish

Ninety years ago John T. Bowdish was born during the peak of America’s deepest depression; the baby brother of a future adventurer, a future professor, and a future teacher. A surprise child, his parents Harry and Ellen welcomed him into a home without electricity and running water.

The boy grew into a handsome red headed young man with his dad’s love of farming, his grandfather’s love of timber, and his mother’s love of family. He met the love of his life, Shirley, at the Western Montana Fair in his Army National Guard uniform. Until they married the next year John would make the two hour drive to see his schoolteacher girlfriend every Friday night. On his return drives, often late at night, he would pull over and sleep in his car along the shore of Flathead Lake.

After a June wedding, the newlywed’s first home was a slab shack with newspaper insulation; later upgraded to an old house with suspect wiring and skunks living under the uninsulated floorboards. They both wanted children but weren’t able to conceive. In 1962 they adopted their son David, followed by their son Bruce in 1965.

Getting by was hard for the young family. The unirrigated land was part sand and a lot of rock. The crops alone were not enough to keep the family afloat. What John had was perseverance and a sturdy body built for physical labor. He cut timber, sold firewood, and harvested Christmas trees. He loved working the land but he wanted a better life for his family.

To that end, at various times he took extra work as a doorman for the Blue Moon, a Flathead Sheriff’s deputy, a feed salesman, a small lumber mill operator, and Justice of Peace for Whitefish. Despite his workload, he was always there when others needed help. He pulled countless people out of ditches, plowed neighbor’s roads, assisted other farmer’s in crisis, and mentored several new farmers. Over his lifetime he donated over 160 pints of blood.

After 20 years in the National Guard he retired as a Major.  With that he grew his beard, never to shave it again. Together with his always present cowboy hat he was easy to spot in town. Rarely would he enter a store where someone didn’t call out his name and engage in conversation; sometimes peppered with a well-told joke.

The kids moved away to college in the ‘80s giving him more time to volunteer. He helped time logging sports events in nearby towns, taught shooting sports for 4H, collected recycling for FVCC donations, and opened his land for use by the FVCC Forestry Club.  He was awarded Montana “Tree Farmer of the Year” for his careful management of his timber.

In the 1990s, John and Shirley finally built their dream home to live out their days. A short three years later Shirley died unexpectedly after being kicked by a horse. Part of him died that day but John persisted, as he always had, and slowly he rebuilt his life.

Now alone on the farm, he took on boarders; people who were often in a transitory period in their lives. He would help them as they established their new lives; sometimes providing quiet philanthropy when needed.

Even giants of men see their bodies break down from a lifetime of use. His knees wore out, his hands could no longer loosen bolts under a tractor, and driving became more difficult. Yet, he persevered. Family and friends helped him stay on the land he’d nurtured over a lifetime until he needed full-time care. The Springs in Whitefish took great care of John and he was thankful for the kind caregivers, but his home was on the farm he grew up on and cared for.

On December 19th, after 90 years, John’s body could no longer persevere. He passed peacefully in his sleep. He is now reunited with his greatest love, Shirley. The world is a better for him having been in it.

John was preceded in death by his parents, Harry and Ellen, his wife Shirley, his sister Ada, and his brother Frank. He is survived by his two sons, Bruce and David, his granddaughters Emerson and Shayla, his sister Louise, and many nieces and nephews who will all miss “Uncle John”.   To send flowers, please consider a donation to Flathead Valley Community College on behalf of John Bowdish.

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