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McGregor Memorial Service

Photos of James 'Jimmy' McGregor are shown at a memorial service hosted by Church of the Rockies in Red Lodge on Sunday.

RED LODGE — James “Jimmy” McGregor was remembered as a kind and thoughtful, if occasionally grumpy, local man who frequently practiced good deeds for the people around him during a memorial service Sunday evening. And he was universally praised as a talented horse caretaker.

More than 150 people, mostly from the Red Lodge community, showed up to the town’s civic center for the service, hosted by Church of the Rockies Pastor Lee Merck.

McGregor Memorial Service

Lee Merck, the pastor of Church of the Rockies, speaks at a memorial service for James 'Jimmy' McGregor hosted by Church of the Rockies in Red Lodge on Sunday.

Last month, McGregor's body was found near a trailhead south of Red Lodge. Police believe he was killed, and another Red Lodge resident, Thomas Schifferns, was arrested on suspicion of deliberate homicide in McGregor's death.

McGregor was perhaps most known for the dedication he demonstrated in caring for the horses owned by the late Don Coutts, who formerly operated a horse-drawn wagon along the streets of town. But, Merck said, “there were many who saw him in town that may not have known him in a personal way” and found McGregor to be “mysterious.”

McGregor Memorial Service

Attendees wait for the memorial service to begin for James 'Jimmy' McGregor hosted by Church of the Rockies in Red Lodge on Sunday.

“Though you may not have known Jimmy aside from a friendly smile and a wave from the side of the road, he was not that mysterious,” Merck said.

Making a reference to McGregor’s signature bushy, white facial hair, the pastor also noted that in addition to attaining the rank of “Second Class” in the Boy Scouts, the Grand Haven, Michigan, native was also “a member in good standing of a society known as ‘The Bearded Brothers.’”

Merck said the news of McGregor’s allegedly violent death affected him deeply, as McGregor was an active member of the local congregation since the church opened its doors more than three years ago. But he asked the audience, which included many church members, to use the tragic loss to reflect on their relationship with God.

“We should grieve, we should grieve in the right way, but we should not grieve like people who have no hope,” the pastor said.

To commemorate a man Merck described as “a kind-hearted soul aiming to please others,” the Southern Baptist church ordered 1,000 wooden nickels bearing McGregor’s bearded likeness and distributed them to those in attendance. The pay-it-forward idea being, he said, to have more people commit small, random acts of kindness, then give the wooden nickel to the beneficiary and suggest they do the same for someone else.

McGregor Memorial Service

Wooden tokens in honor of James 'Jimmy' McGregor were passed out to attendees at the memorial service hosted by Church of the Rockies in Red Lodge on Sunday.

“Wouldn’t it be really neat if 500 to 600 of these coins stayed in circulation?” Merck said to the attendees as a pair of baskets containing the wooden change made their way through the audience.

Speaking after the service about his late friend, part-time Red Lodge resident Keith Turner agreed that McGregor was renowned for those small acts of kindness.

“I saw one basket, and I said well, that has to be less than half of the good deeds that Jimmy did,” Turner said. “Then I saw the other basket with the other half, and I said, ‘That’s where the rest are!’”

Turner actually met McGregor when they were both little kids in Michigan, and years later, when the two grown men happened to meet each other again in Red Lodge, he said McGregor was able to recognize him by his eyes.

McGregor Memorial Service

A woman holds a program at the memorial service for James 'Jimmy' McGregor hosted by Church of the Rockies in Red Lodge on Sunday.

“Ever since that day, I’d come to D Y Supply (in Red Lodge) and bring him a beer, because that was the only thing I knew that he liked — other than horses, but I couldn’t afford a horse,” Turner joked. “He was like a fixture there. If he didn’t have something to do, he’d sit in that chair and mind his own business until there was something for him to do.”

Others also recalled that McGregor could be frequently found at D Y Supply, doing odd jobs like chopping firewood or changing tires. Rebecca Schuyler said she would bring her dog over to the supply store when her husband, Bill, worked there. One day the dog escaped, and McGregor wouldn’t go home until the schnauzer-pug was found.

“Jimmy stayed after, ‘til everyone was gone, and helped us go through all the storage sheds until we found her,” Schuyler said.

And while Turner acknowledged that McGregor would sometimes grumble, he was effusive about his friend’s kindhearted nature.

“He basically was one of the nicest people in town, if you got to know him,” Turner said.


Morning Reporter

General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.