Don Lowell Brown

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Don Lowell Brown, 92, beloved husband of the late Esther Svennungsen Brown, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and child of God, passed away with grace in the presence of his family on Friday, May 1, 2009.

Don was born in Nelson, Wis., on Jan. 18, 1917, just across the Mississippi River from his grandfather’s farm near Wabasha, Minn. His parents were Walter Scott Brown and Ethel Giebel Brown (Svennungsen). Walter Scott died when Don was 4 years old, and Ethel and her young son, Don, moved to Big Sandy to live with Ethel’s parents, Edmund and Rose (Butler) Giebel. Grandpa and Grandma Giebel’s strict, yet loving guidance molded Don and (later) his children.

Don was both a leader and a servant. His life was devoted to serving his family and the state of Montana. As a boy and young man, he drove cattle and wrangled horses in the Bear’s Paw Mountains and Missouri Breaks. He learned to fly airplanes at the age of 15 with the help of his Uncle Walter Giebel. He was a standout athlete for the Big Sandy Pioneers. After high school graduation in 1935, he attended Northern Montana College in Havre, and then transferred to Montana State College in Bozeman, graduating with a degree in zoology in 1940.

Don and Esther were married in Big Sandy on Aug. 17, 1940, by Esther’s father, the Rev. David Svennungsen. Her mother, Kari Svennungsen was the organist, and Don’s mother, Ethel Svennungsen, sang at the wedding.

In 1941, Don was hired as a game warden with the Montana Department of Fish and Game. On Dec. 7, 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He received his basic training at Fort Douglas, Utah. His flight training continued as a cadet at Plentywood. However, upon completing cadet flight training Don discovered he was color-blind, so was ineligible to fly fighters or bombers. He was assigned duty as a remote control turret mechanic 960; and became a gunnery and bombing instructor, serving in Texas and Colorado. He was awarded an American Theater Ribbon and a World War II Victory Medal.

Don also served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force from August 1950 to April 1951 at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, during the Korean Conflict.

After WWII, Don returned to Montana and his job with the Montana Department of Fish and Game. He was assigned as a game biologist for all of eastern Montana. In 1947, he persuaded the Fish and Game Commission to authorize the purchase of a Piper Super Cub airplane to conduct game census work, and thus he became Montana’s first flying biologist.

Years later, as the department’s deputy director, Don persuaded the F&G Commission to authorize the purchase of a helicopter. He and chief pilot, Cliff Higgins, took rotorcraft training in Fort Worth, Texas, and returned to Montana in a new Bell helicopter in 1962. The two types of aircraft greatly facilitated game census work, fish stocking in inaccessible wilderness lakes, and fish and game law enforcement.

During Don’s career he served as a game warden, biologist, district supervisor, chief of law enforcement, deputy director, regional supervisor, department director and chief of planning. In 1979 he was appointed the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan Leader for the Grizzly Bear Recovery Project that encompassed Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. He retired in 1981, after 40 years of service. In his retirement years, he continued to fly his own aircraft well into his 70s. Don was an avid outdoorsman, a Silver Life Master in the American Contract Bridge League, a long-time member of the Helena Regional Airport Board, and of Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church.

Don and Esther raised their family all over Montana: Big Sandy, Harlowton, Roundup, Lewistown, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Bozeman.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 61 years, Esther, in 2001.

Don is survived by their four children: Bonnie Wallem (Jerry) of Kalispell, Scott Brown (Nedra) of Helena, Marsha Paulson (Daryl) of Bozeman, and Judy McKenna (Jim) of Bozeman; nine grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother, Lowell Svennungsen of Connecticut; and more than 40 first cousins and their families.

Don’s last several years were spent fishing and hunting with friends and family and living at Hunters Pointe Retirement Community in Helena. The family wishes to express its deepest appreciation to the many loving, supportive people at Hunters Pointe, residents and managers alike.

Viewing is set from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 7, at Retz Funeral Home Chapel. A funeral service celebrating Don’s life is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, May 8, at Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church, with a brunch to follow the service at the church. Burial will be at 3:30 p.m. in the Big Sandy Cemetery, Big Sandy.

Memorials in Don’s name are suggested to Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church, or to a charity of the donor’s choice.

To offer condolences to Don’s family or to share a memory of Don, please visit

Arrangements are under the care of Retz Funeral Home in Helena. Dad, thank you for giving all your children and their families the gift of Love. You done good!
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle from May 6 to May 7, 2009
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