In memory of

John “Sam” Bakke, age 84 of White Sulphur Springs

January 25, 1934 – March 28, 2018

John Samuel “Sam or Big Sam” Bakke, born January 25th, 1934, passed away from complications of an accidental fall and an aneurysm, on March 28th,2018 at 2:02 PM at The Grandview at Benefis in Great Falls, Montana, with family at his side. Sam’s family would like to personally thank all staff members of the Mountain View Medical Center in White Sulphur Springs, MT, the staff members of Benefis Hospital, Benefis West, The Grandview of Benefis Goodnow Cottage, and the EMT personnel who attended to Sam on his way to Great Falls. Your compassion and caring made this difficult journey for Sam so much easier on him and his family.

Sam was born and raised in Helena, MT and attended May Butler School by his old house on Hillsdale Avenue. He also attended the Old Central School and graduated from the old Helena High School on Helena Avenue in 1952. Growing up in the Helena area, Sam loved to hunt and fish with his mom and dad, Clarence & Janet Bakke (who owned Bakke Drugs on the corner of West Main & Broadway from 1948 to 1968 (current site of the Tin Man Sluice Box Display)) and with his brother, Fred, and many lifelong friends such as Ray Collishaw, Dale Cote, and his cousin, Diane Williams, and many others too numerous to list here. Sam worked for his Mom and Dad at Bakke Drugs and worked on the Canyon Ferry Dam his senior year. During WWII, many of the First Special Service Force members training out of Ft. Harrison would stop by the Bakke household on Hillsdale Avenue and celebrate their friendships with the Bakke family before shipping over to Europe. Many of those brave men never returned. Some of those members and Sam’s cousin, Dave Curry (Decorated WWII Marine), inspired Sam to join the United States Marine Corps. Sam was a scrapper growing up… never one to back down from a fight. This led Sam to enlist in the United States Marine Corps from 1952 to 1955 during the Korean War with his close friends, Ray Collishaw and Don McDonald. Sam was stationed at Camp Pendleton and the Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro Special Operations, after training in Memphis, TN and Jacksonville, FL. Sam also attended Opening Day at Disneyland in 1955 and worked many side jobs such as the Balboa Bay Club and a local bowling alley while serving in the Corps.

After serving in the United States Marine Corps, Sam married his lifelong love, Rita Bright in 1956 and attended the University of Montana in Missoula for two years studying to become a Wildlife Technologist. As with many people, plans change after getting married.

Sam & Rita had their first daughter, Cathy Bakke, in 1956. Sam then became involved in the Landscape Irrigation business and opened up the “first” underground sprinkler company in Helena, MT called Bakke Underground Sprinkler Company in 1958, the year that his son, Dave Bakke, was born. Sam installed the first PVC irrigation system in Helena, and he installed irrigation systems at the State Capital Building and Carroll College. Sam & Rita had their third baby, Dana in 1960. After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1962 (Campbell, CA next to San Jose), he worked for Clyde and Ray Collishaw for a few years before opening up his own Irrigation Installation company called West Bay Sprinkler Company in the early 1970’s with his business partner Sam Avila. Sam evolved from installation to irrigation design, troubleshooting, and repair work and formed Aqua Pipe Specialties in the late 1970’s and mid 1980’s with his son Dave. These companies were later merged into his current company, Global Span Products in an effort to consolidate the landscape/irrigation field work with the “inventive” and “innovative” part of GSP. Sam was very creative and inventive and had nine (9) U.S. Patents to his and Dave’s name with products such as the Qwik-Trace Wire Sorter Tester, the Pipe Sizer Tool, the Nut Sizer Tool, a combination Alligator Clip and Banana Jack Nose Connector, a reusable and waterproof electrical connector called a ReConn Connector (Reusable Connector), and a valve actuator tool called the Aqua-Qwik. Sam was also the first to introduce heat shrink waterproof wire connectors into the Landscape Irrigation Industry in the early 1980’s with the Aqua Splice connector and the current Splice-Kote Heat Shrink Insulation Sleeve connector now being used in many other industries too such as Street Lighting, Submersible Pumps, Low Voltage Lighting, and misc. other electrical industries. Sam was always thinking of new and better ways of enhancing and simplifying work in the landscape irrigation industry.

While living in the Bay Area, Sam was an “original” 49er fan while attending many games at the old Kezar Stadium. Sam and his business partner, Sam Avila, flipped a coin to see if they would buy season tickets to the 49er’s or Oakland Raiders. Sam Avila won the toss and they became Raider season ticket holders from 1969 until the Raiders moved to L.A.. Sam and his son, Dave, were fortunate enough to attend Super Bowl XI in 1977. Sam was such a great dad, taking his family on many road trips back to Montana, and all over the western states. He enjoyed fishing at his property, Oak Hollow, in Morgan Hill with friends and family and spending many weekends there with Rita too. Many young kids caught their first fish at the Oak Hollow pond during his annual Easter Day Picnics.

Sam and Rita also enjoyed driving up and down the coast of California in places such as Santa Cruz, Davenport, Half-Moon Bay, and the southern coastal areas.

In 2005, Sam & Rita decided that they had had enough of California and wanted to get back “home” to Montana. They settled in White Sulphur Springs, MT as it was a place that Sam grew to love growing up while hunting and fishing in that part of Montana. They had planned on moving back to their hometown of Helena, but Rita sadly passed away in 2013.

Sam had wanted to retire and live in Helena this past year. He will now live eternally with Rita at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery, in Ft Harrison, MT until the good Lord comes to take them both home at his return.

Sam’s unexpected passing has left a great void in many lives all over the country. He will be missed by his 24 year old cat and buddy, “Sir Puss”, who adopted both Sam and Rita, when they first moved to White Sulphur Springs. Sam is survived by his three children: Catherine J. Bakke; Dave C. Bakke, and Dana (Mark) L. Villegas; brother, Fred A. Bakke; sister, Sonja “Toni” Osterloth; grandson, Greg (Kayla) A. Bakke; great granddaughters, Addilyn and Claire; grandsons, Ryan & Erik Villegas; granddaughter, Rachel L. Bakke-Church; not forgetting to mention numerous nephews and nieces.

Sam is preceded in death by his wife, Rita; both of his parents Clarence Oliver Bakke and Janet Arabella Bakke, and sister, Donna Marie McMaster.

A funeral service will be ­­­­­­­­­12:00 p.m., Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 1000 Helena Avenue. A burial with military honors will follow the service at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery, Fort Harrison. Please visit below to offer condolences or share a memory of Sam.



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  1. Janet Ries (DeHennis) says:

    Uncle Sam will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with you Dave, Cathy, Dana and family. I have fond memories of the times we spent Thanksgiving with you in Campbell, CA and when Christopher took our trip we thoroughly enjoyed being at the place up in the hills fishing and just being able to visit. I’m so blessed to have been able to sit with Uncle Sam for a little while a few days before he passed. God Bless you and tell Rita, Grandma and Grandpa Bakke hello for me.

  2. Sonja "Toni" Osterloth says:

    Oh Sam, I will miss my big brother tremendously! I remember Mom telling me how you used to groan at having to walk me to kindergarten, on your way to Central School. When you and your buddies would come home from high school, on occasion Mom asked you all to stay put until they got home from work at Bakke Drug Store. You and the fellas would tease and taunt me until Rick would tell you to lay off; he was my other protector! You and Rita have three great kids, and grandkids. You two can be so proud as you look into the future and see how the young’uns are progressing in life! Give all the family hugs from me! I love you so much and am going to miss hearing your voice. God blessed you mightily!

  3. Sam Avila Jr. says:

    Condolences to Cathy,Dave and Dana. I will always remember your dad’s laughter. He was always in good spirits. Before he moved away he and Rita came to my wedding and his big laughter was there. Always genuine. Prayers for you and your families.

  4. Scott defazio says:

    I first met Sam when I went to his home to discuss the roofing job on his commercial property in White Sulphur Springs. We became friends immediately .I can see his smile today.It was truly an honor and a privilege to know this wonderful person.went to Sam’s house many times and he and Dave came to mine at silos. It was always a smile and a warm feeling every time I saw this man.God bless you and your family Sam I will never forget you.

  5. Kelly Huffield says:

    Dave, I was so sorry to hear about Sam and want to let you know how much I thought of him. He was always pleasant, kind and interesting. I always enjoyed our visits. You & your family are in my thoughts & prayers. Kelly

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