Our loving husband, father, coach, grandfather, mentor and friend, James “Jim” Zoeller Downs went home to his heavenly Father on Feb. 13, 2020.
Jim was born on April 6, 1936, to James Z. and Minnie Downs in Manton, Kentucky (a few miles from the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln — the birthplace of great men, he would remind us). His younger sister, Celestine (Cathy Goatley), followed in 1939. The Downs family moved to Shelbyville, Kentucky, when he was in first grade, and he attended school there and graduated from Shelbyville High School in 1954. After high school, he attended University of Kentucky and then, in 1956, Jim met the love of his life, Martha Jean Riester, at a church party. They were married on April 19, 1958, the start of their brief 62 years together! Two months after they were wed, Jim was drafted into the Army and the young couple spent their first two years together at Fort Gordon in Georgia. There, they started their family, which would grow with five children: Marcy (Ed) Mutch, Mike (Jeanna), Paula (Paul) Johnson, Steve (Lorie) and Kevin (Kay). To the chagrin of their Kentucky family, the adventurous young family (two kids and a pregnant wife at this point) moved to the Wild West in 1962, when Jim accepted a job transfer to Billings. Montana has been home ever since.
Jim was foremost a man of love; he loved his family, his church family (St. Thomas Catholic Church), and the beautiful place that God placed him to spend most of his years, his beloved Montana. As much as he loved, he was beloved and held a place in many hearts.
It was here in Montana that he thrived in his father role, supporting his young family while coaching baseball and basketball, and attending concert after concert (band, orchestra and choir). The family adopted his love of the outdoors, and they enjoyed camping, hiking and fishing throughout the state, and has fond memories of family time around the campfire (typically the largest in the campground). He enjoyed exploring Montana with long drives (extremely long due to his “shortcuts”). He worked in Billings for 24 years for J.A. Underwood Company in sales, but his happiest working years were the 14 years he spent as Pastoral Assistant at St. Thomas Church. Parishioners were hard-pressed to visit the church and not see Jim with a big smile addressing them by name.
As father duties subsided, his role as grandfather flourished with 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren (and counting). During his later working years and retirement, he and his lovely wife really enjoyed their children and their young families (round two of attending game after game and concert after concert). They also enjoyed their freedom to travel their beautiful beloved state of Montana, Yellowstone Park, and the mysterious Southwest United States with its ancient ruins and historic places. He could describe in great detail their many exploits and thoroughly enjoyed telling the stories to family and friends.
Jim’s life was a life lived well. He has expressed that he would like to be remembered for the love he had for his God, his family and Montana. Through his last years, Jim was the epitome of strength and grace while dealing with many physical ailments. He remained stalwart in his faith and love, truly an inspiration to all of us who have shared life with him. We all look forward to seeing a healthy Jim when we meet again soon.
A vigil service will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, at Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary, 1001 Alderson Ave. Memorial mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at St. Thomas the Apostle, 2055 Woody Drive. Interment will be in Yellowstone Valley Memorial Park.