James Lee Christensen passed away happily shoveling snow on the roof of his Alta Wyoming home at the age of 89 on February 12, 2023. He was born in Alta, Wyoming in a log cabin along the Teton Creek on May 10, 1933 to Etha Bleak and Wells Morris Christensen and was the second oldest of 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls.
Jim’s father Morris passed away when Jim was 5-years-old and Jim attended the Alta School where he was taught 1st and 2nd grade by his mother Etha. He lived with various families in Teton Valley while his mother returned to Provo, Utah to finish her college degree. Jim graduated from Teton High School in 1951, was drafted into the Army in 1952, and served in Germany during the Korean War. While in the Army, Jim drove a service truck and was on the ski patrol. He was released from his military service 90 days early to return home to help on the family farm. Jim was then called to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the North Central States Mission.
Upon Jim’s return from his mission, he was able to attend college on the GI Bill. While a freshman at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Jim met his sweetheart, Melissa Jennings, who was a junior. Through the help of the Sister Missionaries and Jim, Melissa joined the LDS church in 1958. Because of church requirements, the couple waited a year in order to be married and sealed for time and all eternity in the Salt Lake City Temple on October 13, 1959. Jim graduated from BYU in 1961 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology.
Jim taught 8th grade for 1 year in Gas Hills, Wyoming, a Uranium mining town. The nearest hospital was in Riverton, Wyoming and that is where their first child, Jason Wells, was born in 1961. Jim went on to get his Master’s Degree in School Administration at the University of Wyoming. In between schooling and jobs, Jami Marie and Jubal Scott joined the family.
Jim’s desire to teach at the college level took Jim to the University of Utah where he earned his PhD in 1968 and where Candace was born. Jim taught in the Sociology Departments at Idaho State, Montana State, and then moved his family to Boise, Idaho where he taught Sociology and Social Statistics at Boise State University until his retirement in 1991. It was in Boise that Angela Caton completed the family. While teaching at Boise State, Jim was voted “Outstanding Professor of the Year” and received quite a few accolades for his teaching skills. Despite his Boise home and life, Jim returned with his family to Teton Valley each summer to spend time in their Mountain Home.
In 1958, Jim and Melissa bought some land from Mark Wilson up Teton Canyon and started building their dream home. It overlooks what used to be the Irvin Christensen Canyon Ranch and of course, the Grand Tetons.
Jim had a great love for Teton Valley and used his skills to enhance the community. With his love of serving on the ski patrol in Germany, Jim fell in love with powder skiing. In the winter of 1962-1963, Jim was between colleges while living in Alta and he was eyeing that fresh snow on Baldy and Peaked Mountains. A couple times a week, he would saddle his horse Sonny, take his skis and dog Tawny, and head up Peaked Mountain. Jim would tie Sonny up when he could no longer buck the deep snow and Jim hiked up the rest of the way to the top of Peaked, which took all day. Around sunset, he would ski down, a rooster tail of powder trailing behind him. Upon arriving home at night, he would comment that “this is the greatest powder” he ever skied. Jim got some of the locals involved in his dream: Fritz Kaufman, Mark Wilson, and Evan Floyd. Together they purchased a second-hand snowcat and started taking Forest Service personnel and other interested skiers up the hill to sample the breathless beauty and exceptional skiing conditions. Even the famous Engen brothers, who
skied in the 1936 Olympics, visited and skied the mountain. It was Sverre Engen who discovered the natural bowl of Baldy and suggested that Baldy was the ideal spot for the mountain resort. Thus, Grand Targhee Ski Resort was born.
Jim had many accomplishments throughout his lifetime. He taught himself how to tan leather and distill alcohol to run his car. He made his own clothes, his own wheat bread and carrot juice, never the conventional way. He did everything with flare and in a creative, ingenious fashion. He played the guitar and had a lovely singing voice. He and Melis sang duets for many years. He loved backpacking and hiking. He loved soaking in natural hot pots and swimming in cool mountain lakes. He overhauled VW engines and taught his children the skills he learned. He invented fun dune buggies from VW Beetles. He was a rifle marksman and could shoot the side of a playing card as his target. He loved his music and would crank his favorite Neil Diamond songs and start dancing and whooping as big as life for all to see and enjoy. He was a swimmer and a diver and an avid marathon runner. He started the John Colter Half-Marathon (13.1 miles) in Alta, Wyoming in 1976, which eventually had its start and finish lines in Driggs, Idaho. Jim designed his own running shoes and published a booklet on “How to Build Your Own Running Shoes”.
Jim was a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout his life and in his retirement, Jim found great joy in serving in the baptistry of the Rexburg Idaho Temple.
Jim is survived by his wife, Melissa Jennings; his 5 children, Jason (Marde) Christensen, Jami Christensen Barzee, Jubal (Laurel) Christensen, Candace (Reed) Dayton, and Angela Hansen; his siblings Barrie Christensen, Morrissa (Edward) Rich, Vetta Osborne, and sister in-law Sarah Christensen; and their families. He is also survived by 23 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. Jim is preceded in death by
his parents, Etha Bleak Bohi, Wells Morris Christensen, his step father, Edwin Bohi, his oldest brother Charles (Chuck) Christensen, and his younger sister, Jan Bohi; two of his grandchildren, Forest Caleb Christensen and Brennan Marie Christensen Barzee, and two of his nephews, Jesse Christensen and Leland Grant Christensen.
A graveside service was held at the Pratt Cemetery on Tuesday, February 14, 2023 at 1:00 p.m. A Memorial Service was held at the LDS Stake Center in Driggs, Idaho, on February 15, 2023 at 11:00 a.m.
In honor of Jim’s beautiful life well lived, his family invites you to follow his example and offer a hand of kindness to anyone and everyone and to hug your precious family members. Jim’s life of hard work and service and his firm, long, heart-to-heart hugs are part of his legacy that will be greatly missed.