Earl (Doc) Warne, 89, of Billings, passed away Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, of heart and kidney complications at the Billings Clinic. As he told family members who had gathered during the week, “I have had a wonderful life. But I am ready to go.”
He was born on a farm outside Lewis, Iowa, on Feb. 26, 1924, to Phyllis (Trent) and Raymond Warne. He was an avid fan of the Saturday western matinées shown in the movie theaters; and he and his two cousins replicated every trick from the movies, especially galloping full speed on Shetland ponies and tackling one another from horseback. But most of his time on the farm involved chores. The drudgery included milking the cows at 5 a.m. every morning and then at night, stacking loose hay in the barn on hot, humid days and worst of all, cleaning the chicken coop every week. Early on he knew he didn't want to farm for the rest of his life. He also was an excellent athlete, lettering every year in high school football and baseball. He even played semi-pro baseball as a teen and at 15 was the only one on the team of older men to get a single off Satchel Paige. A football scholarship to Central College was his ticket off the farm. There he got the nickname "Whitey" because of his thick, wavy blond hair.
After most of a year of college and a day before his 18th birthday he enlisted in the Navy, in a V-12 officer training program. He continued his college education and training for another 1.5 years which included 6 months at Columbia in NYC. In the fall of 1944 as an Ensign 1st Class, he was assigned to the USS Zaurak, a small transport ship in the South Pacific. The Zaurak landed troops and supplies in the first days of the heated battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Also, it was always assigned the most dangerous position in big convoys, coffin corner.
On Aug. 15, 1945, while on leave in Seattle, Earl and Harriet J DeValois, his college sweetheart from Iowa, were married. After the war the young couple returned to Iowa and Whitey finished a teaching degree at Central College. He took a high school job in Avoca, Iowa, where he coached and taught for 8 years. A son and a daughter joined the family. During the summers he finished a Master’s Degree at Drake University in Iowa. When the school board wouldn’t meet his salary request, he moved the family to Greeley, Colo., where he worked on a Doctorate in Education at the University of Northern Colorado. A second son was born. Whitey had always had a dream of moving to the West; so, after graduation he took a job at Eastern Montana College in Billings, where he taught for 30 years.
His childhood dreams of cowboys came true when he became the advisor to the Rodeo Team at EMC. The Rodeo Club burgeoned in membership and in the mid 1970’s the EMC Rodeo Team finished 4th at the National Collegiate Rodeo Finals. It was the Rodeo Team that gave him his most well-known handle, "Doc". He loved working with young people and over the years he helped many students get back on track. As one former student stated just last week, “I owe everything I have accomplished to Doc. If it hadn’t been for him, I never would have graduated.” The many similar comments from former students in Iowa and Montana only confirmed to Doc that he had chosen the right career path. He loved teaching.
Earl never lost his love for baseball and coached Little League and Babe Ruth teams for his two sons. After they grew up and played softball, Doc became the head umpire for the popular softball leagues in Billings. Every player knew Doc but no one ever protested Doc’s calls—if he wanted to stay in the game. Doc's passion was hunting. A perfect season meant a buck antelope, a buck deer and any elk. He was a great shot. A couple of weeks ago in the early stages of his recovery after the open-heart, by-pass surgery he talked about hunting this fall. He was determined to go, although he did finally admit that he would have to shoot a lighter caliber rifle so his chest wouldn’t hurt too much. Just this last spring he dropped a young tom turkey with a single shot.
On the last day he told his nurse, “I have a great family.” He always bragged about his family and his 68-year marriage to Harriet. He is preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Shirley Malmberg and her husband, Cecile, of Seattle. He still has a brother, Kendal (Shirley) of Atlantic, Iowa. Doc’s closest family includes his wife, Harriet; their son, David (Roxie Spildie) of Billings and children, Tyler (Nicolle) and Rachael; their daughter, Becky (Jim Shepard) of Billings/Boise and children, Spencer (Sally) and their three children, Aubrey, Bridger and Brady; Whitney (Dan Hihath) and child, Jax, and Blake; their son, Mark (Evelyn) of Denver and children Katie and Kimberly; and his adopted son and daughter, Mike (Chuck) and Barb Belinak of Laurel.
He never lost his love for the West, which included fishing in the Beartooths and hunting the hills of Montana. He still loved reading Louis L'amour western novels and watching "Gunsmoke." One of the highlights of this past year was an April trip to Washington D.C. on the Montana Honor Flight. He never felt he deserved the attention as a WWII veteran because he didn’t feel like a hero—but the trip changed that.
There will be a celebration of life for Doc Warne at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19, at Petro Theater on the MSUB Campus in Billings. A light luncheon will follow. Come and share memories—but if you decide to go hunting, Doc would understand. Also, Doc was too practical for flowers; so, please use that money to help others. The family would like to have memorials sent to the Montana Honor Flight Fund or especially to the Warne/Spildie Scholarship Fund care of the MSUB Foundation at 1500 University Drive; Billings, MT 59101-0245 (or telephone at 406-657-2244). Finally, the family would sincerely like to thank the physicians, nurses and staff of the Billings Clinic for their care and concern this past two months.
Arrangements are by Cremation & Funeral Gallery. Condolences may be sent to the family at www.cfgbillings.com through “Our Families.”