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Leo & Cecil

Leo C. Musburger Sr.

MISSOULA - Leo C. Musburger, 93, longtime Missoula resident, died Feb. 28, 2002, at the Odyssey Hospice in Tucson, Ariz. He was born Sept. 19, 1908.

In August 1998, over 100 people gathered at the Missoula Elks Club to celebrate the life of Leo Musburger. Leo said he would rather have a party he could enjoy than a funeral he couldn't. It was a great party for a man who loved his life in Montana, achieved much, and will be remembered fondly by many.

Leo's early years were spent in true pioneer fashion. His mother died when he was 4 years old. The homestead near Lodge Grass went bankrupt and in 1922 Leo's father loaded his second wife and two sons on a train and ended up in Gardiner. While their father worked as a road foreman in Yellowstone National Park, Leo and younger brother Cecil attended school and worked summers in the park. The family moved again in 1927, this time to Elnora, Alberta, Canada, then back to Red Lodge to work in the hayfields and drive the home teams.

Leo graduated from Ashton, Idaho, High School in 1929 and entered Montana Normal College in Dillon on a full 4-H scholarship. He earned his board by washing dishes at Ma Campbell's boarding house. But football and other sports were his real interest in life.

In the fall of 1930 Leo secretly married Mary Wemple from Florence, who had recently graduated from Montana Normal. Because male students could not be secretly married, Leo was expelled just before graduation. He appealed his case to the chancellor of higher education in Helena and his charm won a reprieve so he could graduate in the summer of 1931.

That fall, he and Mary moved to Bannack to teach all eight grades. The schoolhouse was the first floor of the Masonic Temple. Leo got the job because the chairman of the school board was impressed with the way Leo handled a team of horses while haying during the day. The chairman thought this indicated Leo could handle rowdy students. Mary taught music, art, and grades one through four. Leo handled the older students and coached sports.

Leo Clyde Jr. was born in June 1933 and that fall Leo Sr. and Mary moved to Virginia City to teach in a real schoolhouse. Paid the lavish sum of $90 a month, Leo taught and Mary substituted. In September 1935, Mary gave birth to their second son, Robert Bartlett.

In 1937 Leo was elected the deputy clerk of the Madison County Court. Two years later he was elected county superintendent of schools and was re-elected in 1942. However, World War II halted his political career and Leo served as an aerologist mate in the Navy while stationed at the Oak Harbor Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island near Seattle.

After the war, Leo got back to Montana as quickly as he could. He returned to teaching and administration while completing his master's degree in education administration at the University of Montana during the summers. He served as principal at Ramsay and Columbia Falls before taking the superintendent's job in the Bonner school system. His marriage with Mary ended in 1953, though they remained friends until her death in 1984.

Leo served as principal and superintendent of the Bonner schools for 22 years. During his tenure a new building was constructed and the system made the transition into modern methods of elementary education. When he retired in 1974, the students and faculty presented him with a bike because they knew he wasn't going to just sit around.

For six years he traveled the state as a representative for Encyclopedia Britannica, visiting friends wherever he went. In 1975 he met Dr. Frances Hill, a neighbor who also enjoyed Leo's sport challenge: golf. From then on they were golfing and traveling companions, enjoying trips to Idaho, California, Hawaii, and Arizona to check out the best links and restaurants.

Leo was a lifelong member of the Montana Teachers Association, serving as the president of both the Virginia City and Madison County chapters. He was also active in the Elks. He was a past exalted ruler of the Virginia City Lodge and led the first ritualistic team from Montana in national competition. He served as the district deputy of Montana and was a past state president. At his 90th birthday party, he was presented with a plaque by the Elks honoring his lifetime of service to the organization.

Also active in Masonic circles, he was a past worthy master of the Blue Lodge and a member of Montana Lodge No. 1 in Virginia City, as well as a patron of the Eastern Star. A charter member of the Bonner Lions Club, he was honored as Lion of the Year in 1973-74.

Although Leo Jr. died in 1984, his two sons have married and Leo Sr. was a proud great-grandfather. Leo Jr.'s widow, Joan Rutherford, grandson Mark and wife Melissa, who are parents of Brooke, 4, and Blake, 1, and grandson Mike and wife Anna, parents of Erik and Felix, age 1, all live in the greater Seattle area. Younger son Robert, who lives in Houston with his wife Pat, was in Tucson with his father at the time of Leo's death. Leo had been visiting Frances, who moved to Arizona last summer.

In accordance with his wishes, there will be no funeral service for Leo Musburger. But if you want to do something to remember him, you could make a donation to the Leo C. Musburger Library Scholarship Fund at Bonner School, play a round of golf, volunteer some time at a school, or cheer on a team representing the University of Montana.