‘Champ’ has moved ahead to the next camp. Robert Edward Champion, age 85, died Friday, March 29, 2019, in Helena. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife Ruth in 2009.
Bob was born September 3, 1933 in Great Falls and raised at Fort Shaw, where he endured a harsh childhood. His early life was a mix of doing chores, herding sheep, tending bees for Rev. Baldwin, and piano & violin lessons. Dad started working at 14, driving truck for farmers. He worked summers on farms from Geraldine to Dutton to Conrad. He sprayed weeds for Cascade County on summer breaks during college. He was able to save enough money each summer to pay for a year of college at Montana State College.
After grade school in Fort Shaw, Bob graduated as Valedictorian from Simms High School in 1951. He played football, basketball & baseball for the Simms Tigers, but his favorite was playing baseball on the town team with his younger brother Donnie, and his dad refereeing.
His love of athletic participation & intense competition carried on through refereeing basketball games at MSC. When he was head of Right of Way at MDT, he had the World Series broadcast into the entire R/W Bureau office. Even after retirement he regularly hiked the steep hill in back of his house ‘just for fun’. Dad’s love of intense competition also manifested itself in a life-long cribbage rivalry with our Uncle Evan.
Bob graduated with Honors from Montana State College in Bozeman in Civil Engineering, including Surveying, in 1955. During college he lived at 904 West Babcock, affectionately called ‘the Simms house’, with his buddies Steve Kologi, Bill Richter, George Evans & several other Sun River ‘Valley boys’. They had strict chore schedules for cooking, doing dishes, etc.
Bob was drafted into the Army in 1956, at Fort Ord, California, serving first with the 160th Engineers at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and later in the Secret Mapping Service at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. One lonesome day at Ft. Belvoir, he sat down on his bunk & contemplated his future; he vowed he would spend the rest of his days in Montana, even if he had to herd sheep again.
When Bob returned to Montana, he initially worked for the Bureau of Public Roads on federal highway projects in Washington & Oregon. In 1958 Bob was hired by the Montana Highway Department as a Highway Engineer in Great Falls, and he transferred into the Interstate Design Unit at Helena Headquarters in 1959. He then ‘read law’ and passed the Montana Bar Exam in 1963.
His most cherished accomplishment as a Highway Engineer was the part he played in the early days of the Interstate system, studying the routing for I-15 & I-90 in the Butte District. As a result of choosing "cut-off” routes via Homestake Pass & East of Cardwell, the Department cut the travel distance between Butte & Three Forks by about 5 miles.
Bob was later head of the Right of Way Bureau for 16 years. He greatly appreciated the experiences he had in R/W and the valuable lessons learned from fellow R/W employees - especially the ones they don’t teach in engineering school. He was promoted to head of the Planning Division for 14 years and retired as Deputy Director in 1992.
Bob was a member of and officer in professional engineering, right of way acquisition, and land-use planning organizations; he served on the Helena Planning Board & the Helena Zoning Commission. He retained his Professional Engineer, Surveyor & Attorney’s licenses for about a decade after retirement.
In addition to an interesting career, Montana provided Bob with a wonderful outdoor playground. Even the offer of the Directorship of the Alaska Department of Transportation couldn’t tempt Dad away from Montana. Hunting, fishing, backpacking & camping were always on the agenda. In recent years, he realized carrying a pack & dragging elk weren’t so much fun anymore, and he spent more time floating the Smith & the Missouri, walking old railroad grades, and singing & playing his guitar near a campfire. Dad & Mom didn’t need much of an excuse for a road trip. They covered lots miles on all kinds of roads in Montana, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Idaho & Washington. Dad also enjoyed climbing to the top of Granite Peak & a long-planned road trip to Alaska with his buddy Jerry Anders.
Bob married Ruth Malmgren in 1958 at the Simms United Methodist Church. He learned from Mom’s family what family should be. They lived in Helena nearly all of their married life, where they raised their 3 kids: Cathy, Jacque & Thom. Dad & Mom designed & built two family homes in the Jefferson School neighborhood where they celebrated their wonderful & loving 50 year marriage in 2008.
Bob was cheap, even by ‘engineer’ standards. His favorite excuse was that he was Scottish. But he was a generous & engaged grandpa who saw it as his job to teach his 3 grandkids how to work. And Mom made it worth their while. He always enjoyed a good party with good music, and although he was a coveted dance partner, Mom always got the last dance. He listed his principal asset as ‘a wife & family who love me’.
Bob was preceded in death by his wife Ruth; his parents Edgar Elias & Jeanette Isabelle Champion (nee Lowery); his sister Beverly Jean Cunningham & his brother Donald Fay (Carole) Champion; his in-laws, Rudy & Isabel Malmgren & their children: Tom (Ardythe) Malmgren, Ruby (Roy) Johnson, Marie Malmgren, & Alice (Evan) Heisel.
Bob is survived by his children & their spouses Catherine Champion-Predmore (Dan), Jacqueline (Neal) Whitney & Thomas Champion; his cherished grandchildren, Katelyn Champion (Derek Anderson), and Joe & Rudy Whitney; his Champion nieces Debra Blossom, and Lisa Cunningham & her three children; his Malmgren nieces & nephew and their families: Laura Johnson-Jewett (Rex), Amanda Anderson, Juli (Al) Kostelnik, Chris Heisel (Leanne Kuntz) [Dad loved being your Uncle Bob!]; the Holland cousins from Simms; and Katelyn’s mom, Andrea Carroll.
He is also survived by descendants of his father’s first family with Sunshine Gardner in Iowa.
Dad & Mom enjoyed so much being decades-long friends with Anders, Anthonys, Dunbars, Kologis, Lehmanns, Walkers, Walshes, and Williams. Of course there with others, our apologies for not mentioning.
The family wishes to extend their deepest appreciation to Thom for his gentle caring and devotion to both Dad & Mom during their last years. It allowed them to stay in the home they loved so much, so we could be together as long as possible.
The family also wishes to acknowledge the kind & caring people at Ft. Harrison VA Medical Center, Big Sky Care Center, & St. Pete’s Hospice. You helped us more than you know.
A memorial service will be held in September at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Helena. Bob’s ashes will be scattered near his favorite hunting grounds. Memorials in Bob’s name may be sent to the Prickly Pear Land Trust, PO Box 892, 40 West Lawrence Street, Suite A, Helena, Mt 59601 or Intermountain Childrens Home, 500 South Lamborn, Helena, Mt 59601. Please visit www.aswfuneralhome.com to offer the family a condolence or share a memory of Bob.