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Obituary: Bob “Saint” St. Clair

Bob “Saint” St. Clair
Posted at 12:53 PM, Apr 01, 2022

On Sunday March 20, 2022, Bob “Saint” St. Clair died quietly while napping in his recliner at the well-earned age of 90. Robert Lawrence St. Clair was born on March 10, 1932, in Helena, Montana, to Helena and Alton St. Clair, the 6th of 7 children.

Bob grew up in East Helena where he attended grade school. He was a rambunctious kid who was always up to something. Most days not in school were spent hunting, fishing, shooting, swimming, ice skating, sledding, or working. He roamed the greater Helena valley on foot or bike, keeping the family in a supply of fish, pheasants, and rabbits. He spent most of his free time getting in and out of trouble with Clayton “Poogie” Roope. He was a boy scout and went on to become a scoutmaster as an adult. He attended the old Helena High School where he excelled in shop and pole vaulting. He often told stories of painting the “H” on Mount Helena, piling wood on it, and lighting it on fire, building floats for the Vigilante Parade, and participating in snake dances that stretched for blocks through downtown Helena. Times were tough so he always had a job, starting with delivering newspapers for a penny per paper. He mowed lawns and shoveled snow, worked on the track crew for the Great Northern Railway at Silver City, and delivered packages for the Globe Store downtown. He would tell stories about knocking on the doors of politicians and public officials to deliver monogrammed shirts that Big Dorothy had ordered. He worked for Schiller’s Gas station in East Helena, earning enough money to buy a Model A Ford.

He served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War from 1951 to 1953. While in the Air Force, he was selected to attend Vale Technical Institute in Blairsville, PA, to learn auto mechanics and autobody repair. He was on the McCord Field Drill Team and was frequently in parades around Seattle. Dad was extremely proud of both of those accomplishments, and we are too.

After his honorable discharge from the Air Force, Bob returned to his job at the smelter in East Helena. Over the years, he worked in many different departments throughout the plant, but his favorite was the carpenter’s shop. He worked for ASARCO for 42 years and retired as the Yard Foreman. He was one of two men who climbed to the top of the old stack and carefully measured it so an engineering company could draw up blueprints for another company that custom built the cone. The cone was shipped to the smelter in three pieces and set in place on the top of the stack with helicopters. It fit perfectly. For years there was a star on the top of the silver stack that was lit up during the Christmas season. That was dad’s idea and he built it.

Bob married the love of his life, Betty Smith, on December 30, 1960. They had four children: Rob, Rita, Linda, and Larry. They raised their kids on a hobby farm outside East Helena. He and Betty instilled a strong work ethic in their kids and a strong sense of doing for others. He was first in line if someone needed help.

When dad retired, he started a whole new life. He often said, “I am so busy, I don’t know how I ever found time to go to work.” He discovered four-wheeler clubs and traveled the backcountry of western Montana doing trail maintenance, working with the Forest Service and BLM. He also loved to garden, and he and mom always had an amazing one. He enjoyed ice fishing and often traveled to Clark Canyon Reservoir to catch ling. He became an accomplished trapper, often doing damage control for local ranchers.

Every hunting season you could find dad at the head of Cottonwood Gulch in his green and white camper. He spent years customizing it into the perfect hunting trailer. The game wardens dubbed him “The Guardian of the Gulch” and stopped daily to check in with him and chat.

Dad had a near photographic memory for events. He could remember dates, places, cars, and the clothes people were wearing at any given event. The details made for untold hours of great storytelling. Anytime he had an audience, there were stories to tell. Every trip to anywhere was a history lesson from dad. One of his favorite pastimes when Larry was little was to change the typical children’s stories like Goldilocks & the Three Bears into his “own version” of the story. His imagination was without equal.

He and his friends were the first people to waterski on Hauser Lake. They did it in a glass-bottomed fishing boat, a pair of wooden waterskis from Montgomery Wards, and two lariat ropes. Later in life he and Betty spent hundreds of hours pulling waterskiers and teaching people to ski. The St. Clairs were active members of the Helena Waterski Club for years. Every July 4th weekend you could count on a pig BBQ at the family cabin on the lake.

Dad worked hard, played hard, and volunteered hard his whole life. He was a volunteer firefighter for both the East Helena and East Valley volunteer fire departments. The smelter regularly hosted blood drives; since Dad had the rarest of blood types, he donated gallons of blood over the years. Not only would he spend evenings “popping fly balls” for us to catch, but he would also load the entire softball team in the back of his “Tonka” flatbed truck and drive them to Helena for games. He always stopped at the A&W on the way home and bought the entire team ice cream cones even if we lost.

Dad took great pleasure and pride in teaching kids how to shoot, hunt, track, and fish. Countless kids learned these things from our dad. Not only was every trip a history lesson, but every trip was also a tracking lesson. What vehicle went in before us, who opened the gate, how many deer, what animal made this track and when?

Bob was a life member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. He and Betty were very active members of FOE #16. He dyed more than 10,000 eggs every year for over 30 years for the Capitol lawn Easter egg hunt. He overcame his fear of public speaking to work his way through the chairs and eventually becoming the club president. Dad was instrumental in starting the “Holiday-Edmonds Guide Dog for the Blind Fund.” Every year he helped raise money to purchase a trained guide dog for a blind Montanan and then send them to San Rafael, California, to be trained with the new dog. He put his “St. Clair physique” to use and played Santa for Christmas parties at the Eagles Club. Bob and Betty were members of the drill team. They attended conventions and competitions all over the state. He served on the board of directors for the Eagles Manor, and the east-side flagpole there was his brainchild; he helped install it.

He is survived by Betty, his wife of 61 years; his daughters Rita St. Clair; Linda (Steve) Netschert and their children Brandt and Bailey; and son Larry (Valerie) St. Clair and their children Jennifer (Jason), Lane (Jessica) and Garrett; grandchildren Stephanie Ward, Alesha St. Clair, and Layne McKay; greatgrandchildren Xavier, Caitlyn, Keenan, Logan, Braelyn, and Carter; many nieces and nephews, and goddaughter Sharon Roope Mowat.

He is preceded in death by his son Robert (Rob) St. Clair (3/19/2022), grandson Ty McKay, and son-in-law Mike Church; parents Alton and Helena St. Clair; his sisters, Leona St. Clair, Evelyn Glasco, and Leola Halverson; brothers Kenneth, Leo, and Floyd St. Clair; and best friend Clayton “Poogie” Roope.

Cremation has taken place. Internment at Fort William Henry Harrison with military honors will take place at a later date as will a celebration of life at the St. Clair cabin sometime this summer. Please visit www.aswfuneralhome.com to offer a condolence to the family or to share a memory of Bob.