Former Montana Gov. Schwinden dies at 98

Ted Schwinden
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Posted at 6:25 PM, Oct 08, 2023

HELENA — Remembrances continued to come in Monday, after former Montana Gov. Ted Schwinden passed away over the weekend.

Schwinden died Saturday at the age of 98, in Arizona, where he had lived with his daughter in recent years.

Schwinden’s son Dore told MTN they don’t plan to hold a public service, in line with his father’s wishes. However, he said the family is grateful for the outpouring of support they’ve received in Montana.

“It makes us feel very, very gracious and happy that people are remembering him so well,” he said.

Dore Schwinden said the family is encouraging anyone who wishes to make a donation in his father’s honor to support any organization that helps children.

Gov. Greg Gianforte ordered flags in Montana to be lowered to half-staff from Tuesday through sunset on Friday in memory of Schwinden.

“Susan and I join Montanans in honoring the life and legacy of Ted Schwinden, who served as Montana’s 19th governor between 1981 and 1989,” Gianforte’s proclamation read. “A dedicated public servant, Governor Schwinden served in World War II before serving Montana as a state representative, lieutenant governor and governor.”

Dore Schwinden said he believed his father will be remembered for helping Montana through a difficult economic period, when industries like timber and mining were facing challenges.

“I think he was the right man at the right time for difficult times – and people trusted him, and that's what that's what his goal was,” he said.

Dave Wanzenried, who was Schwinden’s chief of staff for three years, then worked as labor commissioner under him, called him a “remarkable individual,” and said it was the great honor of his political career to have worked for him.

“He was able to work with anybody, regardless of party affiliation, and remind them that the work they were doing was not about power, it was about the people that they served,” he said.

Wanzenried said Schwinden’s candor – as highlighted in his “Straight Talk, Good People” slogan – permeated the administration. He said Schwinden allowed for people working for him to be honest, even when they had disagreements.

“Did I change his mind? Maybe once every five or ten times,” Wanzenried said. “But his candor and his basic understanding and willingness to communicate at that level made it easy for people like me who worked with him to do our jobs.”

Dore Schwinden said his father took pride in being open to the public – even extending to his well-known decision to list his personal phone number while he was governor.

“He would answer the phone at 1 in the morning or whenever it rang, and he sat down every morning and wrote a personal note to everybody who ever wrote him something – even it was just a quick thank you,” he said.

Wanzenried said, after leaving the administration, he spent a couple years working as a truck driver. One night, he remembers listening to a radio show inviting people to call in and talk about their favorite states. He says he called Schwinden and told him about it.

“And he called that radio station and regaled them about the things that were going on in Montana and reminding them that there's only one best place – and that would be Montana,” said Wanzenried.

Dore Schwinden said his father remained active for much of his life. After his retirement, he taught several courses at Carroll College and the University of Montana. He was a caregiver for his wife Jean when she developed cancer. Schwinden also became a hospice volunteer during his time in Arizona.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated. Original post below:

Ted Schwinden, who served as Montana’s governor through most of the 1980’s, has died at the age of 98.

Schwinden’s son Dore confirmed to MTN that he passed away Saturday afternoon, with family by his side.

“He will be remembered for his devotion to his family and home state of Montana, and for his easy, hearty laugh,” said an obituary provided by his family.

Known as a fiscally conservative Democrat, Schwinden served as governor from 1981 to 1989.

Schwinden was born in 1925, a native of Wolf Point. According to his obituary, he began his education in a one-room schoolhouse, served in the Army during World War II, and attended college on the GI Bill before returning to manage his family’s farm. He became president of the Montana Grain Growers Association, served two terms in the Montana Legislature and was appointed state land commissioner.

In 1976, Schwinden was elected lieutenant governor, serving under Gov. Tom Judge. In 1980, he challenged and defeated Judge in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, then defeated Republican Jack Ramirez in the general election. Schwinden handily won reelection in 1984, over Republican Pat Goodover.

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Ted Schwinden, who served as Montana’s governor through most of the 1980’s, has died at the age of 98.

Schwinden’s campaign slogan was “Straight Talk, Good People.” According to a profile on the state of Montana’s Former Governors website, he was known for leading the state through challenging economic times, for his “Build Montana” economic plan and for holding “Capital for a Day” events in communities across the state.

According to the obituary from his family, Schwinden took pride in being a governor who was open and responsive to the public.

Schwinden is survived by three children, six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.