James A. “Ziggy” Ziegler, 89, of Billings, Montana, died peacefully at home on January 19, on his 66th wedding anniversary, after a brave battle with cancer.
To know Ziggy was to know a remarkable man. He was born on September 14, 1933 in Los Angeles, California, the youngest of three children. He attended Mount Carmel Catholic High School in Los Angeles, graduating in 1951. From 1953 to 1955 he proudly served in the US Army in Korea, an honor he never tired of sharing.
When he returned home in 1955, he was asked if he could accompany a girl he knew in high school to one of their high school dances. Ziggy knew right away that this girl had grown up while he was in Korea and they would be married less than two years later. Ziggy and Stella (Marapese) Ziegler would have six children together.
Ziggy and Stella left Los Angeles for San Luis Obispo, California in 1963 to raise their children away from the big city. Ziggy was an active member of the San Luis Obispo Mission, the Mission Nativity Catholic School, and the chapters of the Knights of Columbus and 4-H. That is, when he wasn’t hitting the beach in his dune buggy, diving, or gossiping with his kids.
After traveling overland to New York and back, staying at KOA campgrounds along the way, Ziggy and Stella decided to own their own campground. They bought and operated the local KOA in Santa Margarite from 1974 to 1977, then decided to sell it and buy the KOA in Billings, Montana and move their family there.
On a trip to Great Falls, Ziggy and Stella happened to visit a Great Harvest Bakery and decided to open a bakery in Billings. They founded Great Harvest Bakery in 1978 and later bought the former Spaghetti Depot and Dinner Theater and turned it into an Italian restaurant, which they renamed Stella’s Place. In 1991 they decided to close the restaurant and focus on the bakery. In 1993 they left Great Harvest and founded Stella’s Kitchen & Bakery which has become a Billings staple. After 41 years, they sold Stella’s in 2019 and retired.
In addition to directing these deals with Stella, Ziggy was elected chartered accountant for Yellowstone County in 1986 and four years later elected commissioner of Yellowstone County, serving a proud 12-year tenure.
Ziggy was a longtime competitor in the Montana Senior Olympics, running and cycling races; He also competed in the Peaks to Prairie Adventure Race. He was a big advocate for various charities in the community, served as a member of the Montana State Foster Care Review Board, and to support Special Olympics, Ziggy rappeled from the First Interstate Office Building. He served at the 1989 Montana Centennial Celebration Cattle Drive.
A longtime parishioner, lector, and Eucharist at St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral, Ziggy has also served as Chair of the Montana Catholic Conference and Montana Catholic Social Services, a member of the Knights of Columbus, and a supporter of Billings Catholic Schools, which awarded him the 2019 Catholic School Legacy Awards.
Ziggy has received numerous community awards throughout his life, including Business Partner of the Year in 2008 and the Billings Chamber of Commerce Legacy Award in 2019. And to top it off, he was the only “Mr. Strawberry” for the Downtown Billings Association for 25 years, the first Downtown Billings “Purple Person” in 2005, and he drove Santa in the annual holiday parade. Ziggy was a member and leader of Montana Prison Ministries for nearly 40 years and a longtime member of the Cursillos program at Deer Lodge Prison, from which he received the Walk to Emmaus Appreciation Award.
Ziggy worked diligently for years to end the death penalty in Montana. He worked with Centurion Ministries and others to liberate Barry Beach after Barry served 28 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Ziggy and his family completed the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route in Spain to celebrate his 80th birthday in 2013. He loved his cabin at Red Lodge, the many dogs and cats he rescued and then pampered, and free rides in his rickshaw to tourists in downtown Billings.
Ziggy was preceded in death by his parents, John and Margaret Ziegler; his brother Robert Ziegler; his sister Kathryn Parry; and his young son John.
He is survived by his 66-year-old wife, Stella (Marapese) Ziegler; five children: Judith (Morgan) McGrath of Armonk, NY, James, Jr. (Susan) of Laurel, MT, Jerome (Susanna) of Erie, CO, Joel (Donna) of Scottdale, AZ and Red Lodge, MT, Jacquelyn Ziegler of independence OR.
He is loved by his 11 grandchildren: Sarah, Morgan, Jr., Alicia, Stella Jean, Amanda, Shandy, Justin, Ashley, Morgan, Sophia and Alecsander; three great-grandchildren: James, Keilah and Izabella. A life well lived; entrepreneurs; a strong Catholic and family man; a community leader who leads by example; a devoted husband, father, grandfather; He was an example to all of us. The world is a better place when you have Jim Ziegler inside you.
Stella and her family wish Dr. Gregory and Dr. Thank you Goulet of Billings Clinic Hospital and all the staff for their kindness and care. A special thank you to Riverstone Hospice, especially Paula, Christine and Ryan. they are angels
The public viewing will be on Saturday, January 21 from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Dahl Funeral Chapel, 10 Yellowstone in Billings. The vigil will take place on Monday 23 January at 7pm at St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral. Funeral Mass will be held at 12:00 noon on Tuesday 24 January at St Patrick’s Co-Cathedral followed by Rite of Committal at Holy Cross Cemetery. After the service there will be a reception at St. Patrick’s.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the Billings Catholic Schools Foundation, St. Vincent DePaul, Rescue Mission, or a charity of your choice.
And finally, Ziggy said, “Thank you Billings for a great life.”