John Ihnot, formerly of Nashua, Mont ., died of natural causes on Friday, May 24, 2013, at Northern Montana Care Center in Havre, Mont ., just a few weeks short of his 99th birthday.
Both the vigil and funeral Mass will be held at St. Jude Thaddeus Church, 440 7th Ave ., Havre, Mont. The vigil will be held at 7 p.m ., Friday, May 31, 2013, and the funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m ., Saturday, June 1, 2013, with Father Daniel Wathen officiating. Burial, next to his wife, Phyllis, will follow at Highland Cemetery in Havre. The family has requested that memorials be made in John’s name to St. Jude Thaddeus Church, P.O. Box 407, Havre MT 59501. Holland & Bonine Funeral Home has been entrusted with services and arrangements, and you can leave your memories and/or condolences at http://www.hollandbonine.com.
John was born at home, on June 28, 1914, the first of nine children of Joseph and Suzie Ihnat, Czechoslovakian immigrants and homesteaders in the Nashua area. He was very fond of saying that he was the replacement for Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was assassinated that same day, starting World War I.
John did not speak English when he started school in Nashua, but learned quickly and then taught his parents and younger siblings. He graduated from Nashua High School in May 1933.
John wanted to join the regular Army but was turned down because an arm broken when he was a freshman in high school did not heal straight. Instead, he served in the National Guard out of Glasgow, Mont. Even though he could not straighten his arm, he was an excellent shot well into his 90’s. Gophers far and wide feared him.
In 1937, he met Phyllis from Havre, Mont. She was in Nashua visiting her brother, who was dating John’s sister. As Phyllis was getting out of the car, she fell. John, a very handsome man with movie star looks, helped her up. They were married the following year in Havre at St. Jude Thaddeus Church on Feb. 26, 1938. They had eight children and were married for 55 years until her death in November 1993.
John was working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, helping to build the Fort Peck Dam, when he met Phyllis. In 1941 he began working for the Great Northern Railroad, which later became the Burlington Northern. During his railroad career he worked on the "gangs" as a "gandy dancer," eventually becoming a section foreman. His railroad career began in Glasgow, with transfers to Malta (1955-1956) and Butte (1956-1968), finally returning to Glasgow (1968-1974), where he retired after 33 years of railroad service. The men he supervised had great respect for him. He worked right alongside of them, never asking them to do a job he would not do himself. Many of them remained lifelong friends.
During his time with the railroad, his diligence and a keen eye for anything out of place prevented disasters from happening. On one occasion in 1952, he was alone and returning from a day out on the track. He noticed a problem at a crossing near the Milk River by Hinsdale. He knew a passenger train was due. He ran to flag down the train, hoping the engineer would see him. The train stopped, avoiding derailing and plunging into the Milk River.
The railroad allowed him to provide for his large family, and even though he made a career with the railroad, his heart was always in farming. His childhood and young adulthood were spent helping his father on the family farm. He continued to help while he lived in the Nashua/Glasgow area. When his railroad career took him to other places, he continued to help harvest the crop during his vacations. When he returned to the Nashua area in 1968, he leased the farm from his mother, eventually purchasing it from her estate in 1974.
John was actively involved in farming his beloved land until moving to Havre to live with his daughter Patricia in 2007, at age 93. He did not slow down, though. His mornings in Havre were filled with working in his heated shop, repairing and improving things. He enjoyed "modifying" his tools to get the job at hand done. His afternoons were devoted to cards. He spent every day of the week at PJ’s Restaurant and Casino in Havre playing poker. This routine was only interrupted on major holidays and Wednesday afternoons. Wednesday was pinochle at the Havre Senior Center. Pinochle was his favorite game, and he was very good at it.
He had physical strength and stamina throughout his life. It gave him great satisfaction at his advanced age that he could fill his day with activity without taking a nap.
In June 2012, just short of 98, the years of hard work caught up with him. He entered the Northern Montana Care Center in Havre.
John worked hard all his life, raised a family who dearly loved him, hunted, fished, played cards, traveled, endured tragedy, made many friends and lived a full and healthy life on his own terms.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Phyllis; an infant son, John Ivan, daughter, Rosalia Ann; son, Richard Patrick; grandson; Johnny Joe Ihnot; his parents; brothers, Joe, Michael and George Ihnat; and sisters, Ann Burns, Helen Byfield and Pauline French.
John is survived by his sisters, Mary Johnston of Fort Peck and Virginia (George) Gray of Kalispell; son, Mike Ihnot of Kent, Wash .; daughters, Connie Casavan of Ventura, Calif ., Patricia Ihnot of Havre, Susie (Larry) Bentsen of Great Falls and Rachel Ihnot of Helena; 13 grandchildren; many great- and great-great- grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.