Joel Leidecker died in bed, at his home in Ketchum sometime in the early morning of Wednesday, April 7, 2021. He was 82. He had his last morphine shot at 4 a.m. and he wasn’t breathing just a few hours later. It’s hard to know what killed him in the end, but his health had been declining over several years due to a handful of chronic conditions secondary to a rare protein disease called amyloidosis.
The nurses from Hospice of the Wood River Valley said that most people die like they live. This was in part true with Joel. He used to lie out on nice days with one arm above his head in an attempt to tan all parts of his body. He died in the same pose with his left arm above his head seemingly trying to catch those last precious rays of warming sun and so that he could keep his arm pits tan!
Joel was born April 4, 1939, in Puyallup, Wash. He attended Lincoln High School in Seattle and then the University of Washington, where he went on to get a Ph.D. in business administration. His first post-doctorate job was also his last. He started teaching at the Leavey School of Business at the University of Santa Clara in California in 1968 and is still listed there as a professor emeritus.
In 1968 Joel married Jody Bergum. Though later in life they spent much time apart pursuing their respective outdoor passions (hunting and fishing for him, rock climbing for her), Jody was by his side on the morning of his death and she was his primary care provider during his final years when his lifestyle, mobility and ability to take care of himself were greatly diminished.
In many ways Joel lived two separate lives--one as an academic at Santa Clara, and one as an outdoor fun hog in Idaho. If you took a snapshot of Joel’s calendar in any given year after about 1988, you would never guess he had a “full-time” job. But somehow, he made it work. In part because for a lot of his life he lived out of a van or the back of his truck!
He commuted between Ketchum and Santa Clara on commercial flights from Boise. Once in California he showered at the gym and slept in an ’81 VW Westphalia in an alley behind a laundromat. He lived like this nearly to the end. In 2018 he crisscrossed the nation twice sleeping in the back of his truck where he had his CPAP machine hard-wired to an auxiliary battery. He took his last road trip in 2019 and barely made it home as his health deteriorated.
Joel was social and gregarious and had a knack for making himself understood in almost any country. He especially loved traveling in Mexico and did so in his trademark style, alone except for his German wirehaired bird dog, Belle, sleeping in the back of his truck.
During his final year and months Joel wasn’t writing his memoirs, contemplating his legacy or making amends. He was content with the simple lifestyle his condition allowed. He enjoyed eating his meals, watching sports, chatting with visitors and “question questing” his grandkids. If the weather allowed, he went out on the back deck to a folding camp chair and sat quietly with the sun on his face.
Joel will be remembered in different ways according to the sphere from which you knew him. Many students will recall the popular “Dr. Mindwrecker,” a tough, but fair, instructor, and master of the cold call, who taught the capstone course in SCU’s MBA program. His friends and hunting buddies will remember him as the big-eating-guy that shot their limits, but also as the one that spearheaded the planning and logistics and made the trips happen. Joel’s colleague at Santa Clara, Al Bruno, said, “He knew how to play both ends against the middle better than anyone.”
Many will remember Joel’s Dutch oven potatoes at countless Boundary Campground picnics. His legacy lives on in a half-dozen or so VW vans in various stages of decay throughout the valley. His sons, Erik and Matt, will remember him as the father that gave them every opportunity in life. And his wife, Jody, will remember her lifelong “pal.” The road was rocky at times, but they built a life of adventure together and passed it along to their children. By most measures, Joel’s was a life well lived.