Elton W. “Bill” Bethke, 86, of Missoula, passed away on Tuesday, February 28th at his home in The Springs from ongoing heart and lung ailments that he fought heroically his last several years.
Bill was born on September 2, 1930 in Butte, MT to William A. Bethke and Clara Tacke Bethke, and was an only child. He graduated from Butte High School in 1948. While in high school, he was involved in radio, played violin in the Swingsters, Art Club, National Thespians and the school plays. His love of the outdoors and his dream to become a Park Ranger moved him to Missoula where he attended the University of Montana. He earned his bachelor degree in Forestry in 1954, and was recently acknowledged with a standing ovation as the oldest attending graduate at the 100th Forester’s Ball Banquet held in Missoula last month! It brought him great joy and the family wishes to thank Jeff and Lynn Sholty for inviting him.
During college, his mother sent him $10 and told him to take an old classmate on a date, as she was transferring and new to the UM. That classmate was Jill (Jacqueline) Myers, someone he’d known since kindergarten through Butte High graduation in 1948. She was also the Homecoming Queen their senior year and would end up being his lifetime “sweetheart”. Bill and Jill were married in October 1954. Bill did get a Park Ranger position working in Yellowstone National Park until he was drafted and served in the US Army for two years. After getting out of the Army, there were no National Park jobs available in Montana so he went to work at Interstate Lumber in Missoula and then got hired to manage Anaconda Building Materials in Hamilton.
Bill and Jill were blessed with three daughters; Susan, Jackie and Barbara. After settling in Hamilton, the Anaconda company transferred him back to Missoula in 1968. He built their first home as a family up the Rattlesnake in the Lincoln Hills division. He had chosen a lot that was plotted but was not on a street that had been developed. He insisted to the developers that he be the first house on that path that would later become September Drive. Just last year when the family started reminiscing about being the 13th or 14th house up on the hill, he disclosed the story about how the developers asked him to name the street, and he chose to name it after his favorite month and birth month, September!
Bill loved spending family time on vacations and enjoyed taking his family to Glacier Park at least twice a year. He loved animals, especially his many house cats over the years. He had a great interest in the outdoors, in woodworking, photography and in later years, model trains.
Bill was preceded in death in 2012 by his wife of 58 years Jacqueline “Jill” Bethke, and his oldest daughter Susan Bethke Hightower in 2013. He is survived by his daughter Barbara Bethke (Brian Kohl) of Clearfield, UT, daughter Jackie Bethke Larson (Dan Tabish) of Missoula; Klas Hightower (surviving son-in-law of late daughter Susan); nieces Patty (Rob) Yarak of Mission Viejo, CA and Debbie (Fred) Zanotto of San Jose, CA, nephew Jack Myers Jr. (Debbie) of Yorktown, PA, cousins Christine and Carol Johnson of the Seattle area, and many other grand nieces, grand nephews and cousins.
Bill moved from his house in the Rattlesnake to The Springs Assisted Living facility in February 2016. It was there that he enjoyed his last year of life, where he was known for his 4:00pm pre-dinner cocktail, and became a favorite of those who helped take care of him. He was extraordinarily kind and funny and a joy to be around until his last days. The family extends a heartfelt thank you to Dr. Kelly and Nurse Cindy Allen for all the special care and attention he received. A sincere thank you to all the caretakers at The Springs who brought him so much joy and comfort, and to Pastor Hasselbrook for providing him personal church service and communion regularly, which he was most thankful for. The family would like to give special thanks to Angela Kohl, a family friend and nurse, who helped care for Bill during his final years. The family would also like to recognize former neighbor John Moody, who graciously helped Bill during his final years on September Drive. Thanks also goes to Klas Hightower, Val Piercy and her therapy dog, Moose, who regularly visited Bill.
A service to celebrate Bill’s life will be held Wednesday March 8th at 11:00 a.m. at Sunset Memorial Funeral Home, followed by a light lunch reception, and perhaps a toast with “Old Overcoat”!
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Hospice, American Heart Association, Missoula Humane Society, or a charity of your choice.