James Delbert Copenhaver

Saturday, May 26, 2018

James Copenhaver (Jim—Buck—Bucky—JD) passed away May 17, 2018 at the Billings Clinic Hospital after a brave attempt to recover from many challenging health issues. His devoted family was by his side.

Jim was born Jan. 18, 1942, in Bozeman, Montana, to James L. and Genith H. Gideon Copenhaver. Bucky grew up and was educated in Livingston with his three sisters. As a youth, Bucky was active in baseball, exploring the tunnels under Livingston’s downtown, mountain trail bike riding, and protecting his sisters. Buck was graduated with the Park County High Class of 1960.

In 1960 Jim was offered a Machinist Apprenticeship with the Northern Pacific Railway Shops in Livingston. Upon completion of his apprenticeship in 1965, he worked the afternoon shifts, oftentimes in the role as a relief foreman through 1972 while commuting to Montana State College in Bozeman. In 1983 he transferred to the Laurel BNRR Rail Plant and later worked as a traveling machinist. He left the BN Railroad in 1988, returning to Livingston to work for the Livingston Rebuild Center (LRC) as the shop foreman. He traveled extensively across Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Panama, and the United States, bringing work to the shops. Jim finished his education graduating from Montana State University-Northern online with a mechanical engineering degree in 1992 while advancing at LRC to Executive Vice President of Quality Control, retiring in 2003 with 43 years of railroading. His mechanical knowledge of locomotives and freight cars was legendary, and he had many high-level officials consulting with him on repairs and problems even into his retirement years.

Jim married Gay Beck in September 1961 in Bozeman. They were blessed with two wonderful children — Joseph William and Kristina Rose. Jim designed and built their A-frame home in Livingston in the early ’70s. Their home included a spiral staircase of wrought iron, which Jim designed and installed. He built many such spiral staircases and wrought iron railings for other homes. He was always learning, designing, fixing anything that was broken or needed repair, creating many wood and metal originals.

His love and knowledge of automobiles made him unmatched in parts and car identification. He completely restored a ’39 Lincoln Zephyr 4-door, beginning with the shell of an abandoned car. The Zephyr’s overhauled Buick 425 engine gave the family 250,000 miles of comfortable, long adventures for 45-plus years. Truly antique cars were a passion in his life. Jim and his family assisted with the West Yellowstone Rod Run along with his family, and many street-rodding friends coordinated and hosted the West Yellowstone Rod Run for 10 years, acclaiming a record number of street rods attendance from across America and Canada in 1995.

Jim was an active member of his community and state. He walked the campaign trail with Max Baucus during Max’s trek across Montana in his initial campaign for the U. S. Congress — walking from Bozeman to Livingston. He served on the Park County Planning Board, Park County Search and Rescue, Emergency Medical Technician, was one of the founding members of the Park County Rural Fire Department, organizational member/officer of the Montana Street Rod Association, organizational member of the Montana Snowmobile Association, BSA Cub Scoutmaster leading the largest Cub Scout Pack in the Pacific Northwest, member of the National Street Rod Association, and perhaps his all-time favorite — arriving on a fire truck portraying Santa for the City. Jim’s Dad began the tradition of enacting Santa — Jim carried the tradition on — with Joe being the third generation to enjoy the season in the red/white suit and jolly “Ho! Ho! Ho’s!”

Jim was predeceased by his parents; grandparents Roy and Hazel Copenhaver, George and Cora Gideon; in-laws Billie and Gail Beck; nephews, Randy Wilkinson and Erral Nichols; and his long time best friend, Dick Payne, Sr. He goes ahead, leaving his loving wife and friend, Gay; devoted son, Joe (Heather), of Great Falls; beautiful, loving daughter, Kris, of Billings; grandson, Tyler Copenhaver, of Great Falls; sisters, Rose (Ken) Spaulding, of Billings; Barbara (John) Wilkinson, Provo, of Utah; Marta Levengood, of Billings; brother-in-law, Ted (Vicki) Beck, of Helena; aunt, Mattie LaForce, of Helena; many nieces and nephews, cousins, a boundless number of friends; and his loyal coffee buddies! Jim never met a stranger he did not like or who did not like him.

Jim was a loving husband to his wife, Gay, and his first priority was his children, grandboy, and family, whom he loved unconditionally and took great pride in each of their many accomplishments! He had been in failing health for several years — always positive with his ever-present engaging smile — never complaining. He lived his life to its fullest, loving his family and friends more than they will ever know. Goodbye Dearest Jimmy, Dad, Papa, Boompa, Bucky, Uncle Buck!

“I was introduced to you as ‘Buck.’ You were going to be called that whether you were a boy or a girl — glad you were my brother. Over the years there were disagreements and many good memories. Trying to teach you to jitterbug (that was fun). As you start your new journey, please know that you were my hero. Keep all those engines fine-tuned for the angels.

– Forever in my heart, I love you and will miss you! Love and kisses, Rosie”

Special thanks to the Park County Rural Fire paramedics —Livingston HealthCare —caring and generous neighbors and friends. There will be no services at Jim’s request. The family is planning a memorial celebration picnic in Livingston July 29 for family and friends. Jim requested that your gift to his memory be one of giving to each other love and respect. And take a child to a car show!

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