Esther G. “Este” Bengtson


Este Bengtson, a retired educator and state legislator, passed away on January 3, 2019. She was born on October 30, 1927 to Goodwin and Elizabeth (Jorgenson) Bergh in Froid, Montana. Este and her four sisters started life in a home on a dry land farm during the Great Depression. She and her family were shaped by these “hard times” and became strong supporters of the Montana Farmers Union. Throughout her life Este held a deep reverence for the land and people of northeastern Montana. Her lifelong devotion to the Lutheran faith and affection for her Scandinavian heritage were also nurtured during her early life.

Este graduated as the valedictorian of Froid High School, attended the University of Montana and graduated from the now Montana State University-Billings. She was teaching at a one room schoolhouse near Froid when she met her soon to be husband, Lawrence Bengtson, when he stopped to fix a flat tire for her. Este and Larry were married on September 29, 1948 and they were soon raising three “stair step” blond daughters on their dry land farm near Froid. The Bengtson family moved to Shepherd in 1960, where Este taught for many years at Shepherd High School and lived with her family on their farm. In 2014, Este and Larry moved to West Park Retirement Community in Billings. Larry passed away in 2015, after 67 years of marriage.

Este was a devoted public servant. Her first partisan politics experience occurred when she volunteered to work in former Democratic Governor Ted Schwinden’s initial run for the state legislature in 1957. Este’s campaign work involved driving around in her car with speakers strapped on top broadcasting Schwinden’s political message; she later said of this undertaking that she probably “reached more cows than people.” Este began her own political career in 1973, when she ran for and won the Shepherd area State House seat. She served in the Montana House from 1974-1984 and State Senate from 1984-1992. During her legislative career she successfully sponsored legislation establishing the interstate highway logo signs which indicate the location of tourist-oriented services. Some of her other legislative interests included education, water policy and, of course, the state budget. She served on the House Appropriations and Senate Finance and Claims committees for 16 years. Este had friends on “both sides of the aisle” and considered herself an independent voter, but moderate Democrat legislator. Some of her other public service activities included trying to establish a water and sewer district for the Shepherd area. And while acting as Co-Chair of the Shepherd Senior Citizens organization, she helped acquire funding to build the Shepherd Community Center.

Este valued the many friendships she made at every stage of her life. She lived most of her years around Shepherd within a large extended family. All significant family gatherings had to feature some Scandinavian food, toasts of Aquavit and singing a verse of the celebratory song Hun Skal Leve (sometimes endlessly).

Later in life, Este began her final career as a real estate agent.   She and Larry wintered in Arizona for more than 20 years and bought a home in Mesa. In retirement she enjoyed reading, offering her opinions about politics, fishing and painting. She also enjoyed traveling with colleagues and family on many international trips.

As her physical frailties grew in her final years, Este generally maintained a positive outlook on life. She continued to enjoy good food and drink, visiting with friends and insisting on traveling to see family and to personally welcome each new great-grandchild into the family.

Este believed that each and every day was not to be wasted; to be idle was not acceptable. Later in life she admitted that this ethic could be both a “blessing” and a “curse.”

Este was a member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Shepherd Seniors, the Democratic Party, Sigma Kappa sorority, the Lewis and Clark Bicentenial Commission and the Pompey’s Pillar Historical Association.

She is survived by her three daughters: Kristianne Wilson of Shepherd, Monica (Pat) Holland of Centennial, CO and Jennifer (Bill) Sykes of Memphis, TN; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.  She also is survived by five grandchildren:  Stacy (Brett) Oakleaf of Centennial, CO; Megan (Ben) Spotts of Centennial, CO; Joshua (Lindsay) Sykes of Bridgeport, WV; Evan (Courtney) Wilson of Highlands Ranch, CO; and Collin Wilson of Shepherd; as well as ten great-grandchildren: Julia and Carly Spotts; Brady and Sydney Oakleaf; Kinley, Emery, Sophie and Maisy Sykes; Blaire and Jett Wilson; and her sister Doris Martinson (Gary) Hilde of Billings.

She was preceded in death by her parents and stepfather K.P. Lindegaard, husband Lawrence, sister Elinor and husband Robert Schulz, sister Connie and husband Richard Lindborg, sister Laura and husbands Jim and Jack Barrett, brother-in-law Vernon Martinson, son-in-law Craig Wilson and two nieces, Adaire Schulz Moore and Roberta Schulz Bomar and a great-granddaughter Brianna Spotts.  Funeral services and burial will be held at 11AM Tuesday January 8, 2018 at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Shepherd.  A reception will follow in the church basement. The family requests that memorials be given to Emmanuel Lutheran Church or RiverStone Health.  The family wishes to thank West Park staff and RiverStone Hospice staff for providing a safe, caring and active community for our mother in the last years.