Donald Byers
1936 - 2017
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Donald Ray Byers

Bozeman —Donald Ray Byers, 80, founding Executive Director of the Montana Special Olympics, passed away April 29 of natural causes at his home in Bozeman. He was the son of Joseph Toole and Syble Clara Byers, born on December 8, 1936, in Helena.

After graduation from Jefferson County High School (Boulder) in 1954, he earned a B.S. Degree in Physical Education from Montana State College (now Montana State University). It was during that time that he served as student manager for Bobcat basketball, baseball and football, which led to a life-long affection for his alma mater and MSU athletics.

During his school years, he worked summers as the district clerk/dispatcher for the U.S. Forest Service in Boulder and served a two-year hitch in the US Army. After his discharge, he attended Officer's Candidate School with the Montana National Guard, then transferred to the Air National Guard based in Great Falls, retiring 25 years later with the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Early in his career, he served as Director of Recreation at the Boulder River Training School, and in 1967, he married Lila Devaney in Helena, before earning a Master's degree in Special Education from Eastern Montana College. He accepted a position as Assistant Director of Special Education in Great Falls and in 1968, became the father of a daughter, Sloan; followed two years later by a son, Brett. The couple later divorced.

In addition to his service with the Air Guard and the Special Olympics, he was the first head coach of the Great Falls High School girls' basketball team; officiated high school football and basketball for 37 years; and served as president of the Lions Service Club. He led the Special Olympics during a 20-year period when it grew from a single track meet with 125 competitors, to a state-wide, three-day celebration with more than 1,000 entries.

In the late 1990s, he began a new career, selling cars at Bison Ford in Great Falls and was named "Salesman of the Month" so many times that light-hearted consideration was given to renaming the award in his name.

In 2003, he married Marcia Pendergast Petersen, whom he had known as a classmate during their elementary and high school days in Boulder. The couple spent much of their retirement traveling the Western U.S. and watching his beloved Bobcats. In 2015, they relocated to Bozeman.

Don is survived by his loving wife, Marcia; his daughter, Sloan Fuller; his son, Brett; seven stepchildren; and a niece, Rebecca (Jeff) Price.

He was preceded by his parents; sister, Neoma (Dan) Rieder; and stepson, Steve Peterson.

The Rosary, followed by the Vigil service, will be held Friday, May 5th, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. at Resurrection University Catholic Parish. A Funeral Mass will be held Saturday, May 6th, 2017 at 12:00 p.m. at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Boulder, MT. If friends desire, they may send memorials gifts in Don's name to Montana Special Olympics, 710 First Avenue North in Great Falls; to Hospice of Bozeman, 3810 Valley Commons Drive, Bozeman, 59718; or to the charity of one's choice. Condolences and memories may be shared with Don's family at

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Published in Great Falls Tribune on May 2, 2017.
07:00 PM
Resurrection University Catholic Parish
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St. Catherine Catholic Church
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11 entries
May 8, 2017
I knew Don later in his life when he married my Aunt Marcia. He truly was a sweet heart of a man. Even in the last few years when he wasn't well, he still had humor, grace and such love for Marcia. She took good care of him:) RIP Don!
Bonnie Welch
May 8, 2017
Sloan, and to the rest of your family.. Don was one of the finest. He gave me an opportunity to come back to Great Falls and be a part of the "passion" he so much enjoyed - special Olympics ". He provided an opportunity for me that has been a part of my life. There are so many wonderful experiences that were added to my life. Had it not been for your dad the fullness of my life would not have been reached. You had a gift in the father I know you sincerely loved.
As always,
Chuck Paul
May 6, 2017
A true gentleman who was well regarded in the state of Montana. I had the pleasure of knowing Don several years ago.

Duane Voeller
Mesa, AZ
May 5, 2017
I have a strong sentiment for ones who put their hearts into avenues of growth, physically and emotionally to our youth in Special Olympics! Donald's efforts were dearly appreciated and are a memorial to him.
May 4, 2017
To Marcia and family, Sloan and Brett. :
I know my father enjoyed his friendship with Don. He shared a lot of stories with me when we talked. Marcia I so enjoyed him chuckling with my dad as we moved stuff to storage or house. Don was such a wonder man and I am very glad I made to trip over with dad to see him. Love hugs and prayers to all of the family Ronda Eustance
Ronda Eustance Lopez
May 4, 2017
I am so sorry to hear of Don's passing.....he was always friendly & personable......a great salesman & champion for Special Olympics. I had known Don since our early days in special education. One year, one of my young students passed away suddenly & I was inconsolable. Don understood my grief and went with me to her funeral. That was the kind of person Don was. We will miss him.......RIP Marge
May 3, 2017
What a fine gentleman. I knew Don for 40 years, starting as a School Psychologist while he was the Principal for the Special Education Center. He then went on to run the Special Olympics program. Truly a dedicated friend to special need people. Very kind and compassionate. A very good salesman in his lifetime. The world lost a good one. Thoughts and prayers to his family.
Tom Krajacich
May 3, 2017
Don recruited me onto the board of the Montana Special Olympics which is still one of the great "pay it forward" assignments in my life.
His utter belief in the importance of the project was inspiring and it became a national model.
He was such a good guy---who touched Montana and Montanans indelibly.
Ed Coghlan
May 2, 2017
Never has there been a man in Montana to match the unselfish passion for changing the world of Special Olympics athletes and their families than Don Byers. I have personally witnessed the transformation of these great community citizens from being institutionalized to growing up to become wage earners, teachers, and amazing mentors, thanks to Don's tenacity of making Eunice Shriver's vision for their potential a reality throughout Montana. How do we adequately say Thank You and Great Job? You are The Man!
Michael Jackson
May 2, 2017
May your memories of the wonderful times you shared with your loved one comfort you and your family, today and always. Hosea 13:14
May 2, 2017
So sorry for your loss. I'm a cousin, remember Don as a great guy. I really looked up to him when I was young.
Mike Holland
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