Jonathan Scott Torgerson was born in Madagascar on Feb. 2, 1956, to the Rev. Sheldon and Margery Torgerson.
He passed away on Big Mountain in an avalanche on Feb. 17, 2018.
He is survived by both parents, his sisters Shelby and Heidi, and his brother Bob, and his wife Sara Krebsbach Torgerson and their children Xander, Lizzy, Emily and Aaron.
The Torgerson siblings built tight bonds as each other’s primary playmates in Madagascar. Their adventuring together continued when the family completed their missionary work in 1965 and settled in Minneapolis. They enjoyed summers at Cross Lake — water skiing, fishing with bamboo poles, and playing catch, and many winter days playing pingpong in the basement on the table that Opa (Rev. Sheldon) built.
Jon made lifelong friends at every stage of school; at Cooper Elementary, Sanford Junior High and South High in Minneapolis. He loved to compete — wrestling, playing hockey and downhill skiing — and to enjoy learning, adventures, good company and stimulating conversation.
He attended Carleton College (’78) where his work hard, play hard lifestyle began to take clear shape. He plowed through a demanding pre-med curriculum and made many friends with his adventurous nature and fun-loving spirit. It was during these years that Jon hitched a freight train ride that landed him in Whitefish where he first fell in love with the town and its nearby mountains.
After graduation, Jon worked construction for a year, saved money, and then went to England with a friend where they bought a 26-foot sailboat. They spent the next year sailing to Greece, with Jon pausing in the stormy winter months to work at a ski resort in Germany. In addition to the expected fun and exploration, the year included surviving (mostly in port) the deadliest storm to hit English waters in decades, harrowing solo sails, and being blown off course into an Albanian mine field.
Returning stateside, Jon was determined to live out the values his parents had instilled in him by using his gifts to serve the community through medicine. He became an EMT while studying and applying to medical schools and then graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in 1987. He did his family medicine residency in Spokane — getting him closer to those grand mountains. Along the way, he spent his spare time getting a pilot’s license and scuba diving certification. Finally, he landed his dream job practicing family medicine in Whitefish.
Jon’s happiest moments, however, came as a result of meeting a beautiful, caring and radiant nurse, falling in love, and marrying Sara Krebsbach in 1993. He found enormous pleasure in helping raise Sara’s wonderful and similarly adventurous children, Xander, Lizzy and Emily. The icing on the cake came with the birth of their son Aaron in 1996.
In the following 27 years the family enjoyed hundreds of hiking, skiing, rafting adventures, and camping and kayaking on the Lochsa River. Pioneering what would much later become a standard option in minivans, Jon rigged up a portable TV and VCR to keep the kids entertained on their countless road trips to see family in Minnesota, explore parks in Canada, and play on the Oregon coast … always driving through the night to enjoy the quiet and avoid motel costs.
Jon believed in people’s ability — often before they did — and had an intuitive sense when he needed to teach or support and when to nudge them off on their own. His confidence in them gave dozens of family and friends the courage to learn how to ski, bike and kayak. He played mini-camp director for visiting friends and family caught up in his contagious passion for the wonderful outdoor adventures of the area.
He had a similar gift for teaching professionally, serving for decades as medical director for area ambulance services and teaching doctors and nurses in a wide range of continuing emergency medicine education. He was known as a relentless learner, always striving to improve health outcomes for area residents. Medicine was his ministry and he freely offered his time and talents, including volunteering at the Shepherd’s Hand Clinic and serving on the board of North Valley Hospital. Most importantly, he combined a love of medicine with a deep and genuine compassion for his patients, making him a much loved and respected physician.
Words cannot express how deeply grateful the Torgerson family and friends are to the greater Whitefish community for their support following Jon’s disappearance. The Sheriff’s Department, Search and Rescue, a dozen local businesses and hundreds of volunteers and friends went over the top in providing hundreds of meals, thousands of hours and heartfelt care for the family through the search and recovery. Blessings and unending thanks to all of you.
A “Celebration of the Canyon Spirit Animal” will begin at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 17, at Bonsai Brewing Project in Whitefish. It is an opportunity to celebrate Dr. Torgerson’s life, and share stories about what made Jon so important in our own lives.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 18, at St. Richard’s Church in Columbia Falls.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Jon Torgerson Memorial Fund at American Bank. Funds will be used to improve technology, training and coordination in search, rescue and recovery efforts. Donations can be made in person or mailed to the American Bank in Whitefish or via PayPal to the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at www.columbiamortuary.com Columbia Mortuary in Columbia Falls is caring for Jon’s family.