Pat Sponheim, Montana’s legendary “Piano Pat,” who entertained patrons of the Sip 'n Dip lounge from the keyboards for more than 50 years, has died.
She was 86.
The Sip 'n Dip lounge, a Great Falls Tiki bar with an international reputation as a fun and unique venue because of people dressed as mermaids swimming behind the bar, made the announcement Wednesday night.
“It is with tremendously sad hearts that we tell you that our beloved Piano Pat passed away peacefully (Tuesday) last night,” the Tiki lounge posted on its Facebook page. “We loved her very, very much. Our hearts are broken. Rest In Peace beautiful music girl.”
As of Thursday morning, there were 708 comments to the Facebook post.
"Oh, Pat. I hope Heaven has a really big piano waiting for you," one person wrote.
Gov. Greg Gianforte offered praise about her Thursday.
"PianoPat was a Montana treasure whose music and spirit entertained countless Montanans and visitors from across the globe," he said on Twitter. "Heaven will be brighter, and more entertaining, with PianoPat."
Former Gov. Steve Bullock Tweeted about her Wednesday night.
"Her voice was uniquely hers, and it entertained generations," he wrote. "That voice will be missed. Bless you PianoPat."
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., called her a "giant."
"Pat's passion for her family, her community, and her music filled many Montana hearts with joy," he said on social media. "She will be missed."
Republican Sen. Steve Daines said Sponheim was a "Great Falls icon."
"Her spirit lit up the room and her music brought joy to everyone who listened," he said. "She will forever be a Montana legend!"
Sponheim celebrated 50 years at the Sip 'n Dip, which is in the O'Haire Motor Inn, in 2013. In 2003, GQ magazine named the Sip 'n Dip as the No. 1 bar on the planet worth flying for. The New York Times called it the "campiest bar in America."
In January 2020, she told Punch magazine that her mother started her with piano lessons and she had 12 years of instruction, including classical music.
She said there used to be dances every Saturday night in small towns.
"... a bunch of us got together and had a little orchestra and we played every Saturday night in a dance hall — I was only about 13 years old then," she said.
She said she came to Great Falls and played with orchestras.
"For the job at the Sip ‘n Dip, I came in because the guy that was playing in there wanted a two-week vacation. I had never played a piano bar in my life and I’ll tell you, I just sweat blood to come in as a single. I played there and then he never came back from his vacation. And I’ve been there ever since," she told Punch.
Her obituary posted with Schnider Family Funeral Home said Sponheim was born in Havre and raised in Rudyard. It said she died peacefully at home and was with family members.
It said she "is now singing in the Lord’s choir ... Pat was a humble servant of God, a woman of faith and love."
Sandi Thares, owner and manager of the Sip ‘n Dip, said she would remember Sponheim for “how much love she had for us and for everyone she played for.”
“She was more than a friend,” Thares said, noting Sponheim played at her wedding. “She was like everyone’s mom or grandma around here.”
She said Sponheim had not played at the Sip ‘n Dip since February 2020, citing COVID-19 concerns, but was convinced she would come back. She said she had talked about retiring.
“They weren’t expecting her to go quite yet,” she said.
Thares said it was much too early to decide if there would be another piano player for the lounge.
Thares said there would be a small, private service for Sponheim.
Several news stories on Piano Pat have her last name listed as Spoonheim. Schnider Funeral Home posted her funeral notice as Sponheim.
Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.