Ben E. Berg was born in Columbus on Dec. 17, 1916, to Ada Kesner Berg and Ben Berg Sr. "Barney." Barney and Doc Nelson stoked the furnace all night to keep the hospital warm.
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Young Ben and his rattail spaniel "Zip" attended grade school in Columbus until the family moved to Livingston in 1928. Ben attributed his graduation from Park County High School to the persistent vigilance of Principal C.V. Brown.
Ben matriculated at Montana State University in Missoula in 1935.That year's annual features a photo of Ben in his leather jacket as the "Typical Freshman." He remembered his summer breaks working in Yellowstone Park with fondness. Ben earned a degree in business and continued his education at Missoula's law school. He remembered Dean Leaphart's encouraging words, "I think, Mr. Berg, if you would just apply yourself…" Ben graduated from the Montana School of Law in 1941.
Ben began his legal practice in Billings with the law firm Brown and Davis. When his first client opened the door to young Ben's office, she took one look, threw up her purse and exclaimed, "Lausy, lausy … he's just a boy!"
Ben joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and despite his legal background was trained as a medic in Denver. Eventually he served in the Philippines doing investigative work. He returned to Livingston in February 1946 and settled in to practice law.
Ben married Joan Blair in 1947. Joan's parents, Halsey and Francis Blair, offered the young couple a red convertible for a wedding gift, but Ben thought that a convertible was too "flashy" for a young lawyer and Joan had to settle for a two-door coupe. Evidently, Ben had decided to apply himself. Ben practiced law in Livingston for 11 years, serving as Livingston's city attorney for eight of those years. He was elected as Livingston's representative to the Montana Legislature in 1956.
In 1957 Ben had the opportunity to join a Bozeman law firm which became Lovelace, Horkan and Berg. Over the years the firm had several name changes, among them was Berg, O'Connell, Angel and Andriola. Today, the firm continues as the Berg law firm.
Ben served as Bozeman's city attorney for 17 years. During 1961 he served as president of the Montana Bar Association. Ben enjoyed his practice and took many appeals to the Montana Supreme Court. In 1973 Ben was elected as a delegate to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention. He served on the judiciary committee. He and Joan found lifelong friends in several of the delegates and their spouses and enjoyed many reunions with them.
Ben's investment in black Angus cattle proved to be his favorite. Whether it was a financial success remains unclear, but he clearly enjoyed the getaways to visit Fay Parker and the cows at the Sappington ranch near Three Forks. His children claim to have seen more footage of cattle than of their childhood.
Ben and Joan's first three children were daughters, Babs, Kathy and Ada. Ben referred to home as "Petticoat Corner." In 1959 their son, Hal, arrived as an ally. The family had many memorable trips - one marathon to see all of the western parks and Disneyland - and many visits to cousins in California and on the Oregon coast . Most years there were one-day trips through Yellowstone and weeklong visits to Camp Carefree in Whitefish with several Bozeman families.
Ben and Joan enjoyed outings and socializing with many wonderful friends. When Joan took up skiing in 1960 Ben had to join her on weekends if he wanted to see her. He never quite matched her style, but he had a wild and speedy "stem Christie." They traveled twice to Europe and England and enjoyed many tours of the U.S., several framed around Ben's interest in the Civil war period.
For seven years Ben and Joan were "snowbirds," enjoying sunshine, friends and adventures in Lake Havasu, Ariz. Ben was always ready to return home where he was welcomed by his seven granddaughters, eager to test a new potion to cure his "bald" hair.
Ben passed away Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011, after a weekend of visits from all of his children and their spouses. All of the family gives special thanks to the Gallatin Nursing Home staff for their wonderful care and kindness. The family is also very grateful to their neighbors, "the 14th Street Dead Enders," for being guardian angels for Ben and Joan.
Ben was preceded in death by his parents, Judge Ben E. Berg Sr. and Ada Kesner Berg, and his sisters and their spouses, Catherine and Burke Thompson and Phyllis and Don Scallan.
This Christmas Ben was visited by all of his surviving family: his wife, Joan; children, Babs and Bill Leaphart of Helena, Kathy Berg of Bozeman, Ada and Jim Lee of Deer Lodge, and Hal and Cristina Berg of Bozeman; grandchildren, Becca Leaphart and Ben Brouwer, Rachael and Bryant Munday, Retta Leaphart, Joanna and Pat Lozar, Ada Leaphart, Randi Berg and Katrina Berg; and great-grandson, Brooks Munday. He is also survived by several nephews including Ben Scallan and his wife, Tricia Bailey of Bozeman.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Shriners' Children's Hospital for transportation, P.O. Box 2472, Spokane, WA 99210; Galavan transportation service c/o HRDC /Galavan, 32 S. Tracy Ave., Bozeman, MT 59715; the University of Montana Law School, c/o John Mudd, UM School of Law, Maurice & Eddy, Missoula, MT 59812-6552; or a donation of your choice.
Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at Dokken-Nelson Sunset Chapel.
Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service; www.dokkennelson.com.
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on January 19, 2011
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