Dec. 24, 1975 – March 3, 2019
The world has lost a most caring and wonderful man. Christopher “Chris” Petaja was hiking on a nature trail with friends overlooking the ocean in Santa Barbara when he turned off the trail in search of a short cut to the ocean. The rain-soaked ground gave way and he slid off a cliff to his death, a heartbreaking accident.
Chris was born in Helena, Montana, to Charles Petaja and Pat Petaja Seiler on December 24th, 1975. He was welcomed home by his brother Mike and sister Jennifer wrapped in a red Christmas stocking.
Chris attended Clancy Elementary School where he made life long friends; they remain close today. He graduated from Helena High School and earned a liberal arts degree from the University of Montana, followed by a law degree from Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco.
Always and individualist, Chris won the family award for most creative hair. From his adorable halo of blond curls as a toddler he went to a pony tail in high school followed by the funky blue hair in college.
Chris loved nature and the out-of-doors. As a young boy, he and his step brother Chris DeVerniero were inseparable. The two spent countless hours in his little cabin at the ranch in Clancy. He loved hunting with his father, fishing with his grandparents and hiking with friends.
Chris was the family chef. He loved to cook. Whether it was enchiladas from his days at Rose’s Cantina or ginger carrot soup from his time at the Feathered Pipe Ranch he could always be found busy at work in the kitchen at family gatherings.
He adored his two children Analie and Levi. As a single father, successfully co-parenting with his ex-wife Sumana, his time with his children could be found cooking butter noodles, filling the tub with bubble bath, playing a favorite board game and reading nighttime stores. He adored them with all his heart, they were his everything.
Chris was adored by his family and treasured their time together. From intimate weekly calls with his best friend and brother Mike, to bonding vacations with his sister, Jennifer, to Sunday barbecues, attempts at golf, and stories on the deck at his fathers’ home, family came first for Chris. He shared reunions with his mother’s Polish family of hundreds. He cherished the opportunities for international travel and long talks with his mother. His siblings, Mike and Jennifer, were his best friends. They were in communication often. They problem solved together, counseled each other, and their bonds were unwavering.
Chris also was very fortunate to have three wonderful older family members to guide and love him. His grandfathers Clarence Petaja and Walter Lesniak, and his step-father Art Seiler, all loved Chris and were inspirational role models as he matured into a successful father and attorney.
Everyone was touched by Chris’s selfless and caring spirit. He had many unwavering friendships and his friends share they could always count on him and he never let them down. He was fun-loving with an infectious laugh loved by all. Law judges and fellow lawyers speak of a passion for his clients and a keen legal mind.
Families have traditions they hold dear. Chris’s family plays a gin game called “13.” His family’s sorrow is somehow bearable knowing Chris is now in heaven playing “13” with his dear gramps, Walter.
Chris was preceded in death by grandparents Clarence and Agnes Petaja of Big Timber and Walter and Virginia Lesniak of Billings, and step-father, Art Seiler of Helena. He is survived by his children, Analie Grace Petaja and Levi Walter Petaja of Bozeman. His mother, Pat Seiler of Helena, his father, Charles Petaja and his step mother, Maggie, of Helena, his brother, Michael Petaja of Helena, and his sister, Jennifer Gray (Joe), and two nephews, Austin Cupic and Kyle Cupic, of Seattle, Washington. Chris is also survived by his step-brother Chris DeVerniero (Ashley) of Helena, and their two children, Mason and Monroe. Chris’s step sister Kasie Warren (Ryan) and their three children, Peyton, Khloe, and Gavin are from Butte. There are many other loving Aunts and Uncles included in the family.
There will be a funeral for Chris Petaja on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, at 11:00 AM at the Plymouth Congregational Church, 400 S. Oakes Street, Helena, Montana. The 11:00 AM service will be followed by lunch. There will be a Celebration of Life gathering to share stories and remembrances of Chris in Bozeman on Saturday, March 16th, 2:00 PM, at the Hilton Garden Inn, 2023 Commerce Way, Bozeman, Montana.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Montana Innocence Project, a 501 (c)(3) dedicated to exonerating the innocent in prison and preventing wrongful convictions. Their web site is: www.mtinnocenceproject.org/donate.