Jay William Becker, 61, passed away peacefully on July 9, 2020 in Irvine, California. He was diagnosed with brain cancer just 3 months prior, while at his residence in Yakima, Washington.
Jay’s life was cut short due to a fast-growing, aggressive stage IV brain tumor, glioblastoma multiforme (or GBM). Jay was a “free spirit” and lived an adventurous, diverse life that led him to many destinations around the USA and the world. His creativity and unique perspective on life and people were truly one-of-a-kind.
Born July 24, 1958 to Harriet and Richard Becker in Atlantic, Iowa, Jay was raised there and graduated from Atlantic High School in 1977. Jay’s early years were spent focused on his many athletic pursuits, where he excelled in multiple sports, including baseball, football, basketball, and track and field earning 11 athletic letters in high school. He also earned all-conference football honors on both offense and defense and represented Atlantic in the annual Iowa Shrine football game. He spent many summers training for football and working on local farms bucking bales and walking bean fields. Free time was spent on Spirit Lake and Okoboji boating, water-skiing and fishing with his family and friends.
In the fall of 1977, Jay traveled west to Missoula, Montana, and enrolled at the University of Montana and he was invited to the Grizzlies football team as a walk-on. Over the next 4 and a half years, Jay earned his degree in Forestry and was awarded a full-ride athletic scholarship, where he became a 3-year starter for the Griz at defensive back. He was awarded the Golden Helmet Award, voted on by his team members for being the “hardest hitter” on the team. During his time in Missoula, Jay also spent time exploring the backcountry of western Montana and perfecting the art of fly-fishing. His expeditions included backpacking in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area with his brothers, as well as many other ventures with friends and family into Glacier National Park, the Bitterroot and Pintler mountain ranges, and wherever a high mountain trail would take him.
After graduating from UM in 1982, and a short period as a financial planner, Jay enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. He finished at the top of his “boot camp” class and was based in Garibaldi, Oregon before being granted an honorable discharge.
Jay joined the Peace Corps and was based in the remote section of northwest Guatemala for 2 years. He worked with the locals helping improve farming techniques. He became fluent in Spanish during his time there and traveled extensively around Guatemala, Belize and other Central and South American countries. He visited many Mayan temple ruins and immersed himself in the local culture. Jay had great respect for the indigenous people of the area, and was blessed with a tight-knit group of life-long friends with his co-workers in the Peace Corps.
He spent 6 months in Bombay, India, working for the YMCA coaching youth basketball and leading other recreational programs. Jay returned to school at the University of Georgia and earned his Master’s in Ecology, where he also traveled to Ecuador, South America, to conduct his thesis project. He took the opportunity to travel throughout South America traversing the Andes Mountains, visiting Machu Picchu in Peru and several national parks in the neighboring countries.
After completing his masters, he found several unique work assignments. The first was for a private jaguar preserve in Costa Rica for a private landowner. The second was based in the desert of Morocco in northern Africa. Jay worked for an Arab prince and helped preserve a native bird species, Houbara bustard, on his private landholdings for falconry.
Jay returned to the US and worked for a government contractor at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, in an environmental impact assessment function for 10 years. He then moved to Hawaii for a similar role on an Army base for 2 years. In 2011, Jay relocated to Yakima, Washington, where he had been working at the Yakima Training Center, an Army military base, again performing environmental impact studies and land management for a government contractor.
Jay will be missed by all. As an uncle to 8 nieces and nephews, he maintained communication links to all and never missed a chance to provide his worldly “advice” when needed, or not needed. As a work associate, Jay was a dependable co-worker that took pleasure in challenging the status quo and offering creative options. To many people, he was an entrepreneur, as he was constantly brainstorming on new ideas and inventions.
Over the past decade, Jay spent countless hours hiking in the Cascade Mountains in Washington, especially around Mt. Rainier. He found great peace and joy as he walked the trails and scoured the forests and trees for different wildlife and bird species.
Jay’s family thanks everyone who has reached out through letters, calls, texts and emails, and for all their prayers during his short battle against GBM. Jay was well taken care of the last couple months of his life while staying at the Whispering Oaks Board & Care facility in Irvine, CA. A special thank you goes to Irene, his caregiver. Her personal attention and patient, helpful care for Jay was greatly appreciated during this difficult period.
Jay is survived by his brothers, nieces and nephews, David and Mary Jo Becker of Tustin, CA, and their children Kimberly, Van and Jake, and Ned and Kim Becker of Missoula, MT, and their children, Ellee, Claire, and Dane; and brother-in-law, Mike Pettit of Dillon, MT, and his children Jenny (Kearns) and Hayley. He was preceded in death by his parents, Richard and Harriet Becker, and sister, Elizabeth (Buffy) Pettit.
A Celebration of Life Graveside service for family and friends will be held at 11:30 a.m., Saturday, October 10, 2020, at the Atlantic Cemetery, in Atlantic, Iowa. Following the graveside a luncheon will be held at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Atlantic. A celebration of Jay’s life will also be scheduled in Missoula, Montana, in the near future.
Memorials can be sent in Jay’s name to either the “Trojan Bowl Football Field Renovation” project, Atlantic Booster Club, Rolling Hills Bank & Trust, Attn: Emily Freund, 1307 East 7th Street, Atlantic, IA 50022 OR to American Forests at https://www.americanforests.org/ways-to-give/memorial-gift-trees/
Roland Funeral Service is caring for Jay’s family and his local arrangements. Condolences may be left at www.rolandfuneralservice.com.