RED LODGE - Joseph R. Pendick, former Red Lodge City Fire Chief, a master musician, and community volunteer, died February 2, 2014, in Red Lodge at age 91. Born April 19, 1922, he was the son of Joseph and Marie Werholtz Selak Podkonjak, who were among the settlors who arrived in Red Lodge in the early 1900's to work the coal mines. A life-long resident of Red Lodge, he became known as "Pug" from his young days as a boxer, and was affectionately called that from that point on. He was known for his good humor and warm smile. He inherited his outstanding musical talent from his father, learning to the play the violin at age 12, later mastering the button accordian and joining the local drum and bugle corps. Growing up within the lively culture of his Slavic family, in the 1950's he and friend Lewis Jordan began a revival of that music by forming the Veseli Tamburitza Orchestra, a highlight of the Red Lodge Festival of Nations and known throughout the region for its exuberent performances.
His son, Ken, and nephew, Bill Alberta, were among members of the orchestra, which he directed until it disbanded in 2004. He and Mr. Jordan were honored with a special tribute by the Bill Dimich family during the performance of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans in Billings in 2006. While his two children were young, he worked at various jobs including house painter and milk delivery man. He served 28 years with the Red Lodge volunteer fire department, becoming fire chief in 1970 upon the retirement of long-time chief John Beitel. He was a World War II Navy veteran and a member of the local American Legion. He was recognized in 1996 as Red Lodge's Senior Citizen of the Year for his work and contributions to the local senior center as well as numerous other community efforts. In his retirement, he was a daily visitor to the City Bakery, where he was cheerfully hosted by owners Linda and Arlin Vietz and enjoyed visiting with friends. His family members credit him with installing in them the importance of always having a good work ethic, positive thinking, exercise and good health. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sisters, Teresa Ellis, Velma Alberta and Helen Klucevsek. His survivors include his son, Kenneth R. Podkonjak, DVM, who returned to the original family name to honor his grandparents, Red Lodge, MT; daughter, Debra K. Miller and her husband, David, Scappoose, OR; and grandchildren, Jeni Hayes, Finley, WA; Ty Miller, Scappoose, OR; Kellie Podkonjak, Denver, CO; Marie Podkonjak Swartz, and her husband, Jon, Denver, CO; Rachel Podkonjak, Colorado Springs, CO; Chole Podkonjak, Albuquerque, NM; and Angelina Podkonjak, Luther, MT; great-grand daughters Tayler Eng and Maylee Hayes, Finley, WA, and Skyler Monette; and a great-grandson, Jackson Swartz, Denver, CO.
The family extends thanks to Dr. William George and staff at the Beartooth Billings Clinic,The Willows assisted care and Cedar Wood Villa nursing home in Red Lodge for their compassionate care. A funeral mass and celebration of life will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 2, 2014 in Red Lodge at St. Agnes Catholic Church, where he was a long-time parishioner. Lunch will be served at the church following the service. Interment of ashes will be at the Red Lodge Cemetery later this summer. Smith-Olcott Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Willows, c/o St. John's Lutheran Ministries, 3940 Rimrock Road, Billings, MT 59102.