Cover photo for Lee Rostad's Obituary
Lee Rostad Profile Photo
1929 Lee 2020

Lee Rostad

October 28, 1929 — March 17, 2020

Lee Rostad, 90, local historian, writer, and artist, passed away on March 17, 2020, in Bozeman.

Born Ellalee Birkett in Roundup, Montana on October 28, 1929, the daughter of Ed and Emma Gail Birkett, Lee attended schools in Roundup before attending the University of Montana where she received a degree in History and Political Science. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and spent the following year pursuing post-graduate study at the University of London. In 1952 she returned to Montana and married her college sweetheart, Phil Rostad, an officer in the Air Force stationed at Malmstrom AFB. She taught school in Great Falls for a short time until Phil was transferred to a military hospital in Kyoto, Japan, where she joined him in the summer of 1953. They spent an adventurous year in Japan until Phil was discharged and they returned to run the family ranch on the Bozeman Fork of the Musselshell River near Martinsdale.

Lee was a tireless part of the Rostad ranching operation -- cooking for haying crews, moving cows, operating machinery, irrigating, keeping a garden, feeding cows in winter, and raising her two boys. Lee and the boys moved to Helena where she taught English at CR Anderson Middle School, returning to the ranch every weekend and summer to resume all the responsibilities of a ranch wife. Lee came back to Martinsdale in 1972 and in addition to her ranching responsibilities started the Chicken House Pottery; spending the next years making and selling pottery, painting, and writing. When Phil Jr. returned to the ranch, she and Phil started travelling and seeing the world, later retiring to Helena and then Bozeman.

An accomplished author, Lee published many articles and seven books on local Montana history, including biographies of legendary sheep man Charles M. Bair and acclaimed author Grace Stone Coates (for which she was a finalist for the 2004 Willa Literary Award). Lee served for many years on the Montana Historical Society Board. Because of her contributions to Montana and the humanities she received an Honorary Doctorate from Rocky Mountain College in 1994, the Governor's Humanities award in 2001 and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Montana in 2004.

Lee is survived by Phil, her husband of 68 years, and her sons, Phil Jr. (Joan) and Carl (Nancy Luth). She was blessed with and survived by four wonderful grandchildren, Julie (Eli) Patten of Billings, Whitney (Bradford Drew) Rostad of Seattle, WA, Caroline (Nathan) Mulkey, of Yukon, OK, and Sam Rostad of Arlington, VA, and four great grandchildren -- Olivia and Adele Patten and Connor and Norah Mulkey. Her sister-in-law, Linda Birkett of Billings, also survives. Lee was predeceased by her parents and brothers Milton, Bob, Jim, Bill, and Ray. She leaves behind many close friends and family who will miss her dearly.

The family recommends that those wishing to honor Lee’s memory do so with contributions to organizations to which she was so committed, particularly the Montana Historical Society in Helena, or the Mountain View Medical Center in White Sulphur Springs.

Due to current health concerns that discourage large assemblies, services will be arranged at a future date.

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