“This is a terrific place to be,” Jerry Carisch said, ascending The Fingers at Bridger Bowl.
Normal obituaries provide the reader with a series of significant events that make up a life, but I can’t write a normal obituary for a man who refused to be normal, or do things as they’d been done before. Who lived myriad lifetimes within the one. The purpose of Jerry’s time here was to seek out grand misadventure, and the great secret he let us in on was that the misadventures were the ones worth talking about.
Jerry Carisch, an inimitable legend, passed June 27, 2020, five days after his 57th wedding anniversary in the company of family and friends. It was an immeasurable loss of a great mind that knew how everything worked. That knew what to believe in and who to stand up for. Even at the very end, he could be found fiddling with nuts and bolts, pushing them around his palms like pills, paying homage to a life spent using his hands, working on hot rods in his garage and planting a grove of Aspen trees around his Montana home, the same way he built an empire as an Arby’s franchisee. As ruthless a businessman as he was, he knew something about ambition. Often, we confuse it with exhaustion. But when he shot for the stars, he took his time getting there. He laughed, he showed up for his family, he took his business calls on the golf course, and he used his success to help others find theirs.
As a fifth-year engineering student at the University of Minnesota, Jerry wed his Wayzata high school sweetheart, Julie Mae, at Oak Knoll Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, in 1963. A year later, they relocated to La Crosse, Wisconsin and welcomed a son, Michael. Their first daughter, Heather, followed in 1966, and then Cristina came in 1970. It was his dream realized; a large family to come home to, brag about, and cheer on from the sidelines at ski races. He filled dozens of photo albums with pictures of their triumphs, their tragic hair choices, first loves, first babies and proms. He wasn’t just there for the big things, he was present for everything.
After a brief stint working for Trane Inc., he moved his family back to Wayzata and went into business with his brother, George, and his father, Lyle, who was famed for bringing cinema to town in 1932 with the erection of the Wayzata Theater. Together, they expanded Carisch Theaters into a string of drive-ins and cinemas, eventually selling 89 screens to Carmike in 1986. The Carisch brothers continued to pave the way for an ever-evolving Wayzata with the demolition of the original theater in 1984. In its place, they built a block-long building made up of shops and offices affectionately titled “Marquee Place” and donning the original marquee. It was the tipping point—the inciting incident for a Wayzata that boomed.
With an unrivaled view of Historic Lake Minnetonka’s wooded shoreline and deep blue waters, Marquee Place became home to Carisch Inc., which launched with a medical transcription business that sold in 1991. The company then turned its attention to real estate and Arby’s, owning and operating 75 restaurants at one time.
A “financial wizard” and master of acquisition, he often came into the office singing. But he never strayed too far from his mechanical roots, wiring the ski hill for his children’s races and building his own ski-in, ski-out-style lodge on Bridger Bowl in the eighties. He became a back-country devotee—what Bridger Bowl dons a “Ridge Hippy,” the type of risk-taker who’s not afraid of back-tracking, but hard-pressed to.
In the early 2000s, they moved to Montana full-time to watch their grandchildren grow up. Reserving the lodge at Bridger Bowl for Christmases and snowy weekends, they built a permanent residence in town with a green in the back, not far from Riverside Country Club, where he golfed in men’s league and—eventually—operated as club president. Asserting his keen instinct for renovation and perfect timing, he helped erect the new clubhouse, his daughter, Heather, curating a collection of art for its deep-wooded locker rooms and elegant dining spaces.
He was the patron of tradition. The man who wore plaid pants at Christmas, piloting his beloved snowcat into the woods and dragging mammoth Christmas trees home to the horror of his wife. He threw elaborate golf parties with closest-to-the-pin competitions in his backyard and left early every Fourth of July morning to secure the best viewing spots for the parades. In time, it would become obvious he was really the patron of bringing people together. The king of inclusivity. The pack leader. A second father to many, having the time of his life in the company of his closest friends.
His legacy lives on in the hearts of those he interrupted when they doubted their abilities to dream and in those he taught to value great risk—if it doesn’t scare you, it’s not worth it. He encouraged us not to see things through, but to see ourselves through anything, the way he saw himself through an incredible fight with Alzheimer’s Disease. He spent his final months in Destin, Florida, smartly escaping the muddy Montana spring season for a final year.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Lyle and Wilma Carisch, and is survived in life by his wife, Julie Mae; his brother, George Carisch (Sharon) and sister, Sally Fitzgerald (Jack); his three children, Michael Carisch (Tamara), Heather Carisch, and Cristina Curvin (Pete); and his grandchildren Luke, Gracie, and Sylvia Carisch; Charlee and Reed Remitz; Elizabeth and Patrick Curvin.
I’ve always said death is a misunderstood adventure. And we hope that, for Jerry, it’s another terrific place to be.
Written by his firstborn grandchild, a true fan, Charlee Remitz
In lieu of flowers, we ask that you donate to the Alzheimer’s Association in Jerry Carisch’s name.
The family would like to thank the memory care staff at The Springs at Bozeman for their compassion and commitment to giving Jerry the best care possible.