Loren “Lee” Eberline 1945-2019

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Loren Lee Eberline was not a man you could forget. With eyes as blue as the Montana sky, Lee had a spring in his step and a ready smile on his face. He was a man at home in big landscapes. He loved hunting elk and deer, and spending time in the Pioneer Mountains near his home in Dillon, Montana. Lee was known most for his ready enthusiasm and love of adventure. Lee passed away at his home on April, 7 2019, surrounded by his family.

Lee was born in 1945 to Agnes “Ollie” Eberline and Loren Eberline in Dillon, Montana. Lee’s boyhood was filled with adventure. He grew up helping his brothers, Randy, Rich, and Dale do custom combine work on the ranch, and cared for animals on the family farm. He attended Riverside Country School and graduated from BCHS. After graduation, he worked in the summers for the U.S. Forest Service, before attending Western Montana College and the University of Montana in Missoula.

When Lee met Rita in high school, they soon became sweethearts and later married. After the wedding, the couple moved to Coronado, California, where he served with the United States Navy. During his service he attended Naval Aviation School in Jacksonville, Florida. He was deployed to Japan, the Aleutian Islands, New Zealand and the Philippines.

In 1969, while living in Mountain View, California, Lee and Rita welcomed their first son Todd into the world. After the military, Lee and Rita moved back to Dillon where Lee helped run the family ranch. He also operated heavy equipment on the Interstate Highway System. Four years later, their second son Joshua was born. Lee rode Todd and Josh around the ranch with him on horseback. He knew that working together builds character. He wanted his sons to grow up with a love of the land.

Lee and Rita worked to make a good life for their boys. A generous and hard-working man, Lee spent years building a custom home with his family. They enjoyed skiing on weekends, dancing at the Elks Club, and camping and fishing. When his youngest son Josh was little, Lee used to set him in front of his skis and bomb straight down the mountain. When the boys were in high school, Lee and Rita took them on a trip to Mexico. The boys enjoyed snorkeling and hunting for shells so much that they drifted out of sight. Undeterred, Lee asked a local to fetch them on a jet ski while he and Rita watched from the beach.

After scraping to make ends meet in rural Montana, Lee earned his electrical board license and worked as an international electrical inspector. He spent several years in Alaska as an Electrical Foreman, Commissioning Supervisor, Electrical Quality Assurance Inspector, and Construction Supervisor, completing projects across the state, from remote villages to large-scale petroleum processing facilities. Lee went on to inspect electrical modelers throughout the United States and Canada. He received many honors serving as a quality inspector.

Throughout their marriage, Lee and Rita traveled the world. They toured Italy, sailed the West Indies and San Juan Islands, traveled several times to Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, and spent nearly two months visiting every national park in Alaska from Homer to the Arctic Circle, returning home via the Alaska Marine Highway. They biked the Hiawatha Trail and went on numerous whitewater rafting voyages. They were members of the Red Rock four-wheelers and spent time in St. George and Moab, Utah, jeep rock crawling and exploring more National Parks. In later years, Lee organized a Spring Break trip for his sons and their families to hike in Zion and the surrounding area. At home in Montana, they continued their adventures while sightseeing and photographing wildlife. They were also avid gardeners, and shared the bounties of their vegetable garden and fruit trees with neighbors and family.

Lee was a lifetime member of the National Ski Patrol as well as a former EMT who served for Beaverhead EMS. He was also a former member of the Dillon Elks, The Danish Brotherhood, and a volunteer for the Shoot for Loot, RATPOD, and the Dillon Ham Radio Club. Gifted in many areas – he most recently helped build a roadster with his childhood friend, Tom, and fabricated parts with his metal lathe.

Lee Eberline was a gentle man who had a heart for animals of all kinds. He loved hearing the elk bugle in fall after the first frost. A lifelong observer of wildlife, he loved hiking to high mountain lakes and watching for bear, moose, and deer. In later years, he cared for a flock of chickens that he called “his girls”. He even became known as the kitty-whisperer, as he always kept food and water for the neighborhood cats.

Perhaps more than any other quality, Lee was a man who knew how to live. One weekend when Todd brought a girl home to visit, Lee suggested hiking to an un-trailed lake near Esler. The three set out in the morning, loaded with Rita’s special carrot cake and a thermos of coffee. They made it to the lake by afternoon, had a picnic, and dozed in the sun.

As they started down, Todd said, “Dad, I think we’ve gone too far. We’ve overshot Esler.”

“I don’t think so,” Lee replied.

The three continued to walk for another hour. When it became apparent that, indeed, they were lost, Lee was quiet for minute. “Well son,” He said, “I think you’re right. We missed that lake.”

Lee had never gotten lost in the backcountry before. He’d always found his way. But that afternoon, he was mystified. “Don’t know how that happened. Guess we gotta just keep going.”

“Keep going?” The girlfriend asked, “Shouldn’t we go back?”

“Nope,” Lee grinned. “You gotta keep moving forward.”

After several more miles of hiking, backtracking to get the four wheelers, falling in a creek, and in general having a fine adventure, the three made it home.

Lee would never go back to that lake. The girlfriend, who became his daughter-in-law, Julie, would remember that day, and the pleasure Lee took in simple things. The nap on the hillside. Seeing an elk bedded down in the gullies. Carrot cake for lunch.

Maybe Lee Eberline knew more about getting lost than he let on. Maybe Lee knew that losing your way brought the most unexpected joys. Maybe he knew that moving forward was the only way to go. Lee lived his life facing the future, but he savored the moment. If you were lucky enough to meet Lee, you would remember his face. You would remember his joy. You would remember him.

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