Hamilton – Donald R. Thomas, 91, of Hamilton passed away after a full life on March 11, 2014. Don was born January 17, 1923 in Buffalo, New York to Llewellyn and Margaret Thomas. Don married his childhood sweetheart (Violet Valentine) after high school. In the Army during World War II, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. During the battle his Belgian position was overrun. He was hidden from capture by the Haugan family who became lifelong friends.
Returning home after the war, Don rebuilt an old one-ton truck and loaded with all his family’s possessions. Along with his wife and two young children they drove across the country from New York to Hardin, Montana. Wrecking once in Kansas, Don again rebuilt the truck before continuing. Pursuing his cowboy dream in Big Horn County, he worked as a ranch hand, later operating his own farm and ranch.
During this time, Don wired rural homes under the REA program. He built and remodeled homes and was the largest housing contractor in Big Horn County one year completing over 200 outhouses for the Indian Service. Don welded stainless steel water stops during the construction of Yellowtail dam on the Big Horn River. For 18 years Don and Violet were pillars of the St. Xavier 4-H and school community. Don’s artistry shown through as he painted the eagle at center court on the St X gym floor, created the Big Horn Fairgrounds Memorial, designed 4-H parade floats and a multitude of other community projects.
Don sold the ranch in 1965, moved to Hamilton and started Bitter Root Plumbing, Heating and Electric. He retired in 1984. He was a Montana state master electrician and plumber completing many mechanical and electrical projects for the forest service, Rocky Mountain Laboratory and private firms. In retirement Don and Vi spent 24 winters at the Wild Horse Ranch south of Tucson, AZ. and summered in Hamilton. Music, including drums and harmonica, played a huge part in his life as he made music with many local musicians from Hamilton to Tucson. He served as Drillmaster during the founding years of the Bitter Root Mountettes, was a 48 year member and Trustee for Eagles Lodge and honored as 1978 Eagle of the year and 2008 Father of the year.
Don is survived by his wife Violet of Hamilton, sons David of Rodgers, AR, Mike of Billings and Archie (Merry) of Corvallis; grandchildren Leah (Stephen Shelley) of Mountain Homes, AR, Michelle (Jeff Kay) of Billings, Shane of Billings, Cody of Hamilton and Lindsay (Drew Huls) of Corvallis and great grandchildren Kade, Kayla and Addie.
A memorial service was held on Saturday, March 15, 2014 at the Eagle Lodge in Hamilton. Condolences may be left for the family at www.dalyleachchapel.com.