HELENA — Rich was born May 14, 1941, in Bonner to Doris (Lincoln) Petaja and George Michael Petaja. He was later joined by sisters Joanne (Stein) and Donna (Sloane).
In his youth he became an Eagle Scout after his father started the first Boy Scout troop in Montana. As a young man Rich — who was known as Dick until the day he turned 40 and put his foot down about it — was a smoke jumper in the Forest Service. He attended the University of Montana where he earned a bachelor’s degree, and met his wife, Janie Jo White. They married in 1967.
His education was interrupted by the Vietnam War, where he served as a Captain in the Army.
Rich and Janie moved with the army — including several years stationed near Vicenza, Italy, where their first son David was born. In the last years of his enlistment they returned to the U.S. and were stationed in Huntsville, Alabama, where their first daughter Amy was born. Following his honorable discharge from the Army, the young family moved back home to Missoula where Rich completed a master's degree in sociology and bought their first home. In Missoula the family was joined by daughter Susan and son John.
The family then moved to Helena where Rich began a 30 year career working for the Department of Corrections. After retirement he very much enjoyed the opportunity to volunteer for the Red Cross, and then travel the country working directly for FEMA assisting people in hurricane recovery.
Rich had a love of art, and over the years learned to create calligraphy and stained glass and spent many years restoring the Queen Anne Victorian home the family purchased in Helena.
On Jan. 2, 2014, Rich suffered a stroke which forced his retirement. He has been cared for by his wife Janie for these last years.
Rich is survived by his sisters Joanne and Donna, Janie his wife of 51 years, his four children David, Amy (Charles Tscharner), Susan (Adam Velasquez), and John (Elissa Sussman) and five grandchildren of whom he was very proud.
Daddy left us too soon, and he is greatly missed. A family service will be held in the summer to celebrate his life. He would love it if in his memory you would be very kind to your loved ones and find a way to help someone who does not expect it.
The family would like to thank Compassus Hospice, Rocky Mountain Nursing Home daycare, and VA Montana for all their kindness and help.