Michael Francis Elliott 45, of Billings and formerly of Lewistown answered when Jesus whispered, “It’s time to go home” on Monday October 7th, 2019 in Billings. Michael was born on August 23, 1974 to Darrel and Christa (Watson) Elliott in Spokane, WA. He was a very active boy, always busy building or taking something apart. Shoe boxes of miscellaneous parts abounded around the Elliott house. When he was five, his brother Brian was born, and his sister Kelly soon followed. He was protective of his younger siblings. Brian credits Michael for saving his life many times and almost always answering the phone when he called and needed to hear a friendly voice. Kelly remembers him always trying to make her laugh. He struggled to be tamed in school, kicking Mr. Rudd, the principal, when he was being disciplined for misbehaving. Michael would later confirm that “principals with paddles” was not a myth and yes, they did use them! Darrel served on the School Board and Christa as a substitute staff member just to help keep him in school. Those years were difficult for him, but around fourth grade he developed an insatiable love for reading. Before having children, a common sight was Michael laying on the couch reading all day on a Saturday, with a cat or two sleeping on his lap. He devoured biographies, Louis L’Amour westerns, Marine Corp. history, and American war history books.
At the age of 8, the family moved to Billings, Montana. Michael attend Lockwood School and Senior High, graduating in 1994. Michael was a Boy Scout, starting as a Cub Scout and going through to Life Scouts, just shy of Eagle Scout. Summer camp was a highlight every year and he was proud of his accomplishments. Through these years, this organization incited a deep appreciation for the outdoors. A vigorous outdoorsman, he was highly knowledgeable about wilderness survival techniques, even reading a survival book that explained how to extract a cavity-laden tooth, which he practiced on himself to Kristi’s horror. He was prepared for anything while on family hikes or camping.
Hugely athletic, Michael ran in cross country and track and took part in pole vaulting. Soccer was another favorite childhood sport, up to high school. Michael met Kurt Schulz as a teenager and a fire ignited inside him for racing cars. He studied and earned his racing license. Kurt took him to Colorado for a race. As Michael was racing Kurt’s car, he went under a bridge and came to a blind spot. As the car flipped sideways and continued flying down the track, Kurt held his breath as the crowd gasped. Michael eventually corrected the racecar and finished the race. Kurt inquired as to what happened and Michael said, “I was just having some fun!” He did things his way, Kurt recalls. Kurt was a father-figure to him. Michael profoundly trusted and respected him. They would remain lifelong friends. Michael always wanted to get back into racing but never did. He still had his helmet from those years. As a young man, friends said you would take your life in your hands if you rode with Michael. Michael and his best friend, John Bush, were in a horrific accident or two as teenagers, walking away with barely a scratch. As a family man, he was a cautious driver. Kristi and the kids teased him that he drove like an old man.
A 1964 Mustang was his first love. In junior high, he saved up and bought her. He parked it in the family’s shed to fix it up and there were engine and car parts everywhere. Slowly, he snuck her engine - a piece at a time - into the house, placing her on a pallet in his bedroom. Covering the engine with a tarp and a blanket, he faked a pile of toys so no one would suspect. He hooked up a light in the shed and would sneak out to work on her when he was supposed to be in bed. Blaring music gave him away and irritated the neighbors. Fifteen years into his marriage, there was only one piece of her remaining – a hubcap. As Michael and Kristi moved to a new home in Lewistown, Kristi found the hubcap in a box. Thinking it was something she acquired from her car salesman father, she threw it into a moving sale. Michael’s enthusiastic smile at the success of the sale quickly diminished as Kristi relayed how, “even a junky old hubcap from a Mustang fetched $10!” He recognized the sadness that this news brought to Kristi. He said to her often, “How can I make you smile today?” Even then, he did not disappoint. Comforting her by smiling and shrugging, he said, “I’ve had that tucked away for too long, someone should be enjoying it.” His kindness and tenderness melted his mom’s heart one Valentine’s Day. Purchasing a large diamond ring from the school’s book fair, he presented it to her so she wouldn’t be sad because his father had to be out of town that year.
Throughout Michael’s life, the Hruska Family Ranch in Lewistown, Montana was one of his favorite places on earth, where his wild spirit could soar. There was never a shortage of hilarious stories during these visits. Once, he and his cousin Frank, missed Papa’s funeral. As the family returned to the Ranch, they found a sight to behold – Michael and Frank were driving three-wheelers down the Truck Bypass in nothing but their “tightly whities.” Never embarrassed at hearing relatives relay this story, Michael grinned his mischievous smile. He was extremely close and devoted to his grandma, Helen (Hruska) Schultz. In fact, when he started dating Kristi, he took her to Lewistown to meet Grandma Helen. Both being avid readers, he acquired her extensive book collection after her death, which he cherished.
A bit of a wild spirit, Michael decided to join the Marine Corp. after high school. These years would stay dear to his heart, tame his spirit (a little), and foster lifelong friendships with men he affectionately called, “My Brothers,” - Steve Dougherty, Mike Kersey, Rick Teague, George Rohrberg, Brian Jackson, Jeff McDonald, Elijah McStotts, Patrick Walker, Chris Mania, and Mike Wilcox. Tina Parsons was a female Marine with whom remained a lifelong friend, as well. He was known as a prankster who loved to make people smile. While in the Corp., Michael accomplished much. Known for his brilliant mind, photographic memory, and ability to pick up technical things so quickly that it was said he made highly technical and difficult tasks look easy. While the others used rulers and other tools to complete electronic and wire schematic drawings, Michael was admired for his ability to draw them freehand with “precision like an artist.” He earned the Navy Achievement Metal for his management of a communications shop – a position held for staff two ranks above his – while still completing his own job tasks, conducting himself professionally and doing an exceptionally good job. Regarded as a “great Marine,” he was proud, marched well, knew the history, ironed precise creases in his shirts and kept his uniform impeccably clean. It was even reported that he folded his underwear. Kristi couldn’t hold back an eyeroll and a chuckle as Steve revealed this sentiment. Michael always teased her because she folded his underwear, saying, “I’ve never known anyone to fold underwear before.”
After the Marine Corp., he spent about six months in Bozeman, thinking about college before moving back to Billings. Through his studies in the Corp., Michael discharged with nearly 75% of the credits he needed for an Associate’s Degree. In 1998, he enrolled at Montana State University-Billings, taking computer programming classes. He skipped more class than he attended. A classmate named Kristi Lindell, eyeing him for his gorgeous, curly brown locks and big blue eyes, offered to get him caught up after he skipped two weeks of class. Talking about everything under the sun, into the wee hours of the morning, Michael never did get his assignments done. Instead, he was working on solidifying his future with this girl. Although he did not finish a degree, Michael has stacks of certificates, totaling more than a bachelor’s degree in, computers, radio, electronics, and communications.
Kristi enjoyed spending time with Michael. Attentive, highly intelligent, a lover of books, hardworking, and a heart of gold sealed the deal. Kristi invited him over for dinner and to watch a movie. She recalls that he had terribly stinky feet, but she did not say a word because she enjoyed being in his presence. They stayed up all night talking and a friendship, then a romance blossomed. On June 23, 2001, Kristi and Michael wed at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Billings. She was reserved and he was wild at heart. They bought a house on Burlington Avenue in Billings where many large family gatherings occurred. Michael was a self-proclaimed packrat and prided himself on his dumpster dive finds. He had picked up a couch from the roadside and thought he was bringing that into their new home. Kristi let him know that the scorched iron mark on the cushion didn’t match her décor. For this reason, they ate their first meal sitting on the living room floor together - Taco Bell. One of Kristi’s fondest memories. The new couple enjoyed exploring Montana, hiking, and tried to watch movies together. His, “Raising Arizona” was a far cry from her, “Princess Bride” – a movie he would quote to her all the rest of their years together…”as you wish.”
Michael was a rock-hound and history buff, so trips to Montana’s Yogo Sapphire Mine in the Little Belt Mountains and spending hours combing riverbanks was a favorite pastime while Kristi listened to him tell her about the history of the area. She was forever finding more and more baskets and glass jars for his rock treasures. He was a good sport but teased that his “back was breaking,” as she asked him to carry armfuls of large river rocks home so she could paint animals on them. Some of their traveling highlights were to Yellowstone National Park, Nye, camping at Crystal Lake with an overly friendly deer, traveling the Snowy, South Moccasins, and Judith Mountains, the ice caves in the Pryor Mountains where Michael was almost bitten by a rattlesnake, Lewis and Clark Caverns, a two week camping trip to Coeur d’ Alaine, Idaho, and many more.
Michael’s proudest moments were when his children were born. First came a son in 2005. Michael handed Kristi a Marine Corp. history book and teased that she could pick any name she wanted but it had to come from the book. As she thumbed through, the Ralphs and Oscars were not appealing to her. Finally, the last name “Brenner” stuck. A son, only an hour old, heard his first reading of his father’s favorite childhood book, Go Dog Go! Michael would be heard asking the kids for years after, “Do you like my hat?” He took Brenner camping, hunting, fishing, and hiking, taught him how to take a gun apart and put it back together. They spent hours floating Spring Creek together and Michael almost always lost his phone in the Creek. He went through more phones that anyone we know! He orchestrated rides in a helicopter, police car, ambulance, fire truck, and a co-pilot seat with a colleague, Jim Steil, in his twin-engine airplane. He bragged to his friends that he thought Brenner was a better shot than he. He was with Brenner in 2015 when he shot his first buck and in 2018 when Brenner shot his first cow elk. He was always proud of Brenner. He loved building in the snow. The pair built many huge igloos together. They could fit inside with a small heater, as they enjoyed lunch together – one of Brenner’s favorite memories. He taught Brenner to honor and respect military and police officers by shaking their hand and thanking them for their service, a practice that Brenner still performs today. Michael called Brenner, his Little Buddy.
In 2008, Isabella came along. A sweet tenderness came out of him when he was with her. He would sit for hours and play dolls or have tea parties with her. When she was three, he took her to a beauty shop to treat her to a Princess Day. Getting her hair styled and her toes painted was a special treat. He picked out a dress and when she was prettied up, he changed her. To him, she was a princess. But princesses need to know how to shoot, too. When she was six, he bought her a pink Daisy BB gun and taught her how to shoot it. He called her, his Little Lady. He had ambitious hopes for Isabella’s future and talked often about her meeting his great aunt, Mary Jane Schmidt. Michael admired Mary Jane for her intellect and impressive endeavors. He loved building forts in the living room and playing house with both children. He was immensely proud of both of their accomplishments.
As a family, we enjoyed playing board games. His favorite game was Cribbage. We had many different board variations, but his favorite board was the one handed down from his Grandma Helen who taught him to play. He and Kristi played many games of Cribbage. Kristi often lost to him, but she enjoyed the challenge and was over-the-moon when she beat him. Michael recently taught Isabella to play. She has a highly mathematical mind like his and she was a formidable competitor.
Camping was a family favorite. Michael was a skilled outdoorsman and a good leader out in the wilderness. He’d pack the camper and get everyone ready, mostly because he didn’t want to start on fire again. On Kristi and Michael’s first wedding anniversary, they went camping at Crystal Lake. Kristi was excited because she purchased a two-burner propane Coleman stove from a garage sale. As Michael tried to light it, it apparently had a leak and a fireball singed his long eyelashes and eyebrows. Needless to say, the stove was never again used, and she was not allowed to purchase camping gear. He taught the kids how to build a fire, track wild animals, and be a good steward of this beautiful state. Nothing was shot and killed without eating it. Conservation was important to him and he passed that down. We loved to canoe. Michael always made sure we wore life jackets. He would often not wear one because he was a skilled swimmer, having been a lifeguard. He got caught without a lifejacket at Lake Elmo and earned himself a ticket while we were canoeing one summer day. We teased him about this for years afterward. Outdoor sports were not just for the summer as he loved to snowmobile, ski, and sled, too. We spent many wintery days in the Judith Mountains playing in the snow.
Michael was a master at cooking wild meat, you couldn’t tell it was game. He and Brenner ate squirrel, rabbit, whitetail, and mule deer. When it came to other cooking, Michael had a hard time boiling water. To relieve Kristi of some household chores, he would sometimes pitch in to cook. We came to the table to discover such meals as chopped tomatoes with cashews over a bed of spaghetti noodles. He called it spaghetti. We did not. His concoctions were endless and better presented in a laboratory, but he was so proud of them. He had meticulously thought-out reasons for every bizarre combination. He enjoyed subjecting the kids to different foods such as snails, octopus, frog legs, and dissecting critters such as whole crabs he brought home from the grocery store.
He was known as the “Cat Whisperer.” Shortly after getting married, Michael and Kristi rescued many cats. Michael would never let a cat stay outside at night after Renee was killed by a dog. He would walk the streets, calling them until found. One night, it rained hard and Noah was not home. Michael walked the streets for nearly six hours looking for Noah before finally coming home to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. Noah was hiding under a tarp at the neighbors all along, but old age took his hearing and he did not hear Michael calling. When he came home, Michael scooped him up and held him for over an hour, loving on him. As years passed, Michael would come home, sit down and within a minute he would have four or five cats up on his lap and chest. He was allergic to them and sneezed uncontrollably as his eyes puffed up, but he would love them unconditionally.
Michael was talented in many areas and took substantial pride in his work. He created signs for Sign Crafters, driving Kristi around town to show her his work. He’d get out and inspect the signs and node with satisfaction. He repaired automobiles for his friend Kurt Schulz and fixed computers for Computer Renaissance, before landing at Industrial Communications and Electronics for the extent of his adult life. His extensive knowledge base and relentless troubleshooting skills earned him the trust of his customers. He eventually became a Project Leader and then was recruited by Brian Hamilton to join the sales department, which Michael eventually become a partner and an owner. In 2015, after Brian’s death, Michael broke off from C3 Consulting to purchased Centana Communications in Lewistown, Montana. Here he would take his family to the mountain tops to show us the towers he built or microwaves he installed. He made this work look easy. For that, he was contacted from customers and other technicians all over Montana to perform his “magic” and give advice. Kristi always said, “You won’t find a more brilliant guy in this field.” He had a great support group in Jim Steil, Tom Dunne, Dave Green, and Dorothy Gremaux. He was so proud of his work in Lewistown but wearing all the hats of his own company proved to be a heavy load. This is when the signs of his bi-polar disorder peeked. Michael continued to use alcohol to calm the paranoia and extreme highs and lows, not understanding them. These diseases took Michael away from his family the last two years, a separation that was hard on us all. His mother-in-law, Bonita, developed a close bond with him during this time.
Michael will always be remembered for his quirky sense of humor, charming personality, deep love for those few that were in his inner-circle, strong protective instincts toward his family and those he loved, his love for Jesus, and for being a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a nephew, and uncle, and a friend. His giving, kind-nature was instilled in his children and will always be remembered.
He is survived by his wife of 18 years, Kristi (Lindell) Elliott; children: Brenner and Isabella; parents: Darrel and Christa (Watson) Elliott; siblings, Brian (Johna) Elliott of Cheyenne, WY, Kelly (Scott) Filbin of Lolo, MT; parents in-law: Leslie Lindell, Bonita (Raitt) Burton, Jim Wright, Jr.,all of Billings, MT; siblings in-law: Brandi (Jesse) Budell of Pompey’s Pillar, MT, James (Mary) Wright, Josh (Jewel) Wright, JaDeen Wright, Jared Lindell and Brittany Lindell all of Billings, MT, Luke Lindell of Nashville, TN; nieces and nephews: Cody Boehm, Taylor Rae Seal, Briann Stone, Christian Budell, Cade Budell, Jesse Budell, Daniel and Amanda (Budell) Edwards, Alyas Wright, Jadyn Wright, Damon Rohr, Nakota Filbin, Augustus Lindell; uncle and aunts: Russ and Cary Jo (Watson) Horning and Leslie Watson of Billings, MT, Lori Marie Watson of Vancouver, WA, Kim Watson of Tarkio, MO, Cheryl Elliott of New Jersey, Mary Jane Schmidt of Bellevue, WA; Cousins: Lori and Andrew Kitts of Livingston, MT, Benjamin and Stephanie Fouse Lowville, NY, Chris and Mary (Fouse) McKean of Stevensville, MT, Dustin and Ashley Horning of Rapid City, SD, Jason and Carlee (Horning) Walsh of Ladera Ranch, CA; and many dear friends.
He was proceeded in death by his grandparents: George and Dortha (Kittinger) Elliott, Helen (Watson) Schultz, Frank and Mary (Sramek) Hruska, Robert Floyd Watson, Robert and Gertrude Alice (McCann) Watson; cousin: Frank Fouse; nephew: Bobby Budell.
And everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. ~John 11:26
Special thanks to Ken Loss, friend and pastor of New Life Assembly of God Church (Lewistown, MT) and Dick Brown of Cloyd’s Funeral Home (Lewistown, MT), and Cremation and Funeral Gallery (Billings, MT) for the dignity and care with funeral arrangements and services. Kristi would like to thank everyone who has reached out with support. So many have walked through this journey with us, praying and lifting us up. A special thank you to Brandi Budell, Brenda Loss, Jody Hunter, Chrissy Marquart, Linda Jawort, Dorothy Gremaux, Renee Sanofsky and so many others who have wrapped your arms around us and held us upright during so many parts of our journey. You are the true definition of sisters. And for Michael, special thanks to Joshua and Sandy Randall, Brad Brown, Charlie Gilmore, Gregory Paskell, his Marine Corp. Brothers and numerous others who prayed for and lifted him up in his time of need.
Memorial Services for Michael F. Elliott will be Saturday, October 19, 2019 at 11:00 AM in New Life Assembly of God Church, 515 7th Ave. N., Lewistown, MT. Interment with military honors will be held at a later date in the Yellowstone National Cemetery, Laurel, MT. Cremation has taken place. To honor his love for Lewistown and the outdoors, Kristi and his children will spread his ashes in the Judith Mountains near Lewistown, MT at a later date. The Cloyd Funeral Home is assisting the family.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to help with funeral expenses. Donations can be made to “The Michael F. Elliott Memorial Fund” at any Glacier Bank or sister bank including the following the First Bank of Montana, 224 W. Main St., Lewistown, MT 59457, Western Security Bank, 2845 Old Hardin Rd., Billings, MT 59101 or may be left with the Cloyd Funeral Home. Condolences for the family may be posted online at www.cloydfuneralhome.com.