Leslie Willie Habener, 90, slipped these earthly bounds on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 10, to join his wife Janet by the sparkling waters of God’s eternal river where the rainbow trout are jumping high and begging to bite at every line they cast.
Leslie was born April 26, 1916, on a homestead in the Bull Mountains near Musselshell, Montana. He was the fourth of five children born to Herman Christopher and Marie Sophie Habener. Only his younger sister, Gladys Marie Rawlins of Billings, Montana survives of Les’s immediate family. Les attended school in several smaller Montana towns including Park City where he graduated from High School as a stand out basketball player and track star.
“Hab” took up a railroad career in 1937 with the Northern Pacific Railroad where he worked as a switchman and retired as General Yardmaster with Burlington Northern in 1980, ending his 44 year career. He always stated he never had a day he didn’t want to go to work. A highlight of his career was being on the crew which moved the last working steam engine from the Billings railroad yards to its current historical display atop the Rims. Although his job qualified him for an armed service deferment, he joined the Air Force during World War II, and spent one year in England serving in what he called the “Chairborn” Division doing clerical support work for the US troops serving in Europe. Before he mustered out to England, he met his future wife and life-long partner, Janet Winona Francis, in Portland, Oregon where she worked in the shipyard offices. They saved their sweetheart war correspondences, which will be donated to the archives at the University of Montana in Missoula.
Les married Janet in Rainier, Oregon on January 26, 1946. They moved into a new home on what was then Billing’s West end at 1236 Custer Avenue where they lived for fifty years. Les’s most important life value was family. He and Janet, who passed away on February 25, 2006, raised three children. His son, Leslie Willie Habener, Jr. preceded his father in death in June, 2003. He is survived by his daughters, Marie Elena Habener of Dillon and Gail Idelle Habener of Livingston. Les proudly claimed Gail’s husband, Mark Fischer, as a son-in-law. He generously and joyously accepted his role as “Grumpa” to his sole surviving grandchild, Somerfield Clark Habener of Eugene, Oregon.
Les taught his family the value and love of living in what he considered the paradise of Montana. He was a fly fisherman extraordinaire before fly fishing was cool! He introduced his children to the wonder of Montana…places such as Sweetgrass Creek for camping and picnicking, the open plains of Eastern Montana for pheasant, deer and antelope hunting, McLeod for swimming, and Yellowstone Park for tourist watching. He took his son Les on one of the last float trips down the Big Horn River before Yellowtail dam was built. He taught all three of his children to ride horses bareback. Every summer caught him coaxing beauty out of his perennial flowers and flavor out of his carefully tended tomato and cucumber plants. His work for the railroad provided travel for annual family vacations to the West Coast to spend time with relatives, clam digging at the beach and salmon fishing. His retirement gave him what he had too little time for when he worked…camping and fishing with his wife Janet and his grandson.
Friends are invited to his celebration of life on Monday, May 15 at Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary, 1001 Alderson, at 1:00 pm. Internment with military honors, will immediately follow at Mountview Cemetery. Memorials may be sent to the Tobacco Root Mountain Care Center Auxiliary in Sheridan, Montana where Les spent the last year of his life.