George Wesley Ortner, 77, passed away April 23, 2014, in Great Falls.
Memorial services will be held Friday, May 2, 2014, at 1 p.m., at Chinook High School Auditorium, followed by a reception at Wallner Hall. Arrangements have been made with Edwards Funeral Home of Chinook.
George Wesley Ortner was born Nov. 20, 1936, in Tulsa, Okla., to Omar Preston Ortner and Ella Mae Riley Ortner. He was their only child. He was proud of his Cherokee heritage and was an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. As a boy in Oklahoma ,he learned to rope -the foundation of his lifetime love of rodeo and horses. He moved to Conrad, Mont., in high school and graduated from there in 1954. He got his teaching degree from Northern Montana College and began teaching at the Heart Butte School on the Blackfoot Reservation in 1957. His stories from that era were colorful, helping on a relative's sheep ranch, working to build Tiber Dam, taking the cattle train to the Chicago stockyards, and more.
In 1964 he married Linda Meeks.They had met at high school rodeos. They lived and ranched in Choteau, Mont., for the first years of their marriage, and moved to Chinook, Mont., in 1966, where they bought a ranch on Clear Creek, and he started teaching school again. He taught sixth grade grade for 25 years in Chinook and the impact he had on generations of students is immeasurable. He was famous for his strict discipline that was only outweighed by his willingness to help any kid in need and to make sure every kid reached their full potential. He loved coaching and refereeing and was involved in community activities like the Jaycees and 4-H, and was a long-time member of the Blaine County Fair Board. He liked dominoes and most card games, and would always come home from the "smoker" in town loaded ... with turkeys and hams.
George was a saddle maker and had a leather shop where he repaired and made all sorts of tack. Friends and customers would come for hours or even days to visit, drink coffee and work on projects in his basement shop. The joy and satisfaction he earned from his artistry were his true payment, and he shared his knowledge, stories and craft with anyone who was interested.
Summer haying and ranching were squeezed in around rodeoing. He and Linda would pack the four kids in the camper, load the horses (and sometimes even the milk cow) in the trailer and go to rodeos all across the region. Many nights were spent driving to the next rodeo with a thermos of coffee and our collection of classic country eight-track tapes. He had friends - famous and infamous - everywhere he went. He was a gold card lifetime member of the PRCA and later was active with the Senior Pro Rodeo Association. Although his mobility was increasingly limited in the last few years, he roped and dragged calves to the branding fire as long as he could.
George was preceded in death by his parents; first wife, Maxine; and infant son. His survivors are wife, Linda; children, LeeAnn (Roger) French of Malta, Butch (Darla) Ortner of Chinook, Bonnie Ortner of Chinook, and Beth (Dave) Nedrow of Billings; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Because of his dedication to kids and rodeo, the family requests that instead of flowers, donations be made to the Blaine County Rodeo Team, the organization that sponsors the kids' rodeo at the Blaine County Fair every year. Checks can be made to the Blaine County Rodeo Team with the memo: Memory of George Ortner, and mailed to Independence Bank, PO Box 2090, Havre MT 59501.