Print Version

Home   News   Sports   Social   Obituaries   Events   Letters
Judy James
February 22, 1938 ~ January 17, 2018
January 22, 2018
Walk in the forest
Listen – her footsteps follow
The trees breathe...she’s there
Judy James finished her walk in the woods on January 17, 2018, a journey that lasted almost 80 years and touched the souls of all those who walked with her. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, February 3, at Bonners Ferry Funeral Home, 6485 Harrison Street, Bonners Ferry.

She walked into the arms of God quietly with her loving husband Don at her side. But this is not the story of the end of the walk, instead it is a celebration of the path she blazed as a loving wife, mother, friend and community activist.

From Toki Doki beach and its ghost crabs, conch shells and Camp James, where the kids set up for another day of boogie boarding and sand castles, to the wilds of Alaska with Don and the Woolies camping in the Forever Car under the stars that lit her way to adventure after adventure, Judy truly lived her life.

That carefree spirit always was one of her hallmarks. Born February 22, 1938, to Gilbert and Irene Strassle in Salamanca, New York. Judy married her high school sweetheart Don on August 31, 1957, and the odyssey began.

The two of them moved across the country from New York to California, where children Susan, David and Joann were born; then to Boulder, Colorado, adding Eric and Robert; Saint Paul, Minnesota and Nancy, Roseville Michigan and then, in 1975, they moved to Estes Park, Colorado, where Chris came along and the saga of the James Gang began.

From humble beginnings living with six kids in a tent at the Estes Park Campground for the summer that first year, Judy taught the entire family that life was about experiences, not things. She showed them that a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park was the best way to spend a weekend, and she gave her kids the freedom to explore the natural wonders in their backyard.

Home was a modest house on the side of a mountain, with the “rock pile” in the back yard and Old Man Mountain just up the road. Those are important because the freedom to explore often came with a rather urgent “Get out of the house, it’s a beautiful day. Go climb a mountain. Go play on the rocks!” from Judy. And we kids would. Play on the rocks, climb that mountain, play football in the backyard, or even climb to the tree house in the huge pine tree next to the house.

Once the family moved to Estes Park, there was a James kid in the local high school every year for 20 straight years. During that time Mom made sure to make it to every extracurricular activity – baseball games, band concerts, track meets, football games, basketball games, ski carnivals and more. In fact, after looking at some old desk calendars she kept, it is obvious that somewhere along the line she acquired the ability to clone herself because it just isn’t possible to be in six places at once, yet she managed to do it.

The kids also had a well-rounded religious education. During the summer, they were Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics or Lutherans, depending on which Vacation Bible School was in session that week.

In the winter, Judy taught visitors to ski at Hidden Valley in exchange for season passes for all of the kids. It’s amazing to think about some of the days at that ski area when the wind was howling and yet there she would be, moving from beginner to beginner, helping each of them up, cranking down their Spademan bindings with the screw driver she kept in her pocket, and helping them up to fall off the poma lift again. She did it every day.

And she smiled every time one of her “Racer Chaser” kids skied up to her to see how it was going. At the end of each day, she loaded up skis on the back of her Jeep CJ-5, put the kids in the back (on the seat that wasn’t bolted down) and trekked back down the hill to home.

At home, there was always dinner on the table and food in the ‘fridge. It didn’t matter what else had been going on that day. Judy was a master of cooking pots of spaghetti or chili large enough to feed the James Gang army.

She packed lunches for all the kids to take to school each morning – sandwich, fruit and a Little Debbie snack. On payday, she would go to Circle Super Market and buy groceries. And groceries. And more groceries. Most times she would take a kid or two along just to help push the carts.

No matter what our financial situation was growing up, there was always food on the table and a roof over our heads. According to Mom, that is what mattered most.

Another thing that mattered to Judy was her family. Mess with one of them and she would pounce. There wasn’t a school board, principal, city council or commission that she didn’t take on, which led the local newspaper to describe her as “Judy James, community activist” in one article. She got a kick out of that honor but it came because she always fought for what she knew was right.

Like it was right to fight the policy that said a boy on the basketball team had to have short hair. She argued that kids should be able to ski and play school sports and not have to choose between the two. She wanted a better school system, better recreational opportunities and a better life for her family and she was never afraid to let those feelings be known.

Her efforts paid off as her children were drum majors, valedictorians, athletes and high-achievers. She spoke only one regret about how her kids turned out – when she found out three of them were going to law school to become lawyers, she shook her head and asked out loud, “Where did I go wrong?”

As the kids grew up, Judy and Don took to the road more and more, driving up to Alaska with their malamutes, Kayla and Kiska, collectively known as The Woolies. They camped along the way. They explored new places.

They found Bonners Ferry, moved there in 2002 and lived there ever since. They explored the woods and the back roads. Every morning found them at the Chick ’n Chop, the Panhandle Restaurant, JJ’s Cookshack or somewhere else where good breakfast was served.

She was a member of the Rodbenders Car Club, helped with the Borders 3 Car Show each year, and went on the club’s many cruises in Don’s ’72 Chevelle.

The kids came to visit, and some even moved nearby for a year or two. Judy was quick to share the Idaho experience with everyone who came up. From watching the fog trickle through the valley to hearing the train whistles from the nearby tracks to finding yet another forgotten logging road to hike on through the woods, Idaho was as close to Heaven as Judy could find on Earth.

She always talked about just walking into the woods when her time was done. While she couldn’t do it literally, she certainly made the trek in spirit.

She is survived by her husband of 60 years, Don, her brother Lyle and sister Susan. She is also survived by her children: Susan Perney, David (and Raelene) James, Joann (and Danny) Davis, Eric James, Robert (and Apryl) James, Nancy (and Rob) Christensen and Christopher (and Jennifer) James. Grandchildren Alec Perney, Zach, Rebekah, Joe and Katie James, Mica and Eliza James, and Jessica and Sage James and Dalton Swopes.

She was preceded in death by her son-in-law Pierre Perney, who more than likely was there to meet her at Heaven’s gate to give her the “unofficial” tour of the place.

Would you like to make a contribution? Climb a mountain, go skiing, go for a hike, play in the rocks – just get outside! Run ahead to the next fork in the trail and wait there – she’ll catch up. And be sure to be home before the street lights come on.

Judy, Mom, thank you for setting such a good example for all of us. You were an inspiration and the quiet center of our family. We know that God won’t have to worry about how to watch us all at once, because now he has you to help Him out. And we will continue to live our lives making life better for other people.