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WESTERN MONTANA LIVES - Jerry Brumwell was proud wordsmith
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WESTERN MONTANA LIVES - Jerry Brumwell was proud wordsmith

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Define tergiversate. Heck, try pronouncing it.

How about the word vesicating.

These are not common, everyday words, but then again, Jerry Brumwell of Hamilton was not a common man. The 59-year-old educator and family man, who died Oct. 30 after battling cancer, was an avid reader and had an insatiable appetite for learning. Conversations with Brumwell often ended in the other person grabbing for a dictionary.

(Tergiversate means to become a renegade; vesicating means blistering.)

"I didn't even know what it meant, but he loved to use them," said Layna Lyons, a close friend. Brumwell would visit Lyons at work and stump the people in the office with his extensive vocabulary. "He was a wordsmithin' fool."

He leaves behind an extensive library collection. Thousands of books filled up more than one bedroom, Lyons said.

"He would sit and read dictionaries cover to cover," said his nephew, Mike Brumwell.

For such a knowledgeable person with an extensive vocabulary, it's hard to imagine that doctors early on predicted Brumwell would never learn to read.

He was 3 when his father accidentally ran over his head with a tractor while baling hay in St. Ignatius. Doctors predicted the boy would die. At best, they said Brumwell would have permanent brain damage.

Brumwell lived his life with a plate in his head. His eyes were noticeably deformed. Sharp, debilitating headaches or mini-strokes would temporarily hamper his days. He told friends he didn't live a day without pain.

Yet, despite all odds, Brumwell learned to speak again. He eventually graduated from high school in Corvallis, and attended college, earning a degree from the University of Montana - and then a master's degree in special education, also from UM.

"He was always very intelligent," said Lyons, who graduated high school with Brumwell. "He always beat me on the tests. He had a drive to become the best he could be."

He worked with special needs children for almost 20 years in both Montana and Arizona. When he was teenager, he chose to join the Mormon Church even though his parents did not belong. He was an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hamilton.

Dancing was a forte for Brumwell. He never had any formal lessons, but he did own several dancing how-to books. It just came naturally to him, said his nephew.

Though he qualified, Brumwell never applied for any federal disability subsidies from the federal government. That was for the "truly needy," he told Ben Irvin, a longtime friend and retired school administrator.

Irvin and Brumwell met in the early '70s when they taught school together in Seeley Lake. Brumwell was the special education instructor. It was one of his first jobs. Every day he wore a suit, white shirt and red tie, Irvin said.

"He looked like he was going on tour for office, or giving a public speech," he said.

At the end of the year, the students traditionally challenged the faculty to an annual game of baseball. Even though Brumwell was never allowed to play sports because of his condition, he insisted on joining the faculty team. Still in his suit, Brumwell stood at the plate, but earned a walk to first base, Irvin said. The next person hit a hard line drive and the crowd instinctively yelled at Brumwell to run. He did, rounding the bases and running so hard he collapsed on home plate.

Faculty members called an ambulance, but Brumwell refused assistance, assuring everyone he was all right.

"He wanted to be independent," Irvin said. "He couldn't lead a normal life but he was hell-bent to prove everyone wrong."

When Brumwell's parents became sick in the '90s, he returned to Hamilton to care for them until their deaths. The love for his family evolved into a passion for genealogy. He studied the family roots back to the 1400s and amassed more than 8,000 names, said his nephew.

"He was devoted to his mom and dad," he said. "Family meant everything to him."

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at chelsi.moy@missoulian.com.

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