Goodbye Jim Chester NSS 6946

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Goodbye Jim Chester NSS 6946

Postby Phil Winkler » Aug 18, 2010 2:08 pm

James Michael Chester May 25, 1944 - July 30, 2010
Posted: Thursday, Aug 12th, 2010
For The Herald

James Michael Chester, 66, of Eureka, Montana, passed away on Friday, July 30, 2010 at his home after a four week struggle in the aftermath of quadruple bypass surgery. Jim was born in Lusk, Wyo. on May 25, 1944 to Robert and Jane Chester. Jim served in the U.S. Army for four years in the late 1960s, primarily in Europe on administrative duty. He was a Viet Nam vet and was awarded the Bronze Star. He graduated from Montana State University with a Master’s Degree in Wildlife Biology and wore the badge of a National Park Service Ranger in Yellowstone while working on his thesis. Jim then became employed by the United States Postal Service for 28 years until his retirement in June of 2009.

Jim’s passion was cave exploration, specifically of the alpine wilderness cave systems of Montana. He was a Fellow of The Explorers Club and The National Speleological Society. The NSS has recognized Jim’s achievements with their highest award for exploration. He served on the Board of Directors of The Alpine Karst Foundation and was a member of The U.S. Cave Exploration Committee of the NSS. He was past editor of Alpine Karst, and author (ghost) of the latest edition of the Boy Scouts of America Orienteering merit badge booklet. He was The Chapters Editor for The Explorers Log. He kayaked nearly 2000 ocean miles; dived thermal features in Yellowstone National Park; rappelled into a 240 foot well in a European medieval castle and discovered a new species of amphipod in a Glacier National Park Cave. Jim has carried The Explorers Club Flag twice, once in 2007 and once in 2009. Jim was the recipient of The 2005 Vancouver Award of The Pacific Northwest Chapter and was the 2010 Explorers Club Citation of Merit Awardee for outstanding service to the Explorers Club as the Chapters Editor of The Explorers Log and for his extraordinary contributions to the field of cave exploration.

Jim was a brilliant, caring, loving, compassionate person who lived his life to the fullest, making every day an adventure of sorts, whether he was climbing mountains, descending caves, paddling the ocean blue, delivering the mail or simply hanging out with kindred spirits. His life philosophy was to follow his curiosity and see where it led him. His favorite non-physical pastimes were drinking coffee, reading, playing the piano, sipping cognac and loving his five cats.

Jim is survived by his son Michael Chester (and wife Kelli) of Boise, Idaho, brother Doug Chester (and wife Susan) of Normal, Illinois, former wives and best friends Mary Alice Chester of Helena and Susan Marie Conrad of Bigfork, two grandchildren, (Elias and Emily Chester) several nieces and nephews and many other countless friends and loved ones whose lives he touched immeasurably.

Jim’s wishes were to be cremated. A reception honoring his life will be held at the Rexford day use area on Lake Koocanusa in Rexford, Montana on Monday, August 9 at 3 p.m. All are invited to attend. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Explorers Club New York Youth Expedition Fund in care of Lorie Karnath, President, The Explorers Club, 46 E. 70th St., New York, NY 10021

Picture is from a Scapegoat trip emailed to me by Paul Hadfield.
Phil Winkler
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Re: Goodbye Jim Chester NSS 6946

Postby cnicola » Dec 22, 2010 9:49 am

I just wanted to share the below words that I gave at the memorial service held for Jim at the Explorers Club on 9/28/10.

I'm taking somewhat of a liberty in speaking about the passing of someone who so many have known far much longer than me. However, many of his friends could not be here today, and I believe that the common bond we share as a explorers and cavers will allow me to say here today, the same words that they would want to say if they were here with us in honoring our dear departed friend, Jim Chester- “the Maestro of Montana Caving.”

Although Jim and I would occasionally run into each other over the years at various caver get-togethers, and would occasionally bump into each other through emails, it was not until this year's past Explorers Club Annual Dinner (ECAD) that I really got to know Jim.

I'm going to pass two pictures around for you to look at as I speak; one was taken at ECAD, and is the first, last and only picture that I have of Jim and myself together. The other was sent to me by Jim's long time caver friend, Ron Zuber - and is a picture which I believe shows the essence of caving and exploration.*

Because I was involved in a research project in Arizona's Kartchner Caverns I was not able to be present for ECAD this past March. However, I did make plans to meet certain people, including Jim, later that night upon arriving back in New York City, and then going to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel directly from the airport. At the Waldorf, Jim was easily recognizable among the several hundred other people in the room - he was the only one there wearing a "wilderness caver's beard" and pony tail with a tux :) After congratulating him for his well deserved receipt of the Explorers Club's Citations of Merit award, we began making arrangements about something we had been communicating about several months previously in preparation for his trip to New York City - A Special New York City Caving Trip!

The next night, following the Clubs' Annual ECAD Open House at its headquarters complex, Jim and I, joined by his wife, Maryalice and fellow club member Don Morley, headed up to the Bronx in order to meet up with my long time caver friend, Bob Cohen, and begin our night long clandestine mission; entering and then exploring the Old NYC Aqueduct, built in the late 1890's. But first, it was only right to give a little warning to everyone involved. I will never forget what it was like to see that mischievous and excited look on Jim's face when I said - "Oh, just one more thing - you wouldn't be opposed to doing something which might be illegal would you?"

The plan was simple: wait till midnight, drive up to Yonkers, pull off the side of the road along a highway exit ramp, pretend to have car trouble while three of our crew looked under the hood of the truck as the other two ran into the woods with an extension ladder, jumping to the ground each time a car approached, dumping the ladder down a ravine near a secret manhole cover, running back to the vehicle parked on the side of the road, jumping into it as the others closed the hood, driving away - WITHOUT CALLING ANY ATTENTION TO OURSELVES, parking our 25 year old "cave-mobile" vehicle nearby between a Jaguar and BMW in front of some very nice single family houses, walking along the street carrying tire-irons, backpacks, helmets and headlamps - WITHOUT CALLING ANY ATTENTION TO OURSELVES, walking back up the ramp to the highway - jumping to the ground whenever a car approached, crawling down the ravine to retrieve our ladder, dragging the ladder to the secret manhole cover, popping open the manhole cover with the aid of several tire-irons - WHILE ALL THE TIME TRYING NOT TO ATTRACT ATTENTION TO OURSELVES, dropping the ladder down the opening, climbing blindly down into the dark void, pulling the manhole cover back in place over our heads - and begin our nice leisurely three hour tour!

It was sometime in the wee hours of the morning when we exited through a second secret manhole cover further north in Yonkers - and began our walk back to the cave-mobile - WHILE ALL THE TIME TRYING NOT TO ATTRACT ATTENTION TO OURSELVES. It was while climbing up onto the street that I happen to glance back down at Jim and Maryalice and witnessed what was such a poignant moment between them both. Jim looked rather tired, and I remember wondering if he was alright and was just about to ask him if everything was okay, when I saw Maryalice look into his eyes as she ever so gently touched his right elbow with her hand as they smiled at one another - I said nothing - everything looked fine - Jim was having a great time!

In one of my last email communiqués with Jim, when I thanked Jim for giving me a copy of "We Are Wilderness Cavers", the video that he showed at ECAD, he wrote the following: "It was my pleasure to send you the little video... I just wanted to make sure at ECAD that all of the wilderness cavers in our state got their proper due. So often with awards, it's one person getting the recognition, while the others are in the background. This is my way of thanking you and giving acknowledgment to everyone that participated over the years". Jim was a "real deal" type of guy, a gentleman, a true explorer, and someone who always would make sure to give credit where credit was due. He will serve as a model for other explorers for many years to come.

So, who was Jim Chester?

- He was a person whose passing made you mad at FATE for not allowing you to enjoy his company longer!

-He was a person who made you remember the virtues of such things as LOVE, FAMILY and HONOR!


Thanks Jim. Quoting from Tennyson, "I am part of all that I have met and seen". We are all better people for having known you :) "I wish that your future days are spent doing that which you enjoyed so much; searching for hours and hours upon end - looking for the darkness beyond the void!"

* See picture at
Submitted by Chris Nicola, 9/28/10
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