Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

For the Record
October 2013

Ernest W. "Buz" Dickson
MISSOULA — Ernest W. "Buz" Dickson, 62, passed away on Saturday, October 19, 2013, at Community Health Center following complications of a stroke. Buz was born June 28, 1951, to Willard and Shirley (Pierce) Dickson in Missoula. He had two older sisters who called him “Buzzer,” which became "Buz," and stuck throughout his life.

The family moved from Missoula to Ronan when Buz was two. They moved to Superior for six years and came to settle in Polson when Buz was in 6th grade. Buz graduated from Polson High in 1969 and attended Montana State University for one year before coming back to work at Skyline Supply, the family business, with his dad, Willie, and brother-in-law, Allen Rogers.

On May 20, 1972, he married Leslee Trosper. He built their home at the age of 23 and had it done in a year and the family has called it home ever since. They had three children. He worked at Skyline Supply until 1985. He went to work at Woody’s until 2000 when it became WBC Lumber and stayed there until his retirement in August 2013.

He enjoyed all sports. He played baseball when he was younger and participated in track and basketball in high school. He played men’s league softball and enjoyed bowling. His bowling team won the State Bowling Title in 1981. Buz was an avid hunter and could tell a great “hunting camp” story. He was also a rock hound with an extensive collection of rocks from around the world.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Willard and Shirley Dickson; sister, Susan Dickson; father-in-law, Lester Trosper; and brother- in-law, Randy Trosper.

Buz is survived by his wife, Leslee; daughters, Lynda (Zane) Montgomery, of Rosebud; Lori Dickson, of Polson; son, Erik (Jessica) Dickson, of Missoula; sisters, Joyce Rogers, of Columbia Falls, and Milanna (Alan) Shear, of Bethel, Alaska; sister-in-laws, Danna (Rich) Hurtt, of Billings, and Eldeana Davis, of Billings; brothers-in-law, Brad (Marilyn) Trosper and Bart Davis; grandkids, Layne, Ailee, Colton, Jade, Madeline, and Keaghan; 11 nephews; 3 nieces; and 16 great-nieces and nephews; and his mother-in-law, Alice Trosper.

Buz lived his life on his own terms and he passed on his own terms. At his request, there will be no services or funeral planned. Cremation has taken place. The family will have a celebration of his life to scatter his ashes on June 28, 2014, at The Cabin. All his friends and family are welcome to attend. Messages of condolences may be shared with the family online at

Rita Conway
BROWNING — Rita “M. Dolly” Conway, 72, passed quietly away at the Blackfeet Community Hospital of natural causes on October 18, 2013.

Rita, the eldest child of Andrew “Sonny Man” and Myrtle Crawford Sinclair, was born in Browning. She lived in various locations on the Blackfeet Reservation and began her education at Chief All Over School, on Blacktail Creek. She later attended the Busby Boarding School on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and Flandreau Indian High School in South Dakota. Rita continued her higher education at the University of Montana and the University of Great Falls. She was studying for her teacher’s certificate.

In 1958, Rita married Frederick “Butch” Conway at St. Anne’s Parish, in Heart Butte. During their years of marriage she gave birth to three daughters and a son. In 1960, Dolly and Butch relocated to Denver, Colorado, where Butch became a certified barber.Upon returning to Browning, Rita’s main employment was that of mother and homemaker. She later was employed as a clerk at Buttreys, a teacher’s aide in the Browning School system, a secretary for the H.I.P. program, and lastly, with KIPCO Hardware as a bookkeeper.

After the death of her husband in 1991, she enjoyed traveling and spending time with her children and grandchildren.She found great joy being surrounded by her 13 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.

Besides her husband, Rita was proceeded in death by: her parents; her younger sister, Myrna Weatherwax; brother, William Sinclair; and sister, Baby Girl Sinclair.

She is survived by: her children; Carla Conway Fleury, of Hawaii, Cheryl (Robert) Wild Gun, Carol Conway and Butch Conway, all of Browning; her siblings, brother, Roger (Patti) Sinclair, of Great Falls, and sisters, Jolene (Alvin) Wippert and Diane (Joe) Bird Rattler.

Rita was devout member of the Little Flower Parish. Her wake began Sunday, October 20, at Glacier Homes Community Center with a Rosary recited on Tuesday, at the Little Flower Parish in Browning. Mass was celebrated Wednesday, followed by the Interment in the Conway Meadow Family Cemetery. Condolences may be left at

John P. Conko
ST. IGNATIUS –— “One extraordinary man.” If you asked ten different people about who John Conko was, you will get a variation of answers. He was a caring, loving, trustworthy and loyal man. He was a jack-of-all-trades, productive, conscientious, respectable and thorough. He had integrity and pride – all men looked up to him – and he would make a special effort to excel. He was never above giving someone a hard time, which was his job. He was very admirable, a great mentor and hungry for knowledge. John could be stubborn and stern, but passionate and giving. He was unique and charismatic. If you dared to bump heads with “Bad John,” you would regret the day you were born. Rain, snow, shine, sick, broken, busted up, or worn out as all hell, you couldn’t keep him down. He was always on time, so you’d better be on time or scorned! John was ornery as a young man, a renegade in his prime, but as time passed he sobered and he aged like fine wine, becoming a better man who was tolerant, understanding, compassionate and kind.

John was the “peacemaker” of the family and the glue. He was always looking out for the needs of his loved ones and putting them first. He had a sense of humor and sarcastic nature. John was at the café every morning like clockwork with the “good ol’ boys” to give and get the daily dose.

John Conko was the first born son to Bill and Louise Conko, in Ronan. Times were tough, but he was tougher. John attended the Ursuline Catholic Schools as a juvenile and graduated from Flandreau, where he received carpenter training from 1961 to 1980. John then enlisted in the U.S. Army in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1962. John served his country in Vietnam (Airborne Division) achieving the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and receiving two badges, PRCHT and Combat Infantryman Badge. He was honorably discharged in 1968. After he was discharged, he went to Dallas to welding trade school from 1965 to 1968. After trade school, he came home to Montana to be a rancher, along with being employed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes working as a wildland recreation specialist. John also started the Iron Horse Fencing Company in 1980, with late brother, Eneas Conko.

When John was a crew boss firefighter, he met “Cowgirl” Linda Merchant, in 1983. John eventually left his job at CSKT to dedicate his time to his fencing business, farming, and ranch.

John had many loves and favorites, such as peanut butter and pancakes, strawberry rhubarb pie, fried potatoes, 1950's Rock ’n’ Roll, old westerns, the Bob Marshall Wilderness with close friends, camping with his family, hunting to provide, and working his sweat on the fence line.

John was preceded by: his mother, Louise V. Adams Conko; his father, William Conko; his sisters, Mary Christine Conko and Maggie Friedlander Conko; his brothers, Eneas Conko and Anthony Paul; his grandson, Mosey; his granddaughter, Athena; his loving friend, Gilma Bolman; along with many other loved ones.

He is survived by: best friend and sweetheart, “Cowgirl” Linda Merchant; daughters, Jessica Conko and Jennifer Merchant Read; sons, Chad Conko, T.J. Conko, Tim “Nevada” Merchant and Waco Merchant; grandchildren, Dakota, Teeka, Deon, Isaiah “Coyote,” Jonas “Deuce,” Logan “Ace,” Kendra, Kara, “Koty Bear,” Taylen, Uriah “Wolf,” Hadassah “Willow,” and Camas “Anthony”; sisters, Millie and Helen; brother, Harold; along with many nieces and nephews.

Services and military honors were held Saturday, October 12, at the Longhouse in St. Ignatius.

Helen Edith Oak
ST. IGNATIUS — Helen Edith Oak, 94, passed October 13, 2013, in St, Ignatius.

Born in Tacoma, Washington, on September 22, 1919, to William and Mary (Funkley) McBeth, she was raised in Alberta, receiving her education from Edmonton Normal School. Helen taught in many one room schools in Canada that included Barrhead, Northern Pride, Summerdale, Camp Creek and Butler, to name a few. In October of 1946, she married Helmer A. Oak and began her family in Edmonton with daughters, Alex and Bev, being born there. The family moved to Tacoma where she continued her family with her son, Don, being born in 1961, and graduated from Puget Sound University in 1967. She continued to teach and was involved with the Puyallup and Head Start Programs until she retired in 1982.

Moving to Des Moines, Washington, in the 1980’s, her husband passed in 1994. Helen moved to Montana four years ago to be closer to her children.

Survivors included her brother, William McBeth, of Ft. Saskatchewan, Canada; her children, Alex (Jack) Wright, of St. Ignatius, Beverly Bishop, of Ennis, and Don (Shirley) Oak, of Sandpoint, Idaho; and a son-in-law, Storrs Bishop, of Ennis.

No local services are planned and condolences may be left at

Lorena Nancy Sanders Lawson
ST. IGNATIUS — Lorena Nancy Sanders Lawson died Sunday, October 6, 2013. Born March 15, 1944, to Clyde and Adeline Sanders, Lorena graduated from Arlee High School and later attended the Modern Business School, as well as the University of Montana for a brief time.

In July, 1963, she married Michael Lawson and they were blessed with four daughters. Michael and Lorena divorced in 1979.

Lorena began working in February, 1975, for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as a receptionist, and later advanced to the Short-term Loan Manager, Personnel Director, Internal Auditor and Contract and Grants Manager. Lorena also worked for Salish Kootenai College. In September 2012, she began retirement due to her failing health.

Lorena stated to many that her life was inspired by her daughters and grandchildren. The most important thing in her life was her family’s health, happiness and financial security. Her daughters jokingly referred to her as “Super Mom.”

Survivors include: her daughters, Monica Sue (Donald) Pierce, Pamela (Steve) McDonald, Renee (Jason) Joachim and Kimberly (Amos Colman) Lawson; sister, Virginia Hunter; 10 grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; and a very special companion, Ed Ivanoff.

At her request, cremation has taken place, and a private family gathering will be held.

Joseph F. Butler
DIXON — Joseph F. Butler, 76, was called home Wednesday, October 2, 2013, after a courageous fight for life, he was surrounded by his precious family. Joseph “Joe,” a proud enrolled Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal member, was born July 17, 1937, in Polson, to Joseph Butler and Mona Ashley. He was separated from his parents at a very young age and was taken in by his paternal grandparents, Francis “Frank” and Nancy Butler. His years were spent growing up around the Polson area, where he attended school until the third grade. After his grandparent’s home, he went to live with his uncle, Nick, until the age of 16. It was then he left his boyhood home to start a life of his own. He traveled to Kalispell where he gained employment with the forest service and worked as a Forest Ranger for several years.

Joe came from a large family. He was born into a family of eight children. He has three full siblings, and four half siblings, a few of which he knew very well and a few he only met a time or two. He was very close to his brother, John, and spent his life as close as he could be, always doing the best he could to watch after his little brother. His favorite pastime was teasing and joking with John, right up until his last breath. His sister, Christine “Tina,” was very close to Joe and they grew up never far from each other, and who Joe also took it upon himself to try and take care of, until she married and made a family of her own. Joe and Tina remained very close right up into her death in 2005. Tina meant the world to Joe and he missed her everyday after she passed, and would speak of her often.

Joe met Betty Lake and had a brief relationship that resulted in the birth of a daughter, Sheri. After that separation, he met and married Sybil (Hawkins) Butler and they together had five children, and where he gained his step-daughter, and who he also claimed as his own.

Joe started his life career as a certified welder where he and his family moved to San Jose, California, where he attended welding school, earning his degree in welding.

The family returned back to Dixon, where they chose as their home. This is where Joe built a shop and was self-employed in his own business as a welder/mechanic, a job that he loved and was proud of. This is where he built many friendships working on cars, and then got into helping everyone that asked him for help with “demo derby” cars. A passion he had up until the time of his death. This is also when he began his 30 year employment as a “woods worker,” cutting post and poles, cord wood, and Christmas trees. He purchased a Caterpillar (CAT) and post peeler for equipment used to support his family. He loved the mountains and spent most of his time there working, or doing what he loved: hunting, fishing, and camping. As Joe grew older, and time spent in the mountains grew few, he talked fondly reminiscing of his life he spent in the mountains doing what he loved. After the harvesting of post and poles was stopped he applied at Salish Kootenai Housing Authority as a ground keeper, and then shortly after, he was promoted to “Foreman” and was the supervisor of his own small crew. He was very proud of this achievement, and this is also where he built his “work family” and spent 13 years building many friendships. Working in the outdoors doing the things he loved. Joe always had a smile on his face for everyone. He was a very hard worker with this job and with every job he has ever had. He put his heart into everything he did and this made him proud.

At 65, Joe was forced into retirement for health reasons. He never stopped talking about wishing he could still work, he missed working more then anything and it gave him peace in his heart. Joe was a family man from the beginning and was the proudest father after the birth of his first daughter, Pamela, with his then wife, Sybil. He would hold her for hours from the time she was born and would marvel in her beauty. Shortly thereafter, he and Sybil gave birth to the remainder of the children, who he loved more then life: four children: Jody, Juanita, Leslie, and Crystal. He loved being “Dad” more then anything, and grew close relationships with each of his children; he was always present in their lives and built a lifetime of precious memories.

In 1982 came the birth of three of his 46 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. From the first moment he became “Papa” he devoted his heart to each and every one of his grandkids. They all became the loves of his life. His own children and his grandchildren are the legacy of his unconditional love, and he made sure they knew he loved them with all his heart. From the very first child, to his very last, many of whom he helped to raise, right up to the day he went into the hospital, with his “special” boy, Dailon. He had patience, loved joking, humor, laughter, and his ever ending smile for all of them. He married into a very large family and as a result he became “Uncle Joe” to many nieces and nephews, and also a brother-in-law. He spent a lot of time with all of these people as well and developed a close relationship and friendship with all of them.

Joe loved camping, hunting, fishing, picking huckleberries, BBQ’s, and family get-togethers. He always loved to eat. He very much enjoyed being together with family and friends, just sitting back, relaxing and visiting.

He is preceded in death by his parents; sister, Christine; his first granddaughter, Camron; and infant great-granddaughter, Adileah.

He is survived by a large family, some of which he knew well, few of which only knew he was their brother. John (Karen) Butler, of Arlee; Tom (Susan) Antiste, of Elmo; Geraldine “Jeri” Butler, of Washington, and Sheila Maloy, Judith Maloy, Patrick Maloy, Jr. (of which he knew of, but never really knew).

He also leaves behind daughters: Pamela Butler, of Dixon, Jody Butler, of Polson, Juanita Butler, of Missoula, Crystal (Alex) Butler-Metcalf, of Dixon, and his son; Leslie “Les” (Tory) Butler, also of Dixon. Shelly (Shane) Hendrickson, of Arlee; 46 grand- and great-grandchildren (too numerous to mention by name); and he was also “Papa” to many other friends and spouses of his grandkids.

Joe spent the last month of his life confined to the hospital. Not one moment passed by that his beloved family was not by his side. He fought courageously for life, but in the end he told all of us, “I’m tired and I’m ready to go home.” Every single day he would tell each of us how much he loved us and that his life with us had been filled with love and happiness. With his last breath he whispered, "I love all of you (my children and my grandkids) with all my heart, never forget that. Don’t cry for me, I am not afraid to die.”

Dad was baptized Catholic at birth, but later in life he chose Christianity and asked the Lord Jesus into his life. He knew Jesus as his savior, and as he left this world to the Kingdom of Heaven, his soul was at peace.

A traditional wake services began Friday in the Longhouse in St. Ignatius, prayer service for the family and friends, as well as story sharing, continued through Saturday. On Sunday, funeral services will be held at the Longhouse where he wasbe given his final prayers by Pastor Lee Wraith. He was cremated and his ashes will be spread at the location he has chosen at a later date.