MISSOULA – Erwin Byrnes died at home of Parkinson’s disease on Monday, March 17, 2014. He was born Sept. 22, 1928, in Glendive to Amanda (Halvorsen) Byrnes and Charles Byrnes. His mother was born in Norway and his father in Ireland.
Erwin inherited a strong work ethic and he worked at many jobs, starting as a 12-year-old shining shoes. He also worked in a grocery store, in the wool house at the railroad yards and on the bridge and building crew.
He graduated from Dawson County High School in 1946, then began his college career at Dawson County Community College. He later attended the University of Montana (then Montana State University) and graduated in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in education. In 1969, he received a master’s in economics from Purdue University.
While at UM, he met Ethel Goyette at their shared dining hall, and when she asked him to play catch one sunny spring day he was hooked. They were married in Cascade on Dec. 17, 1950. On their honeymoon, traveling in a borrowed car, they stopped to watch a Bobcats (!) basketball game. In the years that followed, their shared love of sports would often lead them to far-flung destinations as they followed their beloved Lady Griz and Griz.
Erwin was drafted into the Army in 1951 and served at bases in California and South Korea before his discharge in 1953. Later that year, he began his first teaching job at Red Lodge. He embraced that close-knit ethnic community and made many lifelong friends.
In the fall of 1959, Erwin brought his family back to Missoula and began his long tenure at Sentinel High School. He developed strong friendships with other teachers and with the custodians, cooks, bus drivers and other staff. He felt they were all vital to the school’s success.
Erwin related well to his students, as a teacher and later a vice principal because he really cared about them. They often laugh to recall his enthusiastic cheerleading at pep assemblies. In 1970, he organized the first SCUM Day (Students Clean Up Missoula). He was a loyal supporter of all things Spartan. When he retired in 1981, he was sent off with a lot of love and bicycles for him and for Ethel.
Refereeing was an important part of Erwin’s life. He began reffing boys’ basketball in Red Lodge and added football and girls’ basketball after moving to Missoula. He helped run the local pool of officials and encouraged the newcomers. In 1995, he was inducted into the Montana Officials Hall of Fame.
Track meets were another of his interests, and for many years he was the announcer for university and state high school track meets. He felt it was important that the athletes were recognized for their accomplishments.
Erwin often volunteered at St. Paul Lutheran Church, which he first attended as a UM student. He served on the board of Missoula Aging Services and was the longtime treasurer for Honors Court after being inducted as the winner of the Chinske Award. He was also proud to be a part of the group that acquired wilderness designation for the Rattlesnake.
Erwin loved to cook the Thanksgiving turkey for the family and, often, several guests. His children remember fondly the breakfasts he cooked on a griddle over a campfire during memorable summers at the lake.
He and Ethel loved to hike and they conquered many western Montana peaks. They last hiked to the “M” on New Year’s Day 2012. Travel was in their blood, too, and they especially loved the back roads. They often packed their six young children into the station wagon and off they would go.
In 2000, Erwin and Ethel traveled to Great Britain and Ireland where Erwin found his father’s family home and the M.J. Byrne pub where relatives still manned the oldest pub in Ireland continuously owned by one family. Erwin bought a round for the house.
Erwin just plain loved people. By his example, he taught his children to respect others regardless of their race or circumstances in life. He was generous and always ready to lend a hand. He was as comfortable visiting with a CEO as he was with the hotel maid (as he offered to help her make the bed).
Erwin is survived by Ethel, his wife of 63 years; son, Jack, his wife Linda and their children Ryan, Nicole and Michelle; daughter, Laura, her husband Rick Zanto, Laura’s sons Jon (Roseanna) and Charlie Martin, and Rick’s son Kyle; daughter, Jean, her husband Michael Peters and their children Christopher (Stephanie), Anna and Holly; son, Tom, his wife Monica and their children Lindsay, Amanda and Scott; daughters, Andrea and Betsy; and by five great- grandchildren.
Erwin suggests that any donations in his memory be made to Missoula Aging Services or the Poverello Center.
Cremation has taken place. Erwin and his family invite all his friends to join in a celebration of his life, Saturday, March 22, at 1:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree Hotel, 100 Madison St. in Missoula. Casual dress.