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MISSOULA — Jack died on Monday, Jan. 21, two days shy of his 85th birthday. As Auden said of Yeats, “The day of his death was a dark, cold day.” Born in Madison, Illinois, to Bertha and Raymond, Jack was the last of eleven children. When still a boy, he moved to San Pedro, California, to be close to his brothers and sisters. After graduating from Narbonne High School in 1952, he joined the army — where, much to his surprise, he learned that his given name was John. He became a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, serving with honor for three years.

After his discharge, he met and married Emilie Joncich in 1958. Her father, Marion, wanted to make certain that Jack had the merit to take care of his daughter, enlisted him as a crew member on his tuna boat. Three years of long periods at sea, as well as a wife and new daughter at home, convinced Jack of the need for work on land. Over the next 40 or so years, Jack would work a variety of jobs, but most often as an auto mechanic, a trade from which he would retire at the age of 62. During this time, he and his family continually moved northward, first to the Central Valley of California, then, on a lark, to the decidedly land-locked western Montana.

Jack decided to forego the extra cash he would have received by working until 65, opting for the more important occupation of experiencing the other options life had on offer. Jack had a strong zest for life-good food, wine, and travel. He and Emilie, would travel to numerous places in the world, mostly in the company of his beloved sister-in-law, Geri, as well as vagabonding throughout North America in a motor-home. 

Jack also used his newfound freedom to volunteer in his Missoula community; first with Missoula Aging services, but for most of the last 20 years with the Missoula Police Department.

But the key to Jack’s life was his deep love of family. He was devoted to keeping alive these connections. Perhaps being the youngest of 11, he recognized the fleetingness of life, and held on to his family for all he was worth. Family reunions was Jack’s idea of heaven. As each became smaller, and more difficult to pull off, phone calls and a passion for being a family historian filled the void.

After his wife of 58 years died in 2016, he refused to give up on the joys life had on offer, including his renewed love of vodka martinis. When he died, his daughter Wendy had music playing on shuffle in the room. Three songs bracketed his death: “The Wind” by Cat Stevens; “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd; and “Let It Be” by the Beatles. Anyone who knew Jack would understand.

Jack is survived by his daughter Wendy and son-in-law Matt; his son Shawn and daughter-in-law Laura; and grandkids Kyle, Maggie and Brendan. Jack will be missed.

Mass will be celebrated on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, at 10:30 a.m. at Christ the King Parish, with interment to follow at Western Montana State Veteran’s Cemetery. Condolences can be left for the family at

the life of: John (Jack) Wathen
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