It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of our father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, Thomas (Tom) Crnich, on January 6, 2023, at the Community Nursing Home of Anaconda. Born in Butte, MT, to Zora (Likarish) Crnich and Edward (Tubie) Lawrence Crnich, Tom loved growing up in Butte. Meaderville and McQueen were his neighborhoods, and he had many fun adventures and misadventures there. He attended Holy Savior Grade School and Boys’ Central High School and then went on to Carroll College where he graduated in 1961 with degrees in English, French and Philosophy. He later attended graduate school at the University of Montana. While at Carroll College, he met Mary Ellen LaPointe. They were married on February 18, 1961, and soon after moved to Anaconda, beginning their life there that would last for 61 years, until Mary Ellen passed away on their anniversary in 2022.
Tom began his teaching career at Anaconda Central Catholic High School in 1961, where he taught English until the school closed in 1973. He then moved to Anaconda High School, where he continued teaching English until his retirement in 1994. He instructed all grade levels, teaching classes ranging from Honors’ English to Survival Literature to Shakespeare. He was also very involved in many school-related activities; one of his favorite was coaching girls’ track. He also thoroughly enjoyed coaching his son Kurt’s flag football and middle school football teams.
Teaching was a calling for Tom. He had a rare gift for making his classes fun and engaging for his students. He spent countless hours reading and correcting papers, making comments and suggestions tailored for each student. He wore out hundreds of red pens over the course of his teaching career. He truly enjoyed every moment of teaching and the many students who passed through his classes. He always said his students taught him as much as he taught them. He was a great teacher, a mentor and a leader, who positively impacted the lives of so many students.
If teaching was his calling, working on trails in the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness Area was his passion. With absolutely no experience, he began working on a trail crew for the Philipsburg Ranger District in 1963 and worked there every summer until he retired in 1998. As he gained experience, he progressed to trail crew foreman performing trail maintenance and trail construction inside and outside the Pintlers. He worked and trained over 170 young men and women for trail work, including his son, Kurt, who learned the value of hard work when he “volunteered” for a summer on trail with his dad. Tom developed a high proficiency with a chainsaw and hand tools, including axe and crosscut saw, and was a qualified blaster. Almost all of his time was spent with his crews in the high country, and he loved it.
His children were lucky enough to spend countless days and miles hiking and backpacking with him in the Pintlers. Sometimes during a long hike, we would ask him how much farther it was until we could stop and rest, and he would say “just around the corner,” which we now know was code for “a long way so stop asking!” He shared with us his knowledge and love of all things outdoors, and we are so grateful for that.
As a younger man, Tom played handball, was a technical rock climber and mountaineer, and was a classic car buff (he was a member of the original Butte Road Angels). He collected a few cars over the years, which he loved to clean and polish and then cruise around town in. He was a talented wood carver, and many of his beautiful carvings now decorate the homes of his children and grandchildren. He also enjoyed model cars and planes, and 1950’s and 1960’s rock and roll music. He was actively involved in the Anaconda Catholic Community and numerous community activities, including the Clark Fork Coalition, the Anaconda Teachers Union, and the Anaconda Adult Learning Center.
An avid life-long reader, his book collection is extensive. Tom was particularly interested in World War II and had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. He also collected Butte literature and memorabilia. He remembered every book he read and the names of the authors, too.
In recent years, Tom began writing about events and experiences in his life. He started with short stories, and eventually authored eight books that ranged in topics from his years working in the Pintlers to growing up in Butte to his teaching years. His children and many friends were privileged to be gifted copies of his books.
Tom loved the home he built with Mary Ellen and his children. His yard was perfectly manicured and the flower beds were beautiful. Many a warm day, Tom could be found sitting on his deck enjoying the company of his family and friends. In the winter, he tried to make sure the sidewalks were snow-free, even if he had to shovel several times a day! He loved football – local, college, national – it didn’t matter. He thought it was the best sport ever. He loved John’s Pork Chop sandwiches and Chinese food. He loved cats. He loved writing and corresponding with many friends and relatives throughout the year. He had great handwriting. He especially loved writing his Christmas cards – he regularly sent out over 75 cards a year, each containing a long, personal letter. And he loved receiving cards even more. He truly enjoyed hearing about everyone and what was going on in their lives. He loved his almost daily calls with his sister, Susan. They talked about everything and nothing, and despite the physical distance between them, he felt she was always close by.
Tom was blessed to have had many friends throughout his life, and he worked hard to stay in touch with them all. None were closer than his two best friends, Ed Puccinelli and John Digalis, with whom he shared so many experiences throughout his adult life. They were there through the good and bad, the highs and lows. They were with him until the end. He cherished their friendship, the times spent together, and all the memories shared with them.
Tom also shared so many great times with his long-time friend, former Carroll College classmate and teaching colleague Frank Moreni. All their years teaching together resulted in countless entertaining stories. In recent years, their “tea parties” (that would be iced tea) were occasions he really looked forward to, as were the lunches and thoughtful conversations he shared with his friend John Stevenson.
The many friends who touched Tom’s life are too numerous to mention here but know that you all held a special place in his heart.
Tom was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Ellen, his parents, his grandson Nicholas Puccinelli, and brothers-in-law Dan LaPointe, Duane Roy, and Neil Morris. He is survived by his children Lynn (Mike) Higgins of Anthem, AZ; Debbie (Ray) Puccinelli of Idaho Falls, ID; and Kurt Crnich of Kuna, ID; grandchildren Max Higgins; Joey (Caroline) Puccinelli; Drew (Michelle) Puccinelli; Paige (Conner Morris) Puccinelli; Andrea (Reece) Holloway; Kurt Crnich Jr.; Lauren Crnich; great-grandchildren Nino and CeCe Puccinelli; Mara and Casey Puccinelli; Arlo Holloway; sister Susan (Mike) Carlson; nephews Erik (Krystal) Carlson; Mark Carlson; great-niece Haddie Carlson; brothers-in-law Peter LaPointe and Mike (Gayle) LaPointe; and sisters-in-law Bernadette Roy, Nora Morris, Elaine Vetter, Therese (Joe) Baldwin, and Pauline LaPointe.
Tom’s family is thankful to all the staff at Community Nursing Home of Anaconda for the incredible care and kindness they showed our dad and the support they gave us while he was there.
At his request, private family services will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, Tom wished any donations in his honor be made to Pintler Pets, 80 Silver St., Anaconda, MT 59711, or to a charity of the donor’s choice.
He told us he would like to be remembered as a person who always had time for others, who always cared about and was helpful to others both during his careers and later into his retirement. We will miss him so very much, but we are comforted knowing that we will see him again “just around the corner...”
“As with everyone, time has become the thief, slowly robbing the body, and even the memories, bit by little bit. Over the years, the breathing has become more labored, the muscles slack, the joints tender, the eyesight dimmed, the memories blurred. Yet, every so often, just for a moment, the years roll back, and we are young men again with young eyes, young muscles and young hearts. And, just for a moment, the trail winds ahead of us, beckoning us and waiting for what our youth has to give. And the miles slide away, as do the years. And, life is good, and we are happy. And, once again, it is a time of friendships, of laughter, of hope and of life. And we are invincible…” Tom Crnich.
Longfellow Finnegan Riddle Funeral and Cremation Services has been privileged to care for Thomas and his family.