Wilbur P. Spring, Jr., passed away on Aug. 29, 2013, at the age of 92 with his daughters at his side. He was born on Jan. 6, 1921, four miles northeast of Belgrade on the farm that has been in his family for 111 years, and where he lived for the first 75 years of his life. He was the son of Sophie (Vaught) and Wilbur P. Spring.
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At the age of 10, he knew what it was to hitch a single horse to a buggy to take himself and his two younger sisters 2 1/2 miles to a rural school (East Gallatin). Wilbur graduated from Belgrade High School in 1939, where he was a charter member and the first president of the Belgrade Future Farmers of America chapter. Performing in the junior and senior class plays were also highlights of his teenage years. He attended Montana State College for two years majoring in general agriculture. He farmed with his father raising hay, grain, horses, swine and registered Shorthorn cattle, which he showed for six years at fairs in several western states and Canada.
Wilbur married Helen Sitzman, a nurse from Billings, on Thanksgiving Day in 1952, which was also his parents' 34th wedding anniversary. From this union, five children were born, Susan Jean, twins Barbara June and Beverly Jane, Thomas Wilbur and Robert Paul. Following his father's accident in 1953, Wilbur took over management of the family farm. Over the years he turned swampy pasture land into a thriving hay and grain operation and bought the family farm from his parents in 1965.
During the 1970s and 1980s Wilbur spent over 16 years on the Belgrade School Board, serving several of those years as chairman. He was also a director of the Montana School Boards Association. Wilbur loved all things Belgrade; its history, the school system, the Fall Festival and more. In fact, some people claim that he was Belgrade's unofficial historian.
Helen passed away on May 18, 1988. That November, Wilbur was elected to represent northeastern Gallatin County in the Montana House of Representatives. He served three terms from 1989 until 1994. During that time he met and married Jeanne Amsberry of Helena on her 71st birthday, July 17, 1992. Jeanne passed away less than five months later.
Wilbur had a passion for statistics and kept tablets of data; population changes for Montana towns and cities, sunrise and sunset data, daily temperature highs and lows and baseball stats. He loved analyzing all sorts of information and was a stickler for accuracy. In fact, many years ago, he had his granddaughter, Laura, write to the World Almanac to correct their mistaken assertion that the confluence of the Missouri River was in Madison County (instead of Gallatin County). He was very pleased with the next edition of the Almanac, as the change he had requested had been made.
In his retirement years, Wilbur thoroughly enjoyed being a volunteer and a docent at the Gallatin County Pioneer Museum. He especially loved leading tours for groups of children. He also spent many pleasant hours visiting and playing pinochle with his buddies at the Elks Club (known as "the office" to them). His main form of exercising was dancing and, for a time, he was a member of the formal dance club with his friend and dance partner, Anita Iverson.
Wilbur resided at Highgate Senior Living in Bozeman the last four years of his life. The loving and professional care he received there added a good deal of comfort and dignity to his last years. Watching The Price Is Right, The Lawrence Welk Show, baseball games and telling his many stories to visitors filled many hours of his time. In fact, Wilbur was renowned for his inability to tell a "short story."
Wilbur was so proud of his family, his five children, their spouses, his 11 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren. He was an astute observer of children and especially loved the time he spent with his great-grandies, to whom he was known as Papa Wilbee. He considered it his personal responsibility to teach each of them to catch a ball as soon as they were old enough to hold it in their hands.
Wilbur was preceded in death by his parents, both sisters, Elizabeth Lemons and Louella Taylor, his two wives, Helen and Jeanne, and a granddaughter, Laura Bickle.
Survivors include his brother-in-law, Joe Taylor; his five children and their spouses, Susan (Chuck) Noble, Barbara (Kerry) Bickle, Beverly (Dick) Marlow, Tom (Kathleen) Spring, and Bob (Megan) Spring; 10 grandchildren, Michelle (Brandon) Gauthier, Mark (Lacy) Noble, Miranda (Matt) Harden, Darrell (Jill) Marlow, Stephanie King, Brian Bickle, Rachel Spring, Jonathan Spring, Trygve (Kathryn) Ryen, and Sonjve (Jeff) Runia; and twelve great-grandchildren. The importance of family, community service and lifelong learning were values he lived and are an example for those of us he leaves behind.
Wilbur's family would like to express their gratitude to Dr. Andrea Cady, the team at Hospice of Southwest Montana and his caretakers at Highgate Senior Living. He always spoke so highly of their efforts on his behalf. Many thanks also to those special friends who took him for drives around the county.
A celebration of his life will be held on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013 at 4 p.m. at Grace Bible Church, 3625 South 19th Avenue, Bozeman, Montana, with a reception to follow in the fireside room. Interment will be held at 2 p.m. at the Springhill Cemetery.
Memorials in his name may be made to the Gallatin County Pioneer Museum, 317 West Main, Bozeman, MT 59715 or the Hodgkiss/Hughes Scholarship Fund at Belgrade High School, P.O. Box 166, Belgrade, Montana 59714.
Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service. Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at www.dokkennelson.com.
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle from Sept. 1 to Sept. 4, 2013
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