Joseph "Jay" Philip Erchul
June 15, 2023
With heavy hearts, we announce that Joseph Philip Erchul – "Jay," age 82, of Hot Springs, Montana, left us to be with God on November 17, 2022.
Jay was born in Missoula, Montana, on October 26, 1940, to Joseph "Joe" M. Erchul and Virginia Erchul (Cameron). He was the oldest of three children, with siblings Mary Nell Erchul (Klawitter) & David Louis Erchul. Even in his youth, Jay was a hard worker. He'd run the John Deere tractor on his family's farm in Camas Prairie, and tend to the various animals. Jay attended the one-room school house on Camas Prairie with a class of five, graduating from eighth grade in 1954. He then attended Hot Springs High School. During these years, Jay didn't take part in extra curricular activities – but was busy as a farm hand for his family and various neighbors.
Right out of high school, Jay went to work at the sawmill, but quickly found that he did not want to be involved in the labor industry long term. Jay saved and paid his way through college, earning a 2-year diploma in education. He then accepted his first teaching position in Deer Lodge, MT. Jay soon met Beverly Baumgarten, after seeing her jumping rope with the students during recess, who he would marry in March of 1962. Soon their family would be complete with the addition of three daughters: Diana Lynn, Laurie Ann, and Nancy Jo.
Family was of the utmost importance to Jay. He was very involved in the lives of his daughters, and worked hard to ensure their needs were always met. Although Jay had graduated high school, received his teaching certificate, and earned a BA in Education from the University of Montana, he decided to return to the U of M, and work towards his Master of Education degree – which he obtained in 1973. Shortly following this achievement, he became the acting principal at Hot Springs Elementary School – while also teaching sixth grade. Soon, he was promoted to principal full-time.
Jay– or "Mr. E" as the school kids knew him, had a love for learning and teaching – but his affinities were always directed towards History. He was not only able to recite prominent events in our world, down to the day, but also had some obscure facts and figures to pull out of his mental toolbelt. He taught you, and your children. He swatted you three times with "Big Bertha", back when corporal punishment was the standard, but would always offer a smile and knowing glance when you passed by him in the hallways. During lunch hours, he would take time to teach students one of his favorite pastimes – chess.
In addition to his 30+ years of dedication to the Hot Springs education system, Jay was always employed – often with multiple positions at once. He delivered milk, bulk gas, and school lunches, ran films at the local movie theater, worked for the soil conservation and census bureau. He also spent decades of his life offering valuable service to the community - serving as mayor, volunteer firefighter and ambulance crew, score keeping for the school basketball team, plowing snow from the town's streets, and was a member of the local Lions club for 59 years – calling Bingo numbers at OGNIB for the last 15 years.
After retirement, Jay and Bev took in their granddaughter, Jocelyn, when she was six years old – who became an honorary fourth daughter to Jay. Despite this new responsibility, Jay and Bev made the most of their "golden years" catching a travel bug and visiting various locations across the country, and even a few tropical destinations via cruises.
Jay loved the outdoors and was always eager to camp, fish, and hunt, but in later years was happiest in his garden. His flowers were widely adored, and he often gave bulbs away to those who wanted to bring a bit of his touch to their own gardens.
Jay was an incredible jokester. He enjoyed a clever quip, and would seek to share a belly laugh with those who appreciated his sense of humor. If you met him with a dramatic retelling of a story or fantastical narrative – he'd always comment 'I've told you a million times not to exaggerate'. There were many nights shared around the dinner table, or camp fire, where jokes, stories, and life lessons were recounted with excitement and vigor.
This wouldn't be a true summary of Jay's life without mentioning his dedication and relationship with God. Jay was deeply involved with the Lutheran Church, serving as a board member and active participant in the congregation. His faith was a defining part of his character, and provided a road map to navigate his life. We are grateful to know he is with our Lord, and suffers no more.
Jay was preceded in death by his parents, Joe and Virginia Erchul; and siblings, Mary Nell and David.
Jay is survived by his wife and partner of 60 years, Beverly; his beloved daughters, Diana (Troy), Laurie, and Nancy (Jeff); sister-in-law, Patty Erchul; grandchildren, Amanda, Kyle, Aaron (Aimee), Kasey, Abbi, Michael, Matthew (Amanda), Jocelyn, Jaydra, and Devon; great-grandchildren, Jovan, Amanda (Owen), Maya, Aubrey, Kyler, Tristan, Aurora and Audrey; many nieces and nephews; and his best friend and confidant, Charlie Young.
The celebration of life/memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. June 24 at the L&P United Churches, 321 Arlee Street South, Hot Springs, Montana. Food and reception to follow at the Hot Springs School multi-purpose room.
Condolences may be sent to Beverly Erchul: [email protected] or the Sunset Hills Funeral Home, Plains, Montana. Memorials may be made to "Camas Prairie Neighbors," c/o Dale Neiman, 251 Camas Creek Road, Plains, MT 59859 or to the L&P United Churches.