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Jerry Printz, real prince

November 18, 2019
Jerry Printz’ photo from the Missoulian obituary

November 18, 2019

Got sad news on Facebook from Dirk Lee and Luana Ross:  Our friend Jerry Printz died.  I googled Jerry’s name and got the following poetic, tersely worded obituary, probably written by one of his twin sons, published online in the Missoulian four days ago:

MISSOULA — Gerald Lynn Printz left to be with his ancestors on Nov. 8, 2019. Born in 1948 in Hamilton to Bud and Mamie Printz, his family moved to Missoula in 1954. Early life was a hardscrabble existence of logging camps, subsistence farming, hunting and fishing. This life instilled in him a hard work ethic and a profound love of wilderness and animals. Dad was a jack-of-all-trades: a road master for the railroad, co-founder of Mammyth Bakery in Missoula, manager of a 120-acre ranch in Eureka, welder of MRI’s all over the USA, and finally a Forest Service ranger leading a mule train in the Scapegoat Wilderness.

Jerry suffered many major injuries over the course of his life, including from an attack by a grizzly bear sow with cubs, but he was a tough old bugger who persevered through intense pain for decades. A proud member of the Crow Tribe, dad was a complex man…very intelligent, well-read, gregarious, and charming. He traveled the world extensively and was a great storyteller beloved by many. A piece of “Old Montana” dies with Jerry, and he will be dearly missed.

He is survived by his twin sons Jason (Stacy) and Dov (Meredith) Printz, his grandchildren Olive and Kai Printz, his brother Ron Printz and sister Jo Cumley (all of Missoula) and sister Peggy Printz of Las Vegas.


I first saw Jerry in 1967 in the basement of the University Congregational Church, an erstwhile coffeehouse filled with smoking, coffee-drinking hippies and college kids.  He was a member of Einstein Intersection, a rock band that performed a song with the lyric “girl you’re . . . out of sight.”  Jerry was the lead singer.  I don’t remember the names of the others, but the group was tight.  Jerry owned his own PA system, a big deal in those days.  He later let me plug my guitar into it when I stayed with my brother across the river on Hartman street.

I don’t remember when I became close friends with Jerry Printz.  He was a year older than I.  He wasn’t a college student then.  We did have lots of friends in common, though, including Mike Fiedler.  Jerry and I argued about Mike.  He said Mike used a ton of drugs and as a result, acted crazy.  I said Mike didn’t act crazy at all.  Well, Mike simply rolled his eyes back into his head and murmured, “Jacks and no jacks back,” and “I’ll have what the boys in the backroom will have,” and “No fibbling or bibbling out.”  Our arguments always ended when Jerry asserted that he knew Mike better than I did.  True.

But I was sure Mike spoke the truth:  i.e., no fibbling or bibbling out, even though I later argued that point with my mother who assured me that “of course there is fibbling and bibbling out.”  

One time a bunch of us, including Jerry, loaded Printz’ PA system into my brother Tom’s 1953 Chevy and went to Peter Koch’s cabin at Seeley Lake to noodle out some music.  Jerry said he admired Jerry Lee Lewis.   We all admired Jerry Printz, but he was always in pain.  I mean anguish. He hurt from his heart because a girlfriend dumped him.  Yet he always had a good sense of humor, a ready smile.  He was a true outdoorsman, he had experience in the Montana wilderness way before many people ever went there.  He knew how to live in a mummy bag before you could even find a mummy bag in a store.

Jerry loved to camp.  I remember another trip when we stopped in Bonner at a store to buy some fishing lures and pickled peppers.  Jerry called the peppers, simply, “pickles.”  Tom and I rented a tent and four or six of us hiked about a half mile in the rain to a little lake in the Seeley Swan valley.  Jerry caught some cutthroat trout right away.  He showed me the fish so I could know about that kind of trout.  I remember he opened the fish’s gut to see what it had been eating.  I was wide-eyed.

Whenever I saw Jerry I’d ask him how he was doing.  His answer was “the best I can.  The more you do, the more you do.”  Not earthshaking, but true.  Jerry spoke truth.

When I left Montana in 1969 to join the Marines Jerry found a home for our dog, Pig.  Pig was a yellow lab, mostly.  My brother said Pig was “servile and meek.”  I always thought the dog was servile and meek because of his unfortunate name.  We named him Pig because, as a puppy, he sort of looked like a piglet.  Anyway, I always knew Pig was in good hands after Jerry took him to some friends of his in the country.  Jerry knew people — lots more people than I did.  He knew people who had land.  People up the Bitterroot River valley.

In the early Summer of 1969 a bunch of us got jobs on a railroad steel gang.  Jerry was one of the more experienced workers on the crew that included John Herman and me.  John and I were the youngest guys, and we got the worst job, setting spikes for a pneumatic hammer operator.  I forget what Jerry’s job was, but we always had time to socialize after the day’s work.  We lived in “outfit cars,” old wooden railroad boxcars that had a couple of little beds at one end and a table and coal stove and icebox at the other end.  Our car had beds for us with springs and no mattresses. 

All the outfit cars and coal car and ice cars and equipment cars were on a siding.  We walked to the coal and ice cars and fetched fuel for our stove and ice for the icebox.  This all seems so quaint now, but it wasn’t then.  Sometimes we made music in the evening.  Guitar, harp, drumming.

The train’s outfit cars were on a siding in Arlee and Jerry and I walked to a bar and bought some Thunderbird wine.  I remember buying it, well, someone bought it for us, probably Jerry, but I sure don’t remember drinking it.  I don’t think any of us drank alcohol much in those days.  We preferred to smoke weed, but it was kind of hard to get.  I think it was more of trying to fit into what I thought the image of a railroad gandy dancer was.  Gritty, creosote-smelling, wine guzzling.  I wanted to wear stinky coveralls and live the part, without actually drinking the T-bird wine.

If I remember right, Jerry and his roommate — maybe it was my brother Tom — lived in a real nice outfit car, with a rug on the floor and mattresses on the beds, and a kerosene lamp or two for light.  John and I had no lamps, no rug, no mattresses.  We had sleeping bags for our bare springs beds.  Also a nice hot coal fire in the stove.  We’d start the fire in the stove with kindling and kerosene, then add coal.  Amazing how a coal stove can make life seem better and brighter.

The last time I saw Jerry was in Kalispell at the airport, just by coincidence, waiting for a flight the same time I was.  This was probably 1982.  Jerry said he was working with a team of horses.  I knew Jerry could haul logs with work horses.  

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  1. Frank Dugan permalink

    I remember Jerry well. You wrote a fitting tribute to a great guy. — Frank Dugan

  2. Thanks, Frank. Jerry had a quality about him that is difficult to describe. He embodied a high spirit. I wish I had had more adventures with him.

  3. Lauren Elizabeth Dickey permalink

    Wow. Another criss-cross with you, Dan. Jerry and I were re-introduced after 50 years by Tinkerbell in 2016 and ended up in kind of a “complicated” longer-term relationship. I have a cottage in Polson and he had bought a ranch in Pablo. So…we hung out afternoons and evenings and weekends together near Buffalo Bridge. He was always in pain…and that made things problematic. Then he experienced a bad fall in my backyard in September last year. I was not at home. Apparently he broke his neck. It was ultimately a hospital staph infection 2 months later that literally killed him. His family blames me in some weird way. Rapp adopted Jerry’s cat “Buzz” when Jerry died. Loved reading your memories about him…thanks so much.

    • What a tragic story you tell, Lauren. Grieving family members sometimes lash out in their own pain. I’m so sorry for your loss and for the hurt you must feel. When someone who is loved and admired passes, frequently the fallout is bad.

  4. Karen Ryan permalink

    Jerry was a knowing man. Think he was born knowing.

  5. Doug permalink

    Good memory for memories. Because I never made music, most of my experiences with Jerry don’t overlap yours. You are right about his pain – physical and emotional. Indeed he was a good person to have for a friend. The 3 or 5 times I saw Jerry after 2002 were measured in hours and separated by years. I believe that, especially late in life, Jerry was comforted by his relationship with his boys and their families.

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