HAMILTON — Wallace Leroy (Wally) Atkinson, 91, passed away Monday, Nov. 26, 2018 surrounded by his loving family. He was born May 8, 1927 in Belt to Wallace Stewart Atkinson and Wonita Munden Atkinson.
Wally was raised in Deer Lodge until the age of 12 when the family moved to Shelby. He was an athlete at Shelby High School quarterbacking the football team, playing point guard for the basketball team and setting a Montana state high jump record in 1945. He graduated from Shelby High School in 1945.
His summers were spent with his grandmother Clara Munden in Deer Lodge where he worked for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroad fixing track. The workers were called "gandy dancers". He met Jeanette Rainville in Deer Lodge in 1943. He teasingly asked her to go to "The Gandy Dancers ball". But being from a railroad family, Jeanette knew there was no such thing. However, they continued to date and were together from that time on.
In 1945 Wally enlisted in the Navy and was honorably discharged in 1949. He married Jeanette Rainville, May 7, 1950, residing in Deer Lodge until 2013 when they moved to Hamilton. Together they had five children. He taught his kids to love sports, outdoor activities and especially reading. He always said you can do anything if you can read about it. He was proof of that. He taught himself all the skills he would need and together with Jeanette he built his own house, doing all the carpentry, plumbing, electrical work and everything else to make fabulous home for his family. Wally and Jeanette purchased 80 acres in the Sapphire mountains so their descendants could always own a piece of Montana. They of course built a cabin where the family spent many happy hours.
Wally worked for the railroad and as a truck driver, a correctional officer reaching the rank of lieutenant and as a certified watch maker (another skill he taught himself.) After retiring, not content to be idle, he started driving school bus and soon became a maintenance man for the school. He and Jeanette also had a lawn service with 30 clients which they operated until they were in their 80's.
Wally was active in the Catholic church. Together with Jeanette and their friends Pat and Charlotte Healy, they started serving breakfast in the parish center after Sunday mass with proceeds going to the church. They hosted a free Thanksgiving dinner for anyone who wanted to come and provided a family atmosphere for many people. They served 250 to 300 meals and also sent out 70 boxed dinners. The dinner tradition started in 1984 and continued for many years.
Wally is survived by his wife of 68 years Jeanette and sister Rena Hyvonen. Children Carol Andersen (Kris Anderson), Cheryl Terry (Golden), Cleo Klepzig (Casey), Tim Atkinson (Morgan Taylor) and Janet Wimmer (Tom), 14 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren. He is also survived by nieces Julia Marples (Chuck), Linda Bookout and nephew Ronald Hyvonen and their families.
"Well done Wally, a life well lived."
Funeral services will be announced at a later time with internment at Hill Crest Cemetery in Deer Lodge.