William Kuhr (1927 - 2013)

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William H. (Bill) Kuhr

Missoula —William H. (Bill) Kuhr - architect, mountain climber, backcountry and downhill skier, pilot, artist and family man - has died in Missoula. He was 86.

Bill - who was raised on a sheep ranch in the Bears Paw Mountains outside of Chinook, and loved being outdoors whether in the mountains or on the Montana plains - left a lifelong legacy of buildings that he designed as a partner with Davidson and Kuhr Architects in Great Falls.

Born March 15, 1927, to Lily Henning Kuhr and William Henry Kuhr in Chinook, Bill spent his early years on the Kuhr family ranch about 20 miles from town. Bill's father died when he was five. His mother and the two boys - Billy and Tommy - ultimately moved to Chinook, and Bill graduated from Chinook High School in 1945.

He immediately joined the U.S. Navy where he was sent to the Pacific Theater. After World War II ended, he served on a supply ship off the coast of Japan, tending to the needs of citizens in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He received an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1946, and began classes at Montana State College (now Montana State University) that fall.

Bill graduated from the School of Architecture, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Architecture in 1950. He married his college sweetheart, Harriet Burns, also a Chinook native, later that year. He began his architecture career in Missoula, working for three years for H.E. Kirkemo Architects.

Bill moved to Great Falls in 1953 to work for Bordeleau-Pannell Architects as a senior draftsman and designer. He was licensed to practice architecture in 1955.

The following year, he and David S. Davidson formed an architectural partnership, with offices right above the Pennant Bar in the Oddfellows Building. Davidson and Kuhr Architects designed projects large and small across the state of Montana.

Among buildings particularly associated with Bill were two beautiful small-town churches - Bethany Lutheran Church in Dutton and St. Gabriel's Catholic Church in Chinook. Bill was principal in charge of a number of state building projects, which included the Lubrecht Forest Research/Conference Center and the Pharmacy Building and Underground Lecture Hall at the University of Montana. He was principal in charge for the MSU-Northern Women's Dormitory, the MSU-Northern Library and Montana Tech's Engineering Classroom Lab.

Great Falls projects ranged from the McLaughlin Research Center and the Residential Cottages for the Montana School for the Deaf & Blind, to the Gibson Park Band Shell and the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 4 Headquarters. He worked on a number of school projects, including Meadowlark Elementary School in Great Falls, additions at Cascade Elementary and High School, and a new gymnasium and high school addition at Chinook. He designed several private residences, including the mid-century modern home he and his wife built for their family in the late 1950s. Much to his wife's surprise, the house was an ongoing design project until the day they moved to Missoula in 2012.

In 1971, he was president of the Montana Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. And in 2001, the Great Falls Society of Architects presented Bill the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bill was an active member of the Great Falls community. He served on the City-County Planning Board for 12 years, and was president for a one-year term. He participated in the First Montana Toastmasters Club, Great Falls Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Great Falls. He served on the board of directors for Opportunities Inc., and for the McLaughlin Research Institute; and he was chair of Vision 2000 Tree Task Force.

He was just as busy away from the drafting table and city affairs. Bill was an avid photographer and outsdoorsman, taking the family on countless camping, hiking and climbing trips. The family's first trip to Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park was when son Billy T. was five. Bill got his family into cross-country skiing in the late 1960s, when the wood skis and bamboo and leather poles had to be ordered from Akers Ski Company in Maine.

He was part of a group of climbers who called themselves the Adventure Group, organized by Rick Graetz, founder of Montana magazine. The men climbed mountains across Montana and in Canada. He also was a member of the Great Falls "Ski Bums," who took an annual ski trip in the West.

Later in life, Bill most missed that he could no longer ski, and he could no longer fly the plane that he had owned with several other businessmen. He flew many miles in that Piper 9690 Whiskey with his wife as navigator. Together they flew to Canada and to Mexico, and throughout the Northwest. On one of his last flights, in 2000, he charted a five-day trip tracing the travels of Lewis and Clark across Montana. His last trip to the backcountry was five days hiking and climbing in the Bitterroots.

In 2012, he and Harriet moved to Missoula to be closer to family. He leaves behind Harriet, his wife of almost 63 years; daughters Peggy (Thomas Foor) of Missoula and Barbara (John Plunkett) of Park City, Utah; a son, Bill T. (Rose) and beloved granddaughter, Frances Elaine (Franny) of Seattle; and a brother, Tom (Edie) Kuhr of Santa Maria, Calif.

The family is planning a private memorial gathering for later this fall. Contributions in honor of Bill Kuhr may be made to the McLaughlin Research Institute in Great Falls.

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Published in Great Falls Tribune on Sept. 26, 2013
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