Joe L Whisonant, 85, passed away of natural causes surrounded by family at the ranch east of Winnett MT, Wednesday November 2nd, 2022. Joe was born north of Winnett in a log cabin, near Dovetail on March 5th, 1937, to Dudley (Dud) and Borghild Whisonant, joining brother Donald and sister Lillian. His mother Borghild had immigrated from Norway by herself at nineteen, and Joe wore this Norwegian heritage as a badge of honor his entire life, often remarking this was the source of his “hard headedness”.
The family moved to and purchased the home place ranch on Box Elder Creek when Joe was three years old. The Whisonant’s created strong friendships with neighbors; an extended family to Joe were the Solf’s. It is here Joe developed a best friendship with Bill Solf -- along with Joe’s hearty appetite (as there were 10 Solf siblings at the dinner table). While riding horses with Bill looking for missing cows (or so they said), Joe caught sight and met a couple pretty sisters needing help starting their garden irrigation pump down near Flatwillow creek. Somehow Joe was able to get it started. Joe and the oldest Trump sister, Jacqueline (Jackie), were married September 14th, 1957, in Billings MT while he was attending Rocky Mountain College. Bill Solf and Jackie’s sister Joey were best man and maid of honor in the ceremony. Just recently, Joe and Jackie celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. He played football for Rocky and was named to their Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017 with their Championship Team of 1959. He received a BS in Education in 1960. While attending college, Joe leased the family ranch, running cattle, performing work, and developing the ranch as time allowed on weekends and during the summer breaks. This continued during teaching assignments with Joe and Jackie eventually purchasing the ranch.
Joe taught JH and HS classes and coached multiple HS sports in Richey MT from 1960 to 1968. During this period, son’s Don and Bob were born. Joe, Jackie, and boys moved to Chinook MT in 1968, with Joe teaching and coaching in Chinook starting in 1968 and retiring in 1989 to be at the ranch full time. He received his Master’s in Guidance Counseling from Northern Montana College in Havre MT and transitioned from teaching to become Chinook School’s HS counselor. While in Chinook, he became interested in coaching wrestling, starting a very successful wrestling coaching career that culminated in several state wrestling titles as well as two world AAU school boy wrestling team titles for Team USA, one in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic and the other in Mexico City, Mexico. Not bad for someone that had never personally competed in the sport.
Joe had lasting friendships with neighbors, classmates, students, co-workers, and his athletes. He cherished the times they would stop in at the ranch to visit, in some cases after 30 to 60 years of friendship. Some confided in his “counseling” advice and others just to reminisce about old times and how they managed to “live through their predicaments”. Joe loved gardening and loved sharing his produce with neighbors even more. His specialties were cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, and radishes.
Joe had many special relationships with his extended family, including sister/brother in laws, nieces, nephews, cousins, and their families. Many stating he was like a brother, second father or grandfather. He had a special connection with the outdoors. Be it teaching his grandkids to fish, brand a calf, or a nephew to dress and skin a deer, he instilled a respect and appreciation for the ranching way of life. Joe was a man of many talents and shared those talents in many positive ways. His talent for writing poems was one, always writing a Christmas poem and numerous poems for close friends and family members highlighting notable events in their lives.
Joe especially took interest in his grandkids sporting events, often traveling to watch them in their competitions. During their summer stays at the ranch, he would eagerly take his old stopwatch and time their laps around the bull pasture in preparation for some of their competitions. With his unique encouraging coaching way, they never lacked for wind over their opponents! Later in life, he really started beaming when his grandkids came to visit or when face-timing on Jackie’s iPad. More recently, Joe had done the same with great grandkids, often remarking he could see them making significant progress as he was watching them on face-time.
During his brief hospitalization, Joe was visibly comforted by his life partner Jackie who was able to stay with him, yet he yearned to return to the ranch he loved so much. He was blessed to be able to return to the ranch preceding his death, declaring “I’m home” as he came over the hill down to the home place. That evening Joe had a final visit with his true and constant friend Bill who shared stories of their youth. Shortly after, surrounded by his loving family, Joe went home to be with The Lord.
Joe is survived by wife Jackie; son Don (Carmen) and grandchildren Joe, Christine (Nick) Munoz great grandchildren Elijah, Andrew, and Julia; son Bob (Peggy) and grandchildren Jake (Brittney) great grandchildren Hayes and Avery, Colton (Natalie) great grandchild Wacey, Betsey (Matt) Neddermeyer, Gabe; Joe’s sister Lillian Moore; numerous cousins, nieces and nephews. Joe was preceded in death by parents Dudley and Borghild, brother Donald, and great grandchildren twins, Archie and Wayne Neddermeyer.
A celebration of Joe’s life will be held at the new Petroleum County Community Center, East Main Street, Winnett MT on May 20 at 11:30 am with a luncheon to follow. Everyone is invited and please come with your favorite Joe story and a side dish or desert if you wish. The Main course will be provided. Donations on Joe’s behalf can be made to Winnett MT Community Center (www.pcccwinnett.org or PO Box 63, Winnett MT 59087), Winnett Pool, or an organization of your choice. Memories of Joe can be shared at Cloyd Funeral Home website (cloydfuneralhome.com) and cremation has taken place.
The family would like to thank the special doctors, nurses and staff at Central Montana Hospital for their compassion and care during Joe’s time there.