Jerry Okonski passed away unexpectedly at home on May 14, 2020. He was married to Mary Ann for 52 years and together they have three daughters - Kendra, Kristina and Janina. Jerry’s life was full of adventure, entrepreneurship, change, and many projects. He was beloved by many people and will be sorely missed. His deep Christian faith guided him through life and was humbly expressed through love for others.
Jerry was born in Chicago, IL, in 1946 to Harry and Mary Okonski. As a young man, Jerry earned the Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts of America, and in 1964 he graduated from St. Rita High School. Inspired by a trip to Montana when he was 15, he decided to attend the University of Montana and graduated in 1968 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Forestry. Jerry married Mary Ann in June 1968, and later that year he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He and Mary Ann were assigned to Fort Richardson Army base in Anchorage, AK, where he worked on engineering projects and computers. After an honorable discharge, Jerry graduated from University of British Columbia with a Master’s of Science in Forest Engineering in 1975.
In 1975 Jerry and Mary Ann moved to Libby, MT where he worked at St. Regis Paper Company. His independent spirit and entrepreneurial nature led him to start his own skyline logging company in 1980. He and his employees developed innovative timber harvesting techniques that are highly regarded in the natural resource community. He branched out with a logging business in Canada. After being sought for his expertise in Chile’s nascent forest industry, Jerry, Mary Ann and their daughters moved there in 1993. Over more than ten years, Jerry trained managers and workers in advanced skyline harvesting techniques, workplace safety, and environmental management. He also worked on a variety of engineering projects in Chile, Argentina, Peru and Ecuador.
Between 2002 and 2007, Jerry and Mary Ann founded and operated a skyline logging operation in Virginia. In 2008, they moved to the Flathead Valley, and started Great Northern Land Services. Up to the day he died, Jerry loved working daily in his practice of “artisan forestry”, collaborating with the forest industry and private landowners to improve their forests while reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire fire. His skills in personal communication, collaboration and precision logging proved invaluable in this community. At the time of his death, Jerry was the longest-serving member of the Montana Logging Association.
Jerry was preceded in death by both of his parents. He is survived by his wife Mary Ann, his daughters and sons-in-law Kendra (Julian), Kristina (Jesse) and Janina (Brian), his granddaughters Kyah, Anya and Molly, his aunt Sadie, his siblings Kathy, John, Mark, Mary Kay, Janet and Jean and their spouses, and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.
The family wishes to thank the Evergreen Fire Department, Creston Volunteer Fire Department, dear family friend Dr. John Christensen, Lee and Amber Darlington, Montana Log Jam and all of those who have reached out and helped during this difficult time.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to be made in Jerry’s name to Montana Log Jam at PO Box 3193, Kalispell, MT 59903. A celebration of Jerry’s life is forthcoming later in the summer.
Darlington Cremation and Burial Service is caring for Jerry and his family.
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