Ira James (Jake) Heckathorn, 95, of Whitefish, grudgingly succumbed to chronic medical conditions on Dec. 5, 2018 at the Montana Veterans Home in Columbia Falls; he retired from the Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Jake (one of nine children) was born Sept. 4, 1923, in Wolf Creek, Montana to Lee and Minnie Heckathorn who homesteaded in a sod house, with no electricity, no running water, no easy life. He remembered having to take a horse and wagon 5 miles to the river for water. He attended grade school in Wolf Creek, and high school in Cascade, Montana.
The second season of Jake’s life began in 1943 when he was sent to basic training; he had wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force, but instead became a surgical technician in the 105th Evacuation Hospital, then transferred to a stateside MASH unit. He then volunteered for the infantry, training in France where he made 2nd Lieutenant. Jake was scheduled to be sent to Japan in 1945; the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and by the time he got to the Pacific, the armistice had been signed. He spent 11 months in the Philippines, and did engage the enemy, an isolated Japanese troop of Imperial Marines who had no idea the war was over, and were happy to surrender and go home.
The next season of Jake’s life began in September, 1946 when he headed for college at University of Montana on the GI Bill. As luck would have it, he was seated next to Connie; after law school, though, they went their separate ways for a while and Jake worked as a State Trial Attorney for Montana Veterans Administration in Helena. In 1950, he moved to Whitefish; because he had enlisted in the reserves, he was called to Korea; after several delays, he went to Helena to reconnect with Connie. They married in 1951, and moved to Whitefish in 1954.
The next season in Jake’s story was as an active and generous member of the Whitefish community. In 1960, Jake joined with the law firm of Murphy and Robinson (following a career in private practice) in Kalispell; they merged with the Crowley Law Firm, where Jake worked until he retired at 80 years of age.
Jake was involved in the Rotary Club, Masons, Lions Club, and was the second Prime Minister of the Whitefish Carnival; he acted in administrative, support, and fundraising roles for the North Valley Hospital. After over 40 years of service, Jake was awarded the first “Spirit of Caring Award” by North Valley Hospital in 2003; he provided legal guidance, attended Board of Director meetings, and was a founding member of the North Valley Hospital Foundation. He served as co-chair of the 2001 Capital Campaign, and was Honorary Chairman for the new hospital campaign, and continued to provide his time and advice to North Valley Hospital for more than 50 years. Jake was just recently honored by the North Valley Hospital with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
He was also instrumental in fundraising for the Whitefish Library, the Winter Carnival, and much of the community growth in Whitefish; he maintained business interests in the South Pacific (MT Pacific Corp.). He provided support to Big Mountain Winter Sports, and to his clients — continuing to work with and support indigent plaintiffs.
Jake was an outdoorsman, and enjoyed hunting (he took his last deer just five years ago), and continued to enjoy fishing, hiking in Glacier Park, and many other outdoor activities as he could.
Jake is survived by his wife, Connie (Vera Jean) of Whitefish; a daughter, Marti Bezdicek, of Spokane, Washington; grandchildren, Annie (Joe) Magnan of Williston, North Dakota, and Jamie Bezdicek of Spokane, Washington; great-grandchildren, Addisyn, Emmit, Allayna and Eli of Spokane, Washington, and Ava, Gage, and Ember of Williston, North Dakota. Jake was preceded in death by his son, Jim.
A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: North Valley Hospital or the Whitefish Community Library.