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 Benjamin Charles “Ben” Steele

Benjamin Charles “Ben” Steele

Birth
Roundup, Musselshell County, Montana, USA
Death 25 Sep 2016 (aged 98)
Billings, Yellowstone County, Montana, USA
Burial Billings, Yellowstone County, Montana, USA
Plot Garden of Devotions, Lot 210, A
Memorial ID 170864384 · View Source
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(Billings Gazette)

Ben Steele, defender, artist, educator, and Montana treasure, died Sept. 25, 2016.

Benjamin Charles Steele was born Nov. 17, 1917, in Roundup, to Benjamin Cardwell Steele and Elizabeth Gertrude McCleary Steele. He was raised on the family ranch his father established on Hawk Creek in the Bull Mountains.

Losing the ranch from the Great Depression and drought, the family moved to Billings in 1932. Ben graduated from Billings Senior High School in 1939, after dropping out two years to help support the family. He worked for Snook Art Company while in high school and installed windows in the new school. He was working on the Carroll Clark ranch at Pompey’s Pillar when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941.

After basic training at March Field, California and duty at Kirkland Field, New Mexico, Ben was assigned to the 7th Materiel Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group. He arrived at Clark Field, Philippine Islands in October, 1941. The invasion of the Philippines began and Ben fought on Bataan, made the Bataan Death March, and was a prisoner of the Japanese for three and a half years.

On the ship to Manila, Ben met Quentin Pershing DeVore, who became his best ‘jolio’ buddy. He was fed scraps from the kitchen by Merrill Lee in Bilibid Prison and buddied with Gerald Coward on Bataan.

Upon his return to the states, Ben was attached to Baxter General Hospital in Spokane, Wash., for a year. He married Roberta Mellis of Billings in February, 1946. They divorced in 1949.

Ben earned a Cleveland Institute of Art Diploma in 1950, a BS degree from Kent State University in 1951, and an MA Degree from Denver University in 1955. He also pursued further study at Illinois State University and the University of Oregon. He taught art in New London, Ohio, where he met Shirley Ann Emerson. They married Aug. 31, 1952.

Ben served as Crafts Director for Special Services, Department of Army from 1953 to 1959, as Post Crafts Director at Fort Riley, Kansas, and as staff Crafts Director of the Military District of Washington, D.C. and Third Army, Fort McPherson, Georgia. He returned to Montana in 1959, and joined the faculty at Eastern Montana College (now MSUB), where he chaired the art department and taught life drawing, watercolor, oil, portraiture, and art history. He retired as Professor of Art Emeritus in 1982, and taught one quarter for four more years.

Throughout his career Ben gave workshops, demonstrations (a fried egg in two strokes), lectures and gallery talks at museums, schools, civic groups and judged countless art exhibits. He served as a consultant to the Department of Defense, Marshall Islands for the design of a crafts facility and wrote the manual for the Department of Army Crafts Directors.

Ben exhibited in one-man and group shows throughout the country and his illustrations appear in over 20 books and several documentaries. He illustrated Tears In The Darkness by Michael and Elizabeth Norman. His Montana landscapes grace public and private collections. The Ben Steele World War II POW Collection has been gifted to the Montana Museum of Art & Culture at the University of Montana and his 36 sketchbooks to the General Douglas MacArthur Museum in Norfolk, Va.

Named Outstanding Employee by Department of the Army in 1958 and Teacher of the Year, Montana Education Association in 1964, he was given a Teaching Award in 1977 and a Distinguished Professor Award in 1980 at Eastern Montana College. In 1992, Ben and his wife Shirley were presented with the Montana Governor's Award for Art.

Ben served as president, Yellowstone Art Center Board; member, Yellowstone Art Center Commission; Director, Billings Art Association and Montana Institute of the Arts.

Ben was a member of First United Methodist Church, the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, the Stillwater Society, Billings Golden K Kiwanis, the Elks, American Legion, VFW, DAV, the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, and the Montana Pro-Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame. His latest honor was the naming of Billing’s new middle school, The Ben Steele Middle School.

A “Survivor,” Ben was devoted to his Creator, his family, his country, and his art. Art was something he was compelled to do. Through his landscapes he taught people to see, appreciate, and take care of the land. His gifts of talent, caring, and humor are known to all of his students. Their mantra is his “red, yellow, blue in everything you do.” The only activities that vied with art were hunting and fishing; in later years fishing prevailed. He fished the Firehole, Madison, Stillwater, Bighorn, and Yellowstone Rivers with enthusiasm and dedication, tying enticing flies and releasing the trout.

Ben was preceded in death by his parents; his grandparents, James and Margaret Cardwell Steele and George and Rose Ann Lunney McCleary; his sisters, Gertrude Dunham and Jean Steele; and brothers, Warren and Joseph Steele.

He is survived by his wife; daughters Rosemarie Steele and Julie (James) Jorgenson; and son, Sean Emerson Steele; six grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandson.


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  • Created by: E. Saunders
  • Added: 4 Oct 2016
  • Find A Grave Memorial 170864384
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Benjamin Charles “Ben” Steele (17 Nov 1917–25 Sep 2016), Find A Grave Memorial no. 170864384, citing Sunset Memorial Gardens, Billings, Yellowstone County, Montana, USA ; Maintained by E. Saunders (contributor 47123508) .