Edward Raymond Hale was born on January 29th, 1941, in a small house in Big Timber, the first of 3 brothers. Family lore has it that our very mischievous Great Uncle Erwin was trying to wreak havoc right outside our grandmother’s window as she was giving birth. Our dad was a 4th generation Montanan—his mom, Juanita Bergholm, growing up in Kalispell and then moving as a teenager to homestead with her family in Big Timber, and his dad, Raymond, being born and raised in the Big T too.
As soon as our Dad was old enough to be out on his own, as he recalled at 5 or 6 years of age, he would take off daily from his parents’ house in town and ride his bike or walk to fish the Boulder and Yellowstone Rivers. He took advantage of every day exploring what he possibly could, and fished and trapped alongside our grandfather many a day too. A self-described “wild child,” he roamed the landscapes of the area, building forts, shooting magpies (back in those days there was a bounty fee you could collect for doing so), and at one point accidentally setting fire to the hillside by the Big Timber Airport. He spent ample time during his summers on a ranch near Harrison that his Aunt Adeline and Uncle Paul managed, milking cows and shearing sheep, and playing in a beautiful grove of cottonwoods that still stands today. He spent time at the family homestead too, which is now Dornix Park just outside of Big Timber. He did not much like school, and described himself as a poor student. But, like everything in Dad’s life, he just got the job done.
When he was around 5 years of age, he remembers his mom taking him to the optometrist for some reason, and the optometrist told him, “You have the eyes of a pilot.” That reverberating statement stuck with him through his childhood. He had quite a crew of great friends from Big Timber that he kept up with throughout their lives – Steve Johnson, Buzz Mueller, Earl Bouse, Aaron Goose are some names we recall. He graduated high school in Big Timber, and went on to college at the University of Montana where he became a lifelong, diehard Griz fan. He studied music and thought about becoming a music teacher before enrolling in the ROTC program at UM. He was also quite active in his fraternity, the SAE.
As a fifth-year senior, he worked the railroad alongside our grandfather, and then was accepted into pilot school in the Air Force, and began his flying career. His Air Force nickname was “Steady Eddie,” for his cool and calm demeanor in tough, volatile situations. We are told he could always be counted on for coming up with workable solutions to difficult problems in the air, along with being a really approachable and friendly colleague. He piloted B-52 bombers during the Southeast Asian War from Anderson AFB in Guam, Clark AFB in Okinawa, and U-Tapao Royal Thai Air Base in Thailand. He subsequently was an instructor pilot in the F-111A at Plattsburgh AFB in NY, and served as the squadron commander for the 4007th Combat Crew Training Squadron.
Dad simply loved flying. He even flew our family from where he was stationed in Plattsburgh, NY to Montana for our summer break in a tiny 4-seat Cessna. We remember watching the weather, stopping at tiny grass airstrips alongside houses along the way, and Mom trying to help navigate on sheets and sheets of paper maps.
Dad married the love of his life, Donna Lee Elder, on Thanksgiving in 1970, eloping at the Chapel of the Roses in Las Vegas. They were a wonderful match. Our family moved around the country throughout his military career, and he served for 24 years prior to retiring in 1985 as a Lieutenant Colonel when he and Mom decided to heed the call back to their Montana roots. He brought us to Helena, where my mom could establish her career, and he began doing construction work alongside Jim Paulson. Dad and his brother Dennis carried on their father’s wondrous woodworking tradition. He hunted, fished, and enjoyed every possible moment of being outdoors in his beloved Montana. He played the valve trombone and euphonium in the State Capital Band and a number of local jazz bands, part of a long-line of Hale horn players. He was an active member of Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited for decades. He became quite a tremendous cook, scouring his multiple subscriptions to cooking magazines and whatever he could get his hands on for ideas and recipes to tinker with. He was also no stranger to guns, fast cars and good beer.
Our Dad was a Hale through and through, almost taciturn at times, never getting too excited about anything, always steady and always doing for his family. He learned to downhill ski in order to teach my brother and I, and I remember him snow-plowing his way down the hill at ski races, hauling giant loads of all the kids gear on his back. He drove us here and there and everywhere for our soccer, swimming, skiing, basketball, whatever endeavors my brother or I were involved in at the time.
He remained a loving, faithful companion to our Mom for 44 years until her death in 2018. The last years of her life were heartbreakingly difficult, and he was her caregiver through each and every day. Not long after her passing, he began to mention that he just felt “tired.” It turned out that he had Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a steadily progressive terminal lung disease of unknown origin. Even with that horrible diagnosis, particularly after spending years of not being out in the wilds of Montana in order to care for our Mom, he just took it in and made the best of each day that he possibly could.
He was simply the toughest man we’ve ever known. Mixed with that toughness was this remarkable mix of humility and grace with everything that he did. We cannot recall a time where his needs came before others. I’m not sure we ever heard him complain; he just always got whatever done that was put before him. Back in his air combat days, he smoked cigarettes, as a lot of the pilots did. Being the annoying small child that I was, I would hide his cartons of cigarettes and leave him little notes in their place telling him to stop smoking. One day soon after my campaign started he threw all the cartons away and was done smoking forever. Just like that.
He passed peacefully in his sleep at home in the early morning of March 21st. He is survived by his brother Dennis and our Aunt Sharon, of Astoria, Oregon. He is also survived by his two children and their spouses, Kerry Hale and Mark Aagenes of Helena, and Riley Hale and Kristin (Ezzo) Hale of Windsor, Colorado. He was the doting grandfather of four terrific kids: Elias, Lawson, Leighton and Riley Luna.
Our Dad instilled in our family a sense of duty, humility, and a great big giant love for the wilds of Montana. His never-ending curiosity about the shifting landscapes, animals, birds, and natural history of this state was contagious for all of us. He had a tremendous eye for spotting, and he never tired of taking in this land that we are so blessed to live on. He will be profoundly and deeply missed by his family and friends. If we could all have a little more Ed Hale in us, well, the world would be just a little better place.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, or Habitat for Humanity. We will have a gathering for him sometime later this spring. Please visit Anderson Stevenson Wilke’s website, go to his page and tell us a story that you remember about Ed, www.aswfuneralhome.com.