Jacob Albert “Jake” Wormsbecker was born Jan. 30, 1917 in Berwick, N.D.
A Memorial Mass was held on May 12 at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Conrad. Father Stan Rog officiated. Immediately following, his ashes were buried in the Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Conrad with military rites. Local arrangements were by Rockman Funeral Chapel in Chester.
He was the sixth of seven children born to German emigrants, Adam and Bergetta (Brendal) Wormsbecker. During his formative years at age 11, Jake lost his mother to acute appendicitis. His father and sisters eventually moved to Yakima, Wash., while Jake and his two orphan brothers (Louie and Casper) worked on various farms in northcentral Montana. At age 15 he herded sheep for a Ledger area rancher, Sam Solid. Sometimes Jake would spend months alone herding sheep north of Browning or at Wolf Creek. He developed a strong work ethic and appreciated the value of a good day’s work.
In his early 20s Jake jumped a freight train to Yakima to visit his family for the first time since his mother’s death. He worked in a Yakima cannery that season, then decided to go to California. Once again, he hopped a freight train to Fresno. Unfortunately, there was a report of a “fugitive” on the train, so the police arrested some 300 people in the boxcars. Fortunately, Jake was the only “stow-away” with bail money for himself and a friend. With the remaining $90 in his Conrad bank account, Jake decided to buy a Model-T Ford to make the trip back to Montana.
Upon his return in 1942, Jake learned that “he belonged to Uncle Sam” and was drafted into the U. S. Army during WWII. He was in the military just a few months before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. As an infantry squad leader, Jake fought the Japanese at Port Moresby, New Guinea. In that battle, he was wounded by bullets that remained with him forever. Jake recuperated in Brisbane, Australia until his division regrouped to fight in the Philippines. While there, he survived three bouts of malaria. During one of those bouts, Jake was actually put into a freezer to break his fever! After 3 1/2 years of faithful service, Jake received his honorable discharge, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Even through it all, Jake often stated that “the military was the only family he had and he always knew where he was going to eat and sleep”.
He returned to Montana in 1945 to continue his job at Sam Solid’s, hoping to eventually buy the place. During the next eight years they broke up new farmland and made many improvements. Jake worked hard and acquired 40 head of cows. Unfortunately, his “dream” was sold to a neighboring farmer, so Jake and his cows relocated to the Chester community. It was there that his brother, Louie, found a 1,200 acre farm south of the Sweet Grass Hills that Jake was fortunate to consign. He was hailed out his first year, but the next 25 years were successful.
In 1980, Jake sold his farm to his neighbors and purchased a cherry orchard south of Bigfork at Yellow Bay. In the winters he traveled with a friend in a little motorhome. In the summers he enjoyed raising cherries, growing peonies and dahlias and caring for his 5-acre yard. For many years his place was part of the Big Fork Garden Tour program.
Jake lived independently in his own home until he sustained a fall in September of 2011. He was admitted to the Veterans Home at Columbia Falls and he sold his property shortly thereafter. After developing kidney problems, Jake transferred to the North Valley Hospital in Whitefish, where he died on the early morning of March 25. He was 95-years-old.
Jake was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic and remained loyal to his Christian faith his entire life. He helped build St. Michael’s Church in Conrad and St. Mary’s Church in Chester and donated to the construction fund for the new Catholic Church in Bigfork. In addition he was active in the Chester and Bigfork VFW Posts.
He enjoyed bowling in the leagues at Chester and Bigfork. Jake also liked hunting and fishing. During his years in Chester, he loved to play poker and pitch with his buddies. In his quiet time at home, he enjoyed reading historicals and watching the history channel on television. As a hobby in his later years, Jake loved to build “whimsical whirligigs”, which were handmade wooden yard ornaments that were propelled by the wind.
Jake was an independent and private man, who was quietly charming and generous. When he was drafted into the military, he gave his car to his family and then sent his Army paychecks to his father and his sisters’ growing families. A man of strong character and honesty, he managed to reinvent himself several times throughout his life. When asked about the secret to his longevity, Jake attributed it to pressure-cooker meals of vegetables, beef and chicken and eating a lot of eggs!
Jake never married. He dearly loved his dogs, Duke and Max. Jake outlived his parents and his six siblings, Louie, Frances, Mary Eva, Barbara, Angelina and Casper. He is survived by numerous nieces and nephews.
Memorials may be given to the Veteran’s Wounded Warriors Project, the Vets Home in Columbia Falls or the Fort Harrison Vets Hospital in Helena. With any questions or concerns, please call Jake’s great-niece, Ann VanDessel at 406-292-3548.