Obituary: A.J. (Fred) Donich, Jr

Posted at 1:07 PM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 15:07:38-05

A.J. (Fred) Donich, Jr, 80, died from COVID-19 on Wednesday, January 27, 2021, in Bozeman, Montana.

Fred was born to Alfred J. and Kathryn Stergar Donich, January 22, 1941, in Anaconda, Montana. He grew up on the family ranch in the Deer Lodge Valley. A 4-H Club member, his heifers were regular blue-ribbon winners at the Fair.

He graduated from Powell County High School in 1958 after four years on the honor roll. That fall, he entered University of Montana, and was an honor student all four years, graduating with high honors in Economics. Later, he was proud to be a graduate of University of Virginia Law School where he earned place on the school’s law review.

Upon graduation, he was chosen to be a clerk for Judge Samuel Whittaker on the U.S. Court of Claims in Washington, D.C. Judge Whittaker passed his season football tickets to the Washington Football Team on to Fred. It was a great gift to a young man from Montana.

Shaw, Pittman, Potts, Trowbridge and Madden, a corporate law firm in the nation’s capital, hired Fred following his clerkship. He would become a partner at the firm.

Fred enjoyed many things about Washington. Great restaurants, art galleries, the cherry blossoms and tulips, and the international trade part of his law practice. But the photographs on his wall were of Montana and its mountains. Ultimately the pull of the mountains won and he returned to Deer Lodge.

After a few years at the bank there, he moved to Madison Valley Bank in Ennis. He remained in Ennis for the next 36 years. His attachment to the town was strong enough that when he went to work at D.A. Davidson in Butte for 25 years, he remained in Ennis despite the long drive.

At the age of 40, Fred took up mountain climbing and became a passionate enthusiast. His first dream was to summit the Grand Teton, which he ended up doing several times. Eventually he summited, among many others, all the Tetons, and The Liberty Ridge of Mt. Rainier, where he and his climbing partners were trapped for two days in a blizzard.

When he retired from DADCo in 2007, he served three years on the Ennis Hospital Board. One summer, he managed The Depot Art Gallery, where he enjoyed getting to know some of the artists whose work he'd always liked. His house and his family members' homes are full of artwork from those artists.

All three of his children attended school in Ennis and graduated from that high school. They all inherited his love of the mountains. Fred's happiest days were when one or more of his children joined him on the rocks. When his daughter married Andy Willett, Andy also joined the family climbing circle. Eventually, even his New York granddaughter, Story Donich, visited Montana to climb rocks.

In 2017 Fred moved to Bozeman because of health issues, but his heart remained in Ennis. He missed it every day until the end of his life.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Catherine "Kitty" Donich; his former wife, PJ Shaw Wright; children, Albee (Andy) Willett, A.J. Donich III, and John Marshall (Andrea Colvin) Donich; three grandchildren, Brooke Willett, Hudson Willett, and Story Em Donich; sisters, Carol Ann McGillis of Deer Lodge and Kathy (Jeff) Lantz of VA; sister-in-law, Susan G Lee of Tampa, FL; and brother-in-law Jeremy Kinross Wright of Missoula, MT. He was predeceased by his sister, Marikae Kinross Wright, and brother-in-law, Joseph Patrick McGillis.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation at

A celebration of his life will be held this summer in Ennis.

Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service. []