On December 13, 2018, Jim Bienvenue succumbed to complications from Parkinson’s Disease. He spent his final days surrounded by his wife, children, grandchildren, friends, and Highgate caregivers. James Irving Bienvenue was born on August 11, 1944 in Waterbury, Connecticut to Dorothy and Irving Bienvenue. He spent his formative years in Prospect with his five sisters: Linda, Nancy, Jan, Jean and Ellen. His younger brother, Irving R. Bienvenue Jr. (Bodie) died at the age of three. In 1962 Jim graduated from Kaynor Technical High School. Between growing up with five sisters in a house with one bathroom and Jim’s restless spirit, he joined the Navy and left Prospect for good in November of 1962.
While Jim was stationed at North Island in San Diego, Jim met the love of his life, Lyn Chambers during the spring of 1965. Jim was honorably discharged in November 1966. Their courtship continued until they married on April 16, 1966 in the United Methodist Church in La Vern, California, the same church where Elain’s wedding occurred in The Graduate. Jim worked for his father-in-law, Luther Chambers at Luther’s sheet metal business, then he later worked for General Dynamic’s spray-painting missile parts.
In 1968, their first daughter, Heather was born in Pomona, California. Jim and Lyn could not foresee raising their family in southern California. Prior to their marriage, they spent part of their summers in Montana where Luther and Janice Chambers had purchased lake front property on Swan Lake. So, in the fall of 1969, Jim, Lyn, and Heather hit the road for Montana where they would remain for the rest of their lives. The family settled in Kalispell. Jim attended Flathead Community College. Their second daughter Stacy was born in March of 1970. It wasn’t long before the family moved once more to Missoula where Jim enrolled at the University of Montana to finish his Forestry degree. During the summer he fought forest fires and became friends with Smokey Bear. He wrote his senior thesis on the Grizzly Bear and its habitat. Upon completion of school, he was offered jobs out of state, but his love of Montana was stronger than his desire to work in the Forestry field. In August of 1974, their son Darrin came bursting into the world a little early.
In 1974, Jim joined the New York Life Insurance team; a career he held for over 25 years and would eventually lead the family to Bozeman where Jim and Lyn would finally settle. Life as an insurance agent wasn’t always easy, but his flexible schedule allowed him to attend his kids sporting events and spend time at Swan Lake.
As his career with New York Life wound down, he began driving a bus for Karst Stage. Jim started with a regular school bus route which then blossomed into driving charters for the Bozeman Hawks, MSU Bobcats and Bozeman Ice Dog sports’ teams. During the summer he drove tourists through Yellowstone Park, building a vault full of knowledge about Yellowstone.
Jim was a car and motorcycle enthusiast. He spent many nights and weekends rebuilding cars. Upon retirement Lyn and Jim enjoyed traveling in their Corvettes. Jim’s final rebuild was a 1956 black Ford truck. But in reviewing his own notes on his life, it is the motorcycle he clung to most tightly. Even though Jim and Lyn rode with Harley groups in Lake Havasu, Arizona, it was the long rides he took solo or with good friend Andy Young that he recalled the most. He rode in Aruba, Canada and 14 different states.
In Jim’s words “Feeling the hot or cold wind, the rumble of the Harley Davidson exhaust was the thrill of my life. The best part of riding. Those days are just memories that I will treasure for evermore.” The greatest gift he gave his family – he knew when he had to retire the bike and the car keys, so we didn’t have to take that from him.
Of all the gifts and wisdom Jim left us, it is his 31 years of sobriety that stands out the most. During his years in the program, he overcame his own addiction and mentored many others on their journey. Even in his final months, he was able to share his wisdom and experience to help someone in need. AA also made his journey with Parkinson’s a little smoother. AA taught him the importance of knowing what he could control and what he could not.
Jim was proceeded in death by his younger brother Bodie, his parents Dorothy and Irving Bienvenue, and brother-in-law Percy Smith. He is survived by his primary caregiver and wife of 52 years, Lyn; their three children: Heather (Bill) Flanagan, Stacy (Steve) Wesen, and Darrin (Darci) Bienvenue; and six grandchildren: Colter and Conner Flanagan, Hunter and Chase Wesen, and Taylor and Jaden Bienvenue. All five of Jim’s sisters are still with us: Linda Smith, Nancy (Freddy) Milano, Jan (Ed) Krasinski, Jean Messier, and Ellen (Andy Wagner). Jim is also survived by his brother-in-law and fellow motorcycle enthusiast Bill Chambers and his daughter Vicki.
A celebration of life will be held at Highgate Senior Living Center, 2219 West Oak St. on Monday, December 17, 2018 at 3:30 pm. The family will host another gathering at their Swan Lake home during the summer of 2019.
In lieu of flowers, memorials made be sent to Swan Mission Search and Rescue at PO Box 1854, Bigfork, MT, 59911; or the Barrow Neurological Foundation (Muhammed Ali Clinic) at supportbarrow.org.