Cover photo for James Cole's Obituary
James Cole Profile Photo
1927 James 2020

James Cole

November 17, 1927 — November 21, 2020

James H. Cole

MISSOULA – James Howard Cole, 93, of Missoula died peacefully at his home Saturday, November 21, 2020, of natural causes.
Jim Cole was born on his grandparents’ homestead, just south of Ronan, Montana, on November 17, 1927, and he made it clear throughout his life that being a native Montanan was one of his proudest accomplishments. He grew up in Livingston, Montana, with Paradise Valley and Yellowstone Park as his backyard where he developed a love for and great skills in hunting and fishing. He was a talented athlete at Park High, excelling in football and basketball. During high school, he also began developing his remarkable bass singing voice, guided by a special young music teacher, Lois Dahl. After graduating from Park High in the spring of 1946, he and Lois were married. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in October and served at the 4th Replacement Depot in Zama, Japan, as a military policeman until his honorable discharge in February of 1948.
When he returned home, he attended Montana State University (now the University of Montana) in Missoula, where Lois was an instructor in the Piano Department. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music education in 1952, followed by a master’s degree in 1953. In 1954, they welcomed their pride and joy, “Son Bob,” who was then carried in Jim’s heart every moment of his life. He became supervisor of vocal music education for grades 1-8 for all Missoula County School District 1 schools, and he taught every 7-8 grade class himself. He served as music supervisor for over 22 years and, with Lois’ skills at musical arrangements and piano accompaniment, he developed and presented numerous public vocal performances which often included nearly 300 students singing together. His greatest talent was connecting with young people and helping the boys, especially, understand that singing was not “sissy” but something to enjoy and be proud of. He kept his students’ attention with a booming voice, a sense of humor, and his infamous yardstick. He was recognized statewide as an outstanding educator, evidenced by his election as the 1965 president of the Montana Association of Music Teachers.
Throughout his life, he loved to perform publicly himself. His robust rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner opened numerous Grizzly football and basketball games as well as baseball games for the Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves and rodeos throughout the region.
He was an avid horseman with a fiercely competitive spirit. As a co-captain of the Missoula County Sheriff’s Posse team in the 1960’s and 70’s, he was a driving force in leading the posse’s cowboy polo teams to a flock of state titles and several outstanding showings in national tournaments, twice losing the national championship game in overtime. He was elected to serve two terms as president of the National Cowboy Polo Association; his proudest accomplishment in that role was that he “taught those Texas boys how to read the rule book!”
In 1956 he was asked to sing the national anthem at the Missoula KO rodeo. That performance led to a lifelong friendship with rodeo producer Reg Kessler and a lifelong association with professional rodeo. In addition to singing the national anthem for decades to open the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals in Great Falls, Montana, he also sang at the Dodge National Circuit Finals in Pocatello, Idaho, the Labor Day Jaycee Rodeo in Dillon, Montana, the College National Finals Rodeo in Bozeman, Montana, and other area rodeos. But he wasn’t just a pretty voice, he also opened chute gates, untied calves, and picked up flank straps for hundreds of rodeo performances. In addition to participating in the rodeo in Pocatello, he presented school assembly programs to hundreds of Pocatello junior high students about the various rodeo events. He was made an honorary lifetime member of the PRCA, and in 2012 he was inducted into the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame as a Living Legend in recognition of his extraordinary lifelong contributions to the sport.
He left teaching in 1975 but continued his involvement in education with his election to the Missoula County School District 1 school board, where he served from 1977 – 1983. Beginning in the summer of 1983, he was selected as one of Yellowstone National Park’s “Artists in Residence.” First at the Lake Hotel, then soon at the Old Faithful Inn, he met thousands of park visitors each year who enjoyed his unique artwork of wildlife burned on saddle leather with a wood burning tool. In the evenings, he would serenade Inn visitors from the balcony with an amazing repertoire of show tunes, folk songs, and popular music. In his signature Resistol hat, neck scarf, and cowboy attire, he often had hundreds of park visitors singing along to familiar tunes. He loved talking to people; his years as a successful artist at the Inn were very dear to him.
He and Lois were divorced in 1987. After his marriage to Patricia Eisenbise later that year, they moved to a beautiful property north of Gardiner, Montana, where he and Pat rejoiced in over 30 years together, fishing, horseback riding, and watching the daily parade of Montana wildlife around their home. They travelled to all parts of the United States, including following the Griz to many FCS national football championship games. He became interested in black powder shooting and mountain man rendezvous encampments and attended regional events. He was active in the Gardiner and Livingston communities and was elected president of the Park County Pioneer Society for 1997 – 98. Being able to help introduce his grandsons to fishing and hunting in the same wonderful Montana locations where he had learned as a boy was one of his great joys. In 2018 Jim and Pat moved back to Missoula to be closer to dear family and his beloved University of Montana and where Pat was grateful to have him at home with her until his death. One of his biggest disappointments was not getting to use his season football tickets to Grizzly football games this fall.
Jim was preceded in death by his father and mother, Harvey and Josephine Cole, his brother Bob, and his former wife Lois.
He is survived by his wife Pat, his son Bob and Bob’s wife Deb, their two sons and wives Michael and Rachel and Travis and Jacole, and two great-granddaughters Lois and Helli, as well as numerous cherished cousins, nieces, nephews, great-nieces and nephews and great-great nieces and nephews. He is also survived by Pat’s family members who treasured him.
Following his wishes, his ashes will be buried in the Ronan Cemetery, and a celebration of his life will be held when all those he loved so dearly can come together safely.
Condolences may be sent to the family or left online at gardencityfh.com/obituary-listing. In lieu of flowers, the family is suggesting a gift in Jim’s memory to: UM Foundation, PO Box 7159, Missoula, MT 59807 with the notation: School of Music – Jim Cole, or to a charity of your choice.
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