MISSOULA — William ‘Rod’ Gilchrist passed away at his home due to cancer on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017.

Rod was born on Oct. 25, 1931, in Avoca, Iowa. He spent most of his youth in Coon Rapids, Iowa. He was adventurous and resourceful, spending all his spare time and more hunting, fishing, trapping and camping with his friends and the local Boy Scout troop. All his life, he loved to tell stories about chasing raccoons and catching fish back in Iowa. 

He was a standout athlete at Coon Rapids, playing football, basketball and baseball. He used that talent to gain a scholarship to Dana College in Nebraska, a football program that had a spot for a 170-pound offensive lineman. Football was a different game back in those days, and not for the faint of heart. Those were still the days of leather helmets and no facemasks. Rod had a roarin’ good time at Dana — playing football in the fall and boxing through the winter to stay in shape. He had such a good time that after two years, the conservative Lutheran leadership of this tiny college felt he was having a little too much fun. He often said he wasn’t booted out … he was “invited to leave.”

So, off he went to Iowa State University. His football career was over and it was time to get a little more serious. Rod studied landscape architecture and city planning, graduating in 1955. Football was over for him, but he still had time to box, lifeguard in the summers and play a lot of baseball. All that fun came crashing to a halt when Uncle Sam came calling.

Rod was drafted in the Army in 1955, and served in the 83rd Recon. After boot camp, he shipped out to Germany. It was post WWII, and the Berlin wall was still being worked on. He loved to tell stories about driving his little machine gun Jeep back and forth on patrol in front of the Russian tanks. He seemed to truly enjoy his time there, and often spoke fondly of his adventures in Europe. He was discharged from the service in 1957. 

Back in the USA, he put his education to work and wound up in San Diego, California, where he went to work at the San Diego City Planning Department. While in San Diego, he met Joanne Griffone, from Price, Utah. Rod found his perfect match. They were married in 1958, and Rod and Joanne were never apart until her death in the spring of 2000.

During those hectic years, his first son was born. Gary John came to the family in 1962. The whole family moved to Seattle, where Rod worked as the director of the Southwest Snohomish County Joint Planning Council. Greg was born in Seattle in 1964, and in 1966, Rod interviewed for a job in a small town called Idaho Falls. He went straight home to Seattle, gathered the family and never looked back. The hills were calling him, and Idaho had everything he was looking for. Ginger came along in 1970, and the family was complete. The next decades were filled with soccer, track, football, scouting, family camping, fishing, hunting … all the fabulous things that Rod moved the family to Idaho for. Rod retired from the City of Idaho Falls in April 1997. He held many titles, including city planner, director of Bonneville Council of Governments, director of Idaho Falls Planning and Building Department and was a past president of the Idaho Planning Association. 

By the late 70s, Joanne began her long battle with cancer. As the kids grew older and left the house, her care fell primarily to Rod. His true character and heart never shone brighter. He kept his demanding job rolling along, took care of the home, and cared for Mom every day until her passing in the spring of 2000. With all his family gone or going, Rod decided to join Greg and Julie in Montana at Lake Upsata Guest Ranch. As with everything else, he dove in with both feet. He was a constant presence at the lodge, entertaining guests and helping with a myriad of hard work and chores. He became a licensed fishing guide and spent untold days on the waters of the Blackfoot Valley, helping our guests from around the world enjoy the treasures of Montana. He helped raise his two grandchildren, Paige and Alan. It’s not often in our busy world that a grandparent gets to see their grandchildren grow up every day.

Rod eventually settled in Lolo, with the last of his big, goofy Labrador retrievers. He stayed busy mowing lawns and tending gardens right up until a few months before he passed. 

He was a special person. He was passionate about life. 

He loved to hunt. He loved to fish. He loved to just be out in the hills. He was 73 years old the last time he rode the 23 miles into the Bob Marshall Wilderness to run hunting camp for us. He loved Labrador retrievers. He loved the Green Bay Packers. He loved the Chicago Cubs. He loved elk meat and gin martinis and the turning of the leaves in the fall. He loved the cedar wax wings when they swarmed his trees. He loved jazz and blues, and told stories of all the old greats that he had seen in his day. But most of all he loved his family and friends. And he, in turn, was loved and admired. He will be missed forever. There will never be another “Rodfather.”

There will be a graveside service at Fielding Memorial Cemetery in Idaho Falls, Idaho, on Saturday, Nov. 11, immediately followed by a reception and life celebration at the Hilton Garden Inn, 700 Lindsay Boulevard, Idaho Falls. 

Garden City Funeral Home is assisting the family.

the life of: William ‘Rod’ Gilchrist
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