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James Wylder

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James Wylder Obituary
James M. Wylder

Great Falls —James M. (Jim) Wylder, 86, of Great Falls, passed on Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at St. Patrick's Hospital in Missoula in the company of his family and pastor after the sudden onset of an aggressive pulmonary fibrosis.

Jim was born September 2, 1927 in Havre, Montana, the third child and second son of Robert and Myrtle Wylder, both of whom came to Montana in the homestead era.

Jim was a Blue Pony, having graduated from Havre High School in 1945. In the summer following graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as an electronic technician until 1947, when he entered the University of Montana, where he majored in history and political science, graduating with honors in 1951. At the University he was on the varsity tennis team, was a dormitory resident assistant, was tapped as a member of Silent Sentinel, and was president of the history honor society. More importantly, at the University he met his future wife, Frances Jorgensen, whom he married in 1953 after attending the Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

After holding several administrative positions in the Bureau of Land Management in Washington D.C. and Billings, Montana, Jim worked in the land and human relations departments of Mobil Oil and Husky Oil in Billings and Cody, Wyoming. During this time he and Fran became the parents of Tim and Carrie. In 1960 Jim joined Great Falls Coca-Cola Bottling Co., a business owned by the Jorgensen family. He retired in 1985 as

president and CEO. While active in the bottling company, Jim led it to acquire four additional franchise areas and products, and it became the largest soft drink operation in Montana. Great Falls Coke installed a canning line in 1980 to take advantage of conversion of the soft drink business from glass deposit bottles to cans, to supply its own needs and those other distributors. Wylder was elected to the board of directors of the National Soft Drink Association in 1980, serving until his retirement. He was also a board member and president of the Montana Soft Drink Association, and served on the Coca-Cola Mainstream Council, made up of small and mid-sized Coca-Cola bottlers.

Following his retirement from the soft drink industry, Jim went to photography school and undertook a second career as a professional photographer, focusing on nature, landscapes, and early Montana settings, which he pursued down Montana's back country roads. Jim's photographs were shown in exhibitions at the Russell Museum and Paris Gibson Square, and he was published in various magazines.

Jim was a significant community leader and philanthropist, where he served as both a fundraiser and a major donor. He and his wife Fran chaired the major gifts committee for the first capital campaign for Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in 1996, which was over-subscribed, after which he served on its board of directors and president. Wylder was a board member of the Great Falls Symphony, McLaughlin Research Institute, the Great Falls Chamber of Commerce, the Optimist Club, Meadowlark Country Club, and the Eastside Bank of Montana. He was president of Riverview PTA during the children's elementary years and was appointed to the Great Falls School Board in 1966. Wylder was a 50-year member of First Presbyterian Church, and served terms as elder, deacon, annual campaign chairman, and Souler Energy TV broadcasts chairman.

As an alumnus of the University of Montana, Jim became increasingly active in support of the University. This included membership on the School of Business Advisory Board, Davidson Honors College Advisory Board, Grizzly Riders International, The UM Foundation, and the UM Alumni Association. In 1996 Jim was elected UMAA president and helped organize the U to You lecture series, which brings UM and MSU professors to Great Falls each year. In 2009 Jim received the UMAA Distinguished Alumni Award, which is the highest honor presented by the Alumni Association. Fran and Jim endowed a Presidential Scholarship at UM, and they also supported scholarships at Benefis Healthcare and the University of Great Falls. In addition, Jim provided substantial support for many individual students in their quest for higher education.

Jim was an avid tennis player since high school and lettered in tennis at the University. He was an active player at the Meadowlark Country Club and at tournaments throughout Montana. Jim represented Montana on three occasions in Super Senior events in Las Vegas.

Since 1966 a series of cabins at Seeley Lake were the center of fun for the family and friends in both winter and summer. In the winter Jim enjoyed cross-county skiing and the occasional snowmobile ride. In the summer Jim loved to hike, photograph wild flowers, pick huckleberries, and tell stories around the beach fire, and he enjoyed a series of boats, including his last, a favorite pontoon boat, which he used for evening cocktail cruises. In the fall, the Seeley cabin served as a base camp for 25 plus years of Grizzly football games in the family stadium box and later in the Canyon Club. A lifetime of memories for the family were created at the Seeley Lake cabin.

Throughout the business and retirement years, Jim and Fran travelled extensively to Europe (eight times), Australia, New Zealand, and China, including the grand slam of championship tennis venues. Yet as active as he was, Jim was always an inveterate reader and a man of ideas. He read fiction of all kinds, nonfiction history and politics, and meaty periodicals.

Despite his many activities and accomplishments, in Jim's final view, his legacy was his family. He lived to see his children and all of his grandchildren graduate from college and start successful adult lives. Jim was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather. Jim was preceded in death by his parents, his brother Robert C. Wylder, and his sister Martha Williamson. Jim is survived by his wife of 61 years, Frances M. Wylder, son Timothy J. Wylder (Martha), daughter Carrie F. Matsko (Mark), grandchildren Morgan Wylder, Marshall Wylder, Kellee Hardesty (Mike), Karen Hostetter (Jared), Robin Peeples (Sam), and great grandson Luke Hardesty.

A memorial service will be held Tuesday, August 12, at 11:00 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Great Falls.

Memorial donations are suggested to First Presbyterian Church, University of Great Falls, or the C.M. Russell Museum.

Condolences to the family may be shared at

Published in Great Falls Tribune from Aug. 9 to Aug. 10, 2014
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