John M. Watkins

August 30, 1937 ~ December 23, 2020 (age 83)



Dr. John McClain Watkins, 83, of Big Rapids, Michigan died Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020 at Roger Metz Manor in Winona, Minn.

He was born Aug. 30, 1937 in Glendive, Montana, the son of Claude O. Watkins and Helen Watkins.  John joined his brother Robert and his parents in Sidney, Montana where he lived throughout his youth and adolescent years.

In 1955, John graduated from Sidney High School.  As an undergraduate student, he first attended Pasadena (Calf.) City College, before moving on to earn his bachelor and master’s degrees from the University of Montana in Missoula.  He earned his doctorate degree in education from Northern Arizona University in 1981.   John had teaching appointments in the early stages of his career at the University of Utah, Oregon State University and Northwest Community College in Cody, Wyoming. In 1983, he was offered a tenure-track position at Ferris State University, and the family moved to Big Rapids where Dr. Watkins taught for nearly 25 years. 

In 1971, he married fellow Sidney native Ann Marie Chapman, becoming a stepfather to five children, Ron, Greg, Mark, Peggy and Lisa Kemmis.  The couple had one child together, Peter, in 1973.  The couple divorced in 1988.  In 1994, John married Jacqueline “Jackie” Davenport of Big Rapids, and they were together for 23 years until Jackie’s death on January 17, 2019.  John spent the final 18 months of his life with family in Winona, Minnesota, where he resided at Watkins Manor and Roger Metz Manor.

John was a well-loved professor by his students, a respected instructor by his colleagues and the kindest spouse, parent and grandparent one could ever hope to meet.  Generosity and humor lived in equal parts within him, and his life reflected both.  John loved to travel, particularly in the American West, where he fished and camped in the Rocky Mountains during summer breaks from teaching.   He never met a road trip he did not like, and treks between Arizona and Montana were among his favorites, as was the Yellowstone Park East Gate to Silver City loop when the family lived in Cody, Wyoming.  He loved music, having played both the tuba and piano to a standard that earned him a tryout with the U.S. Army band while in high school.  John also taught at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat in the Northern Cascades.    In his long career at Ferris State, Watkins was honored as a Distinguished Teacher Award finalist in 1996.  Upon retirement, he wrote multiple screenplays and the final one, “Frontier Justice” was produced by Dawson (Mont.) Community College in 2012.  

John is survived by his brother Robert Watkins of Ft. Bragg, California, son Peter (Laura) Watkins of Winona, Minnesota, and stepchildren Peggy (Ray) Paukune of Watford City, North Dakota, Lisa Kemmis of Big Rapids, Michigan, Mark Kemmis of Tucson, Arizona and Greg (Gay) Kemmis of Vermont. John had three grandchildren, Cam, Mae and Seth Watkins and nine step-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Claude and Helen, wife Jackie (Davenport) Watkins, stepson Ron Kemmis, and grandson David Bojorquez.

Dr. Watkins’ final resting place is in Richland County, Montana. A celebration of life service is scheduled for Saturday, June 12, 2021 in Big Rapids, Michigan.

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Watkowski-Mulyck Funeral Home is assisting the family with arrangements.


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