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With the passing of former Lt. Gov. Karl Ohs, Montana lost an American icon and beloved family man on Nov. 25, 2007, after a courageous battle with cancer. Karl, the soft-spoken cowboy and diplomat, who was always the consummate mediator, never wavered from his values, whether in life or death.
Karl was born Nov. 18, 1946, in Havre to Sylvia (Swanson) and Carl Ohs Sr., and raised on a ranch in Bowdoin, east of Malta. He was a championship wrestler for the Malta Blue Ponies, and later won two Big Sky wrestling championships at Montana State University. This earned him a place on the Wall of Fame at MSU.
After the ranch was moved to Harrison and his father broke his leg, Karl left college to work the ranch with his brother, Jerry. While ranching, Karl showed his civic side by volunteering on the Ennis Hospital Board and the Harrison School Board (1978-1984), becoming chairman for the last two years. Karl co-founded MAGPIE (Montana Ag Producers, Inc) in 1988, spearheading the growth of new crops such as canola. He mentored struggling ranchers who were at risk of losing their ranches during the recession of the '80s, and later Karl followed his business inclination, owning and operating several businesses with his wife, Sherri, in Butte, Belgrade and Helena.
Karl successfully ran for the Montana State Legislature in 1994 and quickly rose to the leadership position of majority whip in the House of Representatives during his second term. Karl and Sherri successfully campaigned for Karl's position of lieutenant governor during Gov. Judy Martz’s term. Karl became well-known and respected among his political peers across the nation and was elected chairman of the National Lieutenant Governor's Association in 2002. During this time, Karl, always a loyal Bobcat fan, returned to finish his degree at Montana State University, both graduating with a bachelor of science, ag business degree and giving the commencement address at the same time. After Karl's term as lieutenant governor, the Montana Republican Party elected him chairman of the party which he graciously fulfilled until June of this year.
But Montanans are most proud, and Americans most grateful, for Karl's role in ending the emotion-charged 81-day Freeman standoff in Jordan. His calm demeanor and respect for people was a turning point for how government agencies such as the FBI handled potentially lethal stand-off situations. With the entire nation watching the mass media coverage, the enigmatic Montana cowboy-politician, in a yellow slicker, mounted a horse and rode into the Freeman compound and into the nation's collective conscience. Louie Freeh, director of the FBI, later honored Karl with the FBI's highest civilian award, the Lou Peters Award, on behalf of a grateful nation.
Karl served his church, Evangelical Covenant, with the same dignity and compassion, always taking time out for church council meetings, mission trips to Mexico and Europe, and greeting folks on Sunday with genuine friendliness and sincere concern for their well-being. Karl was truly a statesman, leader, and a gentle man. His faith and character never faltered in his later days, constantly thanking others and showing appreciation to all his caregivers, thanking God for his family, friends and opportunities, and mostly the gift of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ which gave Karl great comfort and peace.
One of our fondest memories of Karl was spent at the ranch in the Tobacco Root Mountains, riding horseback, sledding and cooking up Thanksgiving dinner on a woodstove for his children, stepchildren and grandchildren. This was a tradition that Karl enjoyed immensely. Karl and Sherri were also fortunate enough to enjoy four glorious years living on the shores of Hauser Lake, water-skiing, swimming and kayaking with family and friends before moving closer to town to fulfill another ambition, team-penning. Karl quickly became an icon in that world, winning belt-buckles and cash prizes early on with his special horse, Dell. The team-penning club became an integral part of Karl vast network of friends.
Survivors include his wife, Sherri of Helena; mother, Sylvia Ohs of Malta; sisters, Delores (Rod) of Green Valley, Ariz., and Karen (Ross) of Malta; brother, Jerry (Donna) of Pony; his children, Brad (Kim) of Billings, Eric and Brian of Bozeman, daughter, Elizabeth (Cody) Carpenter of Butte; stepchildren, JD Hartman of Bozeman, Jessica (Mike) Wagner of Belgrade, Brandon Boylan (Shelly) of Belgrade, and Katie (Justin) Marthaller of Gillette, Wyo.; and seven grandchildren, Rylee Hartman, Ashlyn Wagner, Paeton and Kiefer Ohs, Chloe, Hannah, and Kyler Carpenter.
Viewing hours will be from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at Retz Funeral Home in Helena. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 30, at Gateway Community Center, 1710 National Ave., Helena, with a reception following. Graveside services with military honors accorded by the Montana National Guard Honor Guard will be at 3 p.m. at the Harrison Cemetery, with a reception following at the Fire Hall in Harrison. Family and friends are invited to Karl and Sherri's home on Thursday evening between 6 and 9 p.m. at 133 Alfalfa Road for an informal reception honoring Karl's life.
Donations may be made to the Missions Fund at Evangelical Covenant Church, 800 N. Hoback, Helena, MT 59601; to The Intermountain Children's Home, 500 S. Lamborn, Helena, MT 59601; or to The Florence Crittenton Home, 901 N. Harris, Helena, MT.
The Ohs family would like to thank Hospice of St. Peter's, Pastor Keith Johnson, Chet Devers, and all the friends and family that made Karl's passing a beautiful event.
Funeral services and arrangements are in the care of Retz Funeral Home in Helena. Condolences may be expressed at www.legacy.com/HelenaIR.
Retz Funeral Home
315 East Sixth Ave
Helena, MT 59601
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Nov. 27, 2007