Yesterday began with a sepia dawn, filtered and not quite red because of clouds. It was fitting since I was driving to Great Falls to participate in the memorial for John “Jack” McDowell Hoover (April 17, 1923 - February 11, 2010) in the C.M. Russell Museum.
This is from the program:
Jack Hoover, a Montana native, spent his life hunting, fishing, ranching, collecting and restoring in his beloved state. But for nearly four years in the military, he lived his life in Montana.
The child of Grace and Harold Hoover, he attended Roosevelt Grade School in Great Falls but graduated from Butte High School when his father became Chief Executive of Anaconda Copper Mining Company. After high school Jack entered service in WWII as a gunner in the 20th U.S. Air Force where he held the rank of sergeant. After military service he attended Montana State College where he studied range management and conservation.
Jack traveled widely but was never long away from the Big Sky Country, the land he loved as “The Last Best Place.” His father’s Willow Creek ranch near Great Falls commanded Jack’s formative professional years and led to his love of the outdoors and the land.
Besides ranching and careers in banking and land management, nothing captured Jack’s passion as did his collection of guns, trains, railroad memorabilia, western art, books and industrial architecture. Here he truly distinguished himself. With his collections now widely distributed and displayed for the benefit of all, his preserved Shay locomotive can be viewed in Williams, Arizona; his restored railroad coach at the Minnesota Transportation Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota, his guns in the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls. He also worked with the late Charles Bovey on collections now displayed at Virginia City, Montana. Jack’s interest in the West was particularly focused on Charlie Russell and his depiction of lives, culture and times that Jack viewed as an era, even a better time, which had passed him by. As a scholar and collector of Russell art work, his Russell paintings reside in the C.M. Russell Museum.
Other institutions capturing Jack’s interests and benefiting from his involvement were the Great Northern Railway Historical Society, the Milwaukee Road, the Titanic Historical Society, the Cascade County Historical Society, the Society of Industrial Archeology, The Friendship Force and the Great Falls BPOE.
Chairs had been set up to face the big Russell elk painting that Bob Scriver helped to keep in Great Falls by creating a small sculpture of the same figure to sell. To the left of the elk was one of my favorite paintings, which I had not known belonged to Jack. It’s the wolf with his foot on a buffalo bone with the typical Russell landscape behind him. It hung over the fireplace in the Anaconda Copper Company offices and when Jack’s father retired, he was given a choice between that painting and a huge amount of money. Naturally and wisely, he chose the painting, which from then on hung in the Hoover dining room. Once Jack accidentally shot a hole in it! Without clues, one could not tell where.
But the real insight into Jack’s personality was the group of mourners, mostly gray-haired and overwhelmingly Montana. They were his real friends, collected in a dozen different ways because he loved the lively social life in restaurants and cafes, at meetings and celebrations. In Montana business gets done over power breakfasts with a lot of laughter. A naturally gregarious fellow, he was the only child of a couple with high enough social standing to be formalized and restricted, so as his daughter pointed out, he always had a feeling he didn’t quite fit anywhere. Because the first marriage was relatively brief and Christina’s mother died young, Jack did a lot of single-parenting, which mostly meant including his daughter in whatever he was doing. Her list of things he taught her to do would have delighted Charlie Russell. She said her only failing was killing rattlers -- that’s when she called for Dad.
None of us knew much about how Jack made a living. If he were asked, he said he repossessed motorcycles, which he really did do for a friend. Because his name was so close to Jake Hoover, the old trapper who took Charlie Russell in, I thought he was descendant and might make a living by trapping. When he was courting Karen, some people were concerned that she might get stuck supporting him. Until he married Karen and acquired her whole family into the bargain. I remember the wedding mostly as a swarm of little kids from Karen’s previous marriage. At the memorial here they were again, all polished adults of achievement. One son, very handsome, was running his Manhattan construction materials company through the Blackberry in his pocket even as we sat there. (It was on vibrate.)
Lynn Rensmon, Karen’s oldest daughter, spoke for her mother. Eloquent as she was, the impact of what she brought was greater -- Jack’s clothes as he’d stepped out of them -- plaid shirt, jeans with the belt still in the loops, white socks and “boots” meaning high-topped sturdy shoes. Suddenly he leapt to life in front of us, genial and attentive, quiet and full of mirth. It was even more vivid than the video montage (stills from the family albums) on a huge flat-screen television with Sinatra for a sound track. In the photos there was always a pipe, until the doc took it away from him.
John Chase and Jim Combs, railroad buddies, told about Jack’s most favorite thing, which was going up to his cabin, firing up the woodstove for breakfast, slapping on a cast iron frying pan and frying up a pound of bacon, then spuds and onions, and finally three eggs per person. Lots of boiling hot black coffee. He did not drink in later years. The docs made him give that up, too. But he would take a sip of Drambuie which was part of the ceremony. The bagpiper, Mike Gilbert, was the chaplain from Malmstrom Air Force Base.
I’ve wondered about how Jack escaped Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. A gunner in a B-29 sees a lot of action but either he tamped it down tightly enough that it never interfered (who knows the cost of that) or he simply was so joyfully part of an effective team in a justified war that he accepted the necessity of the task and set it apart afterwards, which is the Montana way.
He was a man who had something many people destroy if they get it, which is enough wealth to make choices purely on the basis of desire. But Jack knew what he loved; cherished and protected as much as he could; and died with no regrets at all, which is maybe as close as humans can come to being saved.