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John “Jack” Kiernan Dunne

| March 31, 2021 7:00 AM

John “Jack” Kiernan Dunne: Dec. 25, 1925 – March 19, 2021

“I’m a storyteller,” Jack Dunne would say if you were lucky enough to meet him. And he was a great storyteller.

Jack was born Dec. 25, 1925 in Spokane, Washington to Charles Dunne and Julie Garr Dunne. His mother passed away when he was three, and he lived with his Aunt Ted for several years. When his father remarried and moved to Butte to work for the Texaco company, he brought Jack with him.

From the Butte years Jack told stories of singing telegrams he delivered for Western Union and a fair amount of trouble running with his fellow Irish Catholic friends. At 17 he took the Army Air Force Cadet test, and just after his 18th birthday he left for gunnery school in Florida.

A World War II vet, Jack served as a tail gunner on a B-29 and was stationed in Guam, flying 30 missions over Japan. By 1944, at 19, he was back in the states with the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals. Asked to remain in what would become the Strategic Air Command, he declined because he had “a lot of fishing to do.”

He worked in the woods in Washington and Montana to help settle himself after the war, and then he joined the newly formed Smoke Jumpers in Missoula. He gathered four summers of smoke jumping stories while he attended Western Montana College in Dillon. He met Audrey Waldron there because she worked at the snack bar, and he was a legendary coffee drinker, and they married March 18, 1950.

When Jack graduated, they moved to Hot Springs, Montana where he taught elementary school for two years, and they welcomed their daughter Cindy. In 1952 they moved to Whitefish where he taught sixth grade for 31 years and added two more girls to the family, Dianne and Kathy.

Jack’s teaching career came to a close in 1985, but his influence on students never really ended. Even in his 90s he would hear “Mr. Dunne!” from former students who recognized him anywhere he went in the Flathead Valley. They would tell him stories of their own memories of Central School where he filled a wall of chalk boards with beautiful illustrations, made lessons come alive, and showed his joy in finding his calling as a teacher. He often said the key to life was to have a job you loved to go to on Monday morning, and he did.

His second career, which started in earnest in 1985 and continued for decades, was art. He carved cottonwood bark and sold his work in several area galleries. In his 80s when arthritis made the carving difficult, he painted rocks with local flowers, fish, and often a tiny ladybug in great detail. He gave those away, and you could tell where he’d been because there’d be a beautiful rock left behind.

He loved Montana and continued throughout his life to get out in the woods even when he no longer fished. He spent many happy days at Tally Lake with his Canadian family, “The Hayners!” Fred and Jean. And he was always up for an “adventure” when Dianne would take him for a drive. He also loved to take his family out for lunch and hit a second-hand store or rummage sale for books.

At 90, he decided to move out of his house and was grateful for the years of friendship from his dear neighbors Hank and Barb Peiper. He left behind the 2,000 books he’d already read for his daughters to find homes for. They did. And he brought many boxes of books he hadn’t gotten to yet when he settled into the Domicile at the Columbia Falls Veterans’ Home where he hoped to be helpful. He said about those years that he made some of the best friends he’d ever had. And he was happy to discover he could share his books and his stories.

By the fall of 2020, the Covid isolation was taking a toll on him, and he wanted to move. Cindy and Jack brought him home to Missoula where he rediscovered the joys of pancakes and visiting. The family referred to the three months that followed as “The Rise of the Phoenix.”

On March 16th, he asked for a three-day visit with his girls, and the family gathered in Missoula. He passed away peacefully three days and one hour later. His last, great story.

Jack was preceded in death by Audrey, his wife of 51 years, his sister Alice Jean Kingsbury, and brother Chuck Dunne.

He is survived by his sister Marion Kinney, sister-in-law Jean Waldron, and all his “girls” …

daughters, Cindy Babon, Dianne Guenther, and Kathy Dunnehoff; granddaughters, Emilie Babon Strong, Ana Babon Borrego, Amanda Babon Shaffer, Eileen Babon, Ava Dunnehoff and Grace Dunnehoff;

a few “boys” who married in… sons-in-law Jack Babon, Charles “Gunner” Guenther, and Thom Dunnehoff; grand-sons-in-law Chip Borrego, Shaun Strong, and Matt Shaffer; and a lovely mix of great-grandchildren, Kellen, Rylee, Addyson, and Karson Strong; Jillian and Andrew Borrego; and Nolan and Sawyer Shaffer.

A celebration of his life will be held at a later date, and a donation in his name can be made to Hospice of Missoula or the Stumptown Historical Society – 500 Depot Street, Whitefish.

 “I’m a storyteller,” Jack Dunne would say if you were lucky enough to meet him. His stories live on now in all who loved him.