James Isaac Hoppe was born on February 12, 1933, in Escanaba, Mich. to Chancey and Tynne (Korpi) Hoppe and passed on to his heavenly home on April 8, 2022. He was the second of 6 siblings. His mother’s family was from Finland, and when her family would visit they would speak Finnish. He always remembered a few Finnish words. When he was 10 years old, his mother passed away. He grew up going to school and doing farm chores. His father eventually remarried, and he gained a stepsister.
He joined the Air Force when he was 17 years old and was so skinny when he joined that he had to weigh in with his boots on. He served in the Korean War as a radio operator in a B-29. He flew 27 missions and had to learn new code words every day. He received his honorable discharged 1954. However, the military never quite left him. He taught his children to make their beds with “military corners” and would inspect their work. He would spell out his children’s, and later his grandchildren’s, names in morse code at their request and was a stickler for a schedule. He did not like to be late and would shout countdowns when getting ready to go somewhere, “Ten Minutes and counting!”
He asked his wife, Mary Jo, out almost immediately after they met. The first thing he noticed about her was her long red hair. They were married on April 13, 1957. They had six children together and adopted three more. They moved around a lot in their early married life living in North Dakota, Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin before finally moving to Montana in 1966 where he worked in the control tower at the Missoula International Airport.
He loved his family and would take them on vacations every couple of years including Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, and the Badlands. When they lived in Wisconsin, they would leave early on Saturdays to visit the Milwaukee City Zoo. He loved ice cream and held to the belief that no matter how full you were, there was always room for ice cream because it “just slides right down and fills the cracks.” When taking trips across the Midwest to visit family, he would stop at any Dairy Queen he saw. And ice cream brings up his sweet tooth—he loved sweets. When his children would visit him in the control tower, he always had M&Ms for them. And he always had candy in his pockets for the grandchildren. It was common knowledge that if grandpa was visiting, he would be bringing ice cream with him which led to a few of his grandchildren referring to him as “Bompa Ice Cream” when they were young.
He was a humble man and enjoyed simple pleasures. He liked dipping his donuts in coffee, which he took very hot and with honey. If the coffee wasn’t hot enough, he’d return it and request 30 seconds in the microwave. He liked to sing at the top of his lungs in the grocery store and didn’t care that he was off tune. He enjoyed Sunday driving where he could look out on the scenery. His father, Chancey, enjoyed riding with him. He’d pay more attention to the scenery than the edge of the road leading to his dad saying, “Watch ‘er, easy, watch ‘er.” One time he drifted way over leading to his dad saying, “Are you well, Jim?” He would laugh every time he told that story. City driving was a different story. He held the opinion that speed bumps should be outlawed and once crossed four lanes of traffic in Los Angeles because they were going to miss the exit to Knotts Berry Farm.
He enjoyed and taught his children how to fish and hunt, shooting his last deer from his dining room window last Fall. One of his favorite places was his son, Jim’s, cabin at Georgetown Lake where he could relax and enjoy nature and family. The first year Tim went hunting with his dad and brother, they were in the woods and Tim saw a doe. He grabbed his rifle and emptied it, and the deer just stood there. So, he grabbed his brother’s rifle and emptied that one, and the deer looked at him like he was just a noise maker. Then he grabbed his dad’s rifle. While Tim had been emptying the other rifles, his dad had been emptying all but one shell out of his. Tim got the deer and then heard a click. They ran up to the deer, and his dad said, “Good grief! You shot him in half!” Good grief was a standard term that you would hear him say. “Good grief,” “oh my good lands,” and “James, what is wrong with you?”
He couldn’t be beat in foot races. He walked fast and ran fast—something that he passed on to his children and grandchildren. His huckleberry pancake breakfasts were legendary with the entire family visiting and enjoying breakfast together. He hosted family get-togethers where he actively joined in the games that were being played: horseshoes, basketball, volleyball (“Pom-Pom Pull Away!”). He played with his grandchildren and built them a tree fort. Shazam was always the correct word to get out of his bear traps.
He gave his heart to God after he left the Air Force with the same purpose that he applied to everything in his life. After nearly being struck by lightning, he decided it was time for a change. He always said that he knew that it was his last cigarette that morning and that he would be “a changed man” after he gave his heart to God. He enjoyed worshipping with others and singing (not necessarily on key) and pastored a small church in Missoula for several decades.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Chancey and Tyne Hoppe; siblings, John (Jack) Hoppe, Frances Maronge, Robert Hoppe, and stepsister Mary Vee Wildenberg; children, his first-born infant twin daughters, Laurie Lou and Linda Sue, Pamela Hoppe, and granddaughter, Deborah Alteneder.
He is survived by his wife of nearly 65 years, Mary Jo; his children, Laurie (Forrest) Alteneder, James (Candace) Hoppe, Joel Hoppe, Carrie Hoppe, Sarah (William) Carter, and Timothy (Ronnie) Hoppe; siblings, Thomas Hoppe, Mary Lou Armstrong; and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held at Garden City Funeral Home at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 16, 2022, with a luncheon to follow. The graveside service will be at 2:30 p.m. at Sunset Cemetery.