Montana lost a number of influential people in the last year.
From advocates to authors, emergency responders to philanthropists, and athletes to artists, here are some of the most notable Montana deaths from 2019.
“She was a trailblazer for professional nurses' rights.” -- Vicky Byrd, chief executive officer of the Montana Nurses Association.
Mary Munger was perhaps the most prominent nurse in Montana’s history, leading the charge as an advocate for collective bargaining in the 1960s.
"That's her most significant contribution for nurses. They were facing not being recognized as a true profession. They were still working under the idea the doctor was king of the hill,” Byrd told Lee Newspapers.
Munger was known for her continued grit throughout her life, continuing to inspire her fellow nurses up until her death on Nov. 1. After the term “collective bargaining” was deemed too toxic for the legislation, the name was changed to the “Blue-Eyed Nurses Bill,” coined for the intense gaze she levied at the bill’s opponents and lawmakers as she lobbied at the Legislature.
Munger was also known for her philanthropy, regularly donating to places like Helena Food Share and the Friendship Center, as well as nursing scholarships.
“Russ was a part of Livingston.” -- Author Thomas McGuane.
Perhaps best known for his Montana landscapes, artist Russell Chatham came to the Paradise Valley in the 1970s where he lived until 2011. His works stand out with the grainy softness of the sky and land when observed through storms or at twilight in a style easy recognized as a Chatham.
“It showed up in his painting. Russ would find something different that other people failed to notice,” McGuane said.
But Chatham had many interests in a life marked by generosity to charity and causes.
“He contributed a lot to the local economy here. Any nonprofits or anybody who needed money or had a fundraiser, he went way over the top to help people out,” longtime friend and Livingston resident Dick Murphy told The Billings Gazette.
Chatham was a writer and publisher with a love for fly-fishing, and he even managed to open a restaurant. His daughter Lea Chatham McCann told the Gazette after his death in California in November that his ability as a chef was perhaps the most meaningful to his family.
“He was a real warrior for the public interest.” -- Attorney Jim Goetz.
Following his death in Butte in October, many in Montana’s conservation community remembered the late Tony Schoonen for his staunch advocacy for the average hunter and angler. The 89-year-old spent decades as a leader in public access, including as one of those spearheading the lawsuit cementing Montana’s stream access law.
Schoonen’s passion for helping the general public access their lands and waters is easily traced to his beginnings. One of 10 children, he and five of his siblings went to live in a Twin Bridges’ orphanage during the Great Depression. He credited his upbringing, which took him around southwest Montana, as important to his strong work ethic and budding passion for the natural world.
“Whenever we went fishing, if there was a young person around, he’d show them the right fly and how to hold the rod. He was a teacher all the time,” his longtime friend Roy Morris told the Montana Standard. “He was teaching people about public access.”
Emily Leigh Stonington Hibbard
“Emily was never one to bow in front of a good challenge and adventure.” -- Jono McKinney, president and CEO of Montana Conservation Corps.
Former House Minority Leader Emily Leigh Stonington Hibbard was able to combine her love of nature with a passion for teaching. She moved to Bozeman in 1978 and created the Bozeman Environmental Education Program, but those who knew her say her greatest teaching accomplishments were as a mentor to many lucky women with whom she shared her sage advice.
Her career would continue to meld her two loves, becoming director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, manager of the Patagonia Mail Order facility in Bozeman, and a legislator who served two terms in the Montana House, including one as minority leader, and one term in the Senate. While there she met and married rancher Chase Hibbard, and they shared a passion for travel and the challenges of the family ranch.
Hibbard’s dedication to community also included service on the boards for numerous organizations, including the Outdoor Science School, Human Resources Development Council, High Country News, Montana Conservation Corps, Davidson Trust and the Montana History Foundation.
“He was a hell of a newspaperman.” -- Mike Voeller, former Independent Record managing editor.
George Remington, journalist and former publisher for the Independent Record and Billings Gazette, was known as a man who sought fairness and truth both in his career and his life. The Anaconda native joined the Air Force after high school and later enrolled at the University of Montana, earning a journalism degree in 1950.
Remington and his wife Lorraine moved to Hawaii after college, working for United Press International and The Honolulu Advertiser before moving to Helena in 1959 and going to work for the Independent Record. There he worked as the state manager, an investigative reporter, editor and then publisher in 1970.
Voeller also recalled an incident when Remington was willing to accept a boycott from local auto dealerships and major advertisers after a series of articles painted them in a negative light. When the dealership’s president agreed with Remington, the boycott ended.
“One thing that you knew about George,” Voeller told the Gazette, “was that he was going to be a straight shooter and that he was willing to back his people to the end.”
In 1976, Remington and his family moved to Billings where he became publisher for the Billings Gazette until his retirement in 1986. In 1992, he was honored as the recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Montana.
Patricia Nell Warren
“She touched the lives of so many people.” -- Kayo Fraser, a Grant-Kohrs Ranch Foundation board member.
Born in Helena and raised on the Grant-Kohrs Ranch near Deer Lodge, Patricia Nell Warren has been called the Godmother of LGBT sports. The author and activist is best known for her groundbreaking love story “The Front Runner,” a novel which features an openly gay Olympic runner and his closeted coach. The 1974 New York Times Bestseller is credited for changing the lives of gay men and women around the world.
In 1953, Warren graduated from Powell County High School in Deer Lodge. Over the following four years, she received an associate’s degree from Stephens College in Missouri and a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the then-Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in New York.
In 1957, Warren married Yuriy Tarnawsky, a Ukrainian writer and linguist. Through Tarnawsky, Warren learned Ukrainian and went on to publish poetry in the foreign language.
Two years later, Warren started working as an editor for Reader’s Digest, where she stayed for roughly 20 years. In 1970, she was the plaintiff’s spokesperson for Susan Smith v. Reader’s Digest, a landmark lawsuit and class-action victory for women’s rights related to equal pay.
About a year before the release of “The Front Runner,” Warren divorced her husband and came out as a lesbian. She moved around California and spent much of the rest of her life traveling to various literary events; writing more fiction and non-fiction through her independent book-publishing and media company Wildcat Press; and advocating for a variety of causes, including free speech, youth rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ+ rights.
“She presented herself with class and dignity and optimism.” - Lori Smithwick-Hann, a University of Montana alum.
Emma Lommasson, the iconic University of Montana alum and employee, died Nov. 30, just 10 days shy of her 108th birthday. The daughter of Italian immigrants, she grew up in Sand Coulee near Great Falls. She graduated from UM with a degree in mathematics in 1933 and returned in 1937 for a master’s degree.
She went on to serve as a flight instructor during World War II and, through various roles in the registrar’s office, guided generations of students through the labyrinth of college life. The university named the Emma B. Lommasson Center and the Emma B. Lommasson Scholarship for her, and she met every University of Montana president from Charles Clapp in the early 1930s to Seth Bodnar today.
She was 68 when Bodnar was born; 106 when she met UM’s newest president in 2018.
“I love to see these young people get up there,” she said at the time. “They have young minds, they have active minds. Don’t surround yourself with old people like me.”
But to generations of students, staff and administrators at the University of Montana, Lommasson was the best kind of person to be around.
"When people's faces light up when they're talking about him, that tells you everything." -- Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin.
Gallatin County Sheriff’s Deputy Jake Allmendinger was on his way to check on a stranded motorist outside of Bozeman in October. He was accompanied by fellow deputy Ryan Jern when the pair encountered icy roads. The vehicle began to slide and for reasons unknown, Allmendinger exited and became trapped underneath, dying from his injuries.
Allmendinger’s body received a full escort from law enforcement to the state medical examiner’s office in Billings. Led by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, the Billings Fire Department positioned ladder trucks into an archway to greet the procession.
Hundreds attended Allmendinger’s funeral in Bozeman. A dispatcher could be heard in the church calling for him by his badge number – 677 – four times, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported. When no reply came, the dispatcher said, “Copy 677. You are now off shift.”
“She loved everybody, and was always looking for ways she could help other people. She loved her job.” -- Shannon Thompson, friend.
On the evening of Aug. 18, EMT DaryLynne Day was an ambulance crew member working the Demolition Derby at the Powell County Fairgrounds. During the final heat a driver lost control after being hit, crashing through a fence and hitting multiple spectators. Seven people suffered injuries, and Day’s were ultimately fatal.
Day, of Anaconda, had worked with Powell County Ambulance Service as an EMT since September 2018. She came from a family of emergency medical responders including her grandparents, who were among the first EMTs certified in the state, and her parents, who were both longtime EMTs in Anaconda.
On Aug. 25 a 2-mile-long procession representing 61 agencies from Spokane to Valley County, Montana, escorted her body from Deer Lodge to Anaconda for her funeral service.
One of Day’s former patients, Dick Perkins of Garrison, had high praise for her care when she helped him after he had a heart attack. “She stayed with me through it all and was so compassionate and caring,” he told the Montana Standard.
Ed Kalafat was an athletic star in his hometown of Anaconda, excelling in baseball, football and basketball, but it was on the hardwood that the 6-foot-6 center stood out the most.
He was a three-time All-State basketball player and tallied 1,636 points in 98 high school games, according to his introduction into the MHSA Hall of Fame as an inaugural member in 1993. His high school point total was a school record that stood for nearly 70 years and was achieved before the three-point line was in existence.
From Anaconda he went onto play for the University of Minnesota, where he was chosen as captain and MVP in the 1953-54 season.
His professional career would keep him in Minnesota as well, as Kalafat was drafted ninth overall in the first round of the 1954 NBA draft. He spent three years with the Lakers, who were then in Minnesota, and averaged 7.1 points along with 5.7 rebounds per game.
Following his third season with the Lakers, Kalafat was traded to Detroit and then retired.
“He loved Butte with all his heart.” -- Marko Lucich, former executive director of the Butte Chamber of Commerce.
From the streets of Butte, Sam Jankovich would go on to become an influential and respected leader in college and professional football. After suffering a career-ending injury at the University of Montana, he returned to Butte and became coach of the Bulldogs, including two undefeated seasons.
His football coaching continued at Montana State and then Washington State. From the field he went into administration and became the Cougars’ athletic director in 1976.
In 1983, Jankovich departed for a new opportunity in Miami. As athletic director, the Hurricanes began a football dynasty including championships in 1983, 1987 and 1990.
In the 1990 football season, Jankovich took his last high-profile position, accepting a job with the New England Patriots to become their CEO. He oversaw two seasons in Foxborough.
“Nothing has ever moved me to change my opinion that you are the finest author who ever lived and worked in Montana.” — Russell Chatham, author and painter, in a letter to Wheeler one week before Wheeler’s death.
Richard Wheeler was nearly 50 before his first book was published. Yet the prolific and well-loved novelist who called Livingston his home had more than 80 books to his name in a career marked by deep love for writing and a hunger for research.
A long-time resident of Montana, Wheeler passed away Feb. 24, one month after he was diagnosed with leukemia. He was 83.
Wheeler wrote primarily in the western genre, but his love of history played a major role in his writing, often set in Montana and bursting with character development and historical substance. Some of his well-known works include a series of 20-plus books about the tough mountain man Barnaby Skye, and “The Richest Hill on Earth,” about Butte’s copper kings.
Wheeler’s drive for writing netted him extensive recognition including six Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America. He was inducted into the Owen Wister Award hall of fame in 2015 after receiving a lifetime achievement award in the field of western literature from the organization in 2001.
“We will remember Dennis as an incredible journalist, a wonderful mentor, a trusted colleague and friend.” -- KTVH
Helena journalist Dennis Carlson became a respected voice in local news among the community and his colleagues.
The California native moved to Bozeman in 1983 to attend a small Bible school, and faith continued to play an important role in his life. Those who knew him said he fell in love with the area. He died in March after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the previous spring.
Carlson specialized in broadcast journalism, working for KBOZ AM&FM as a DJ and reporter. He later moved to TV as an anchor and reporter for the Montana Television Network at Newswatch 26, FOX 7 and KBZK-TV.
After working for a time for Gallatin County and the U.S. Senate, Carlson returned to MTN in 2011 as a reporter at KBZK. He transferred to Helena in 2014 to report at KXLH and anchor at KTVH.
“Dennis loved telling stories with words, pictures, and sound. He also loved getting the big story first and worked hard to be a fierce competitor,” his obituary says.
“Holly has East Helena grit.” -- Former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.
Longtime Baucus staffer Holly Luck was known as a gatekeeper who specialized in helping people cut through the red tape of federal bureaucracy.
“They don’t make them like Holly anymore. The thing that really struck me is she is such a good person, but also a very tough one. To get things done for Montana, nothing intimidated her,” Baucus told Chuck Johnson, former Lee Newspapers’ statehouse reporter.
As she battled breast cancer three times in 25 years, those who knew Luck described her as a fighter both in her health and in her work.
Outside of her political career, Luck spent much of her time on community organizations. She helped start Helena Food Share and the Kay McKenna Youth Foundation. In 2014, the Helena YWCA named her Woman of the Year.
"His family was more important than being the top dog." — Lynette Scott, Randy’s wife.
Randall "Randy" Scott loomed large in the Billings community.
The Billings philanthropist, activist and First Interstate’s Foundation director Randy Scott died suddenly Nov. 9. He was 65.
Scott was always trying to put others before himself, said his wife, Lynette Scott. The pair met 44 years ago in the Rocky Mountain College gym. Randy, an avid basketball player, was helping coach the women's team. Lynette was a player. They married two years later and had four children and recently two grandchildren.
Scott sat on many boards, including Rocky Mountain College, the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation, the local YMCA. He also was involved with Special Olympics Montana. He served on his family's foundations, including First Interstate BancSystem, the Dan and Jeanne Scott Foundation, and Scott Family Services.
But he didn't just sit on board; he liked to roll up his sleeves and do the work himself. That hands-on nature made him more of an activist than a philanthropist, said his uncle, Jim Scott.
Jim and Randy, who are only five years apart in age, grew up together and continued to work together for about 25 years.
Randy would donate his time and resources to help people. He’d do odd jobs, like installing a sprinkler system for a local church or helping a server he’d just met get an interview at the bank.
“He just had a big heart,” Jim said.
“He always looked out for others before himself. He used to talk about, well, he joked ‘I did banking and lawyering, and now it’s time for me to do something good.’” — Dan Burkhart, friend and former co-worker.
Billings philanthropist and Rocky Mountain College booster Obert Undem died in July at 85.
In Billings, Undem was known for his giving and thoughtful nature. Raised on a family ranch near Glendive, Undem went on to graduate from Harvard, became a banker and then lawyer before eventually settling in Billings and starting his philanthropic career.
He was honored by the Billings Community Foundation in 2010 in "recognition of almost 40 years of advocacy." The foundation named an endowment fund after Undem. At Rocky, he "raised millions to help students" by working to get endowments and scholarships for the school. Also in 2010 the school awarded Undem with an honorary doctorate.
“An enormous talent, just an honest-to-God talent.” - Writer James Lee Burke
Rick DeMarinis left steady work at age 30 to pursue writing and never turned back. He published 10 novels filled with comedic imagination, cynical honesty and inventive prose, along with six collections of short stories.
Unlike many writers, he didn't move to Montana with dreams of fly-fishing and producing a great Western novel. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was plopped down in Havre, where he married and had two children.
He enrolled at the University of Montana to get a math degree, then worked for Boeing in Seattle and Lockheed Martin in California, but returned to UM to study creative writing. In a 1977 interview, he said his decision to quit and become an author was "a statement of faith, I guess. It's okay to do that, to risk giving up the paycheck, for something you really want to do."
"Authors who write satire have very serious agendas disguised as comedy," he said. "I write comedy disguised as satire. I don't have any bones to pick."
"For a lack of a better word, he was a genius.” -- Artist Corwin “Corky” Clairmont, founding director of Salish Kootenai College's art program.
When Jay Laber died on Oct. 24 of cancer at age 58, he left behind evocative sculptures in Montana towns and private collections, pieces he artfully constructed from scrap after a midlife discovery of his talents.
Laber was born in Browning, but his family moved to New Hampshire after the devastating 1964 flood. After a tough childhood, he spent time working construction in Alaska, Florida and Maine. He returned to Montana about 20 years ago, enrolling at Salish Kootenai College to study forestry, and began taking art courses on the side.
In one, Clairmont encouraged him to make something large, and suggested using available materials. “We have no shortage of junk cars and things like this,” he said. Laber took the advice to heart and started making life-size sculptures from auto parts and other pieces of scrap metal.
His sculptures stand sentry at entrances to the Blackfeet Reservation, and his horseback rider gallops outside Washington-Grizzly Stadium at the University of Montana.
"A lot of our communities have been through a lot of hardship, and I think that determination and beauty of our people comes out in his work," Clairmont said.
“He was one of the best wordsmiths of the English language.” – Mark Dowie
Butte native Edwin Dobb was a renowned essayist and a longtime writing teacher at the UC Berkeley graduate school of journalism. He wrote the seminal Butte essay “Pennies from Hell,” published by Harper’s Magazine in 1996. He was a contributing editor at Harper’s for nearly a decade, and wrote for National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Audobon and Vogue among many others.
Dobb authored and co-authored several books, including “Dinosaur Lives,” co-written with paleontologist Jack Horner. He also co-wrote and co-produced the acclaimed documentary film “Butte, America,” which premiered in 2009.
He continued to write for Harper’s as recently as last year, when he penned an acclaimed essay: “Nothing but Gifts: Finding a Home in a World Gone Awry.”
“Ruth was an extraordinary person who embodied beauty inside and out.” -- Obituary
Ruth Hinners Rotondi began playing the piano as a young girl. When she could not pay for lessons during the Depression, she traded tap-dance lessons in order to keep studying. “I practiced not because I was being a good kid or anything, but because I couldn’t leave it alone,” she would say.
She moved to Butte in 1952 with her husband. She taught piano, and was a fixture in musical life across Montana for many years.
In 2000, following her husband’s death, Rotondi took up the cello, mourning his loss by burying herself in her new instrument. Ruth very much enjoyed being a member of the Butte Symphony. The symphony will be naming the first-chair cello the Ruth Rotondi Chair in her honor.
An active member of Montana State Music Teachers Association, Ruth served as its competitions chair, foundation chair and historian. She also served two terms as president of the Butte-Anaconda Area Music Teachers Association, and was its current secretary, submitting minutes just a couple of weeks before she was killed in a traffic accident at age 95.
The Missoulian's Gwen Florio, Gazette's Alyssa Small and Montana Standard's David McCumber contributed to this story.