Lewis Jordan “Joe” Stilson slipped from this earthly life into heaven at the age of 88 on May 24, 2021. Christened Lewis Jordan on March 15, 1933, he was the son of George and Lorna (Miner) Stilson. He gave himself the nickname, “Joe,” at an early age to avoid confusion with his namesake, paternal grandfather Louis and an Uncle Lewis. Joe lived the first few years of his life at the family farm near Glengarry, before they moved to the Stilson ranch on Lower Spring Creek in 1938.
Joe was a 1951 graduate of Fergus County High School. His heart was always set on being a farmer/rancher and that was reflected in his high school activities. He was active in FFA and was proud to have been elected as a state FFA First Vice President his senior year. He was also a 10-year 4-Her and won a trip to the 30th Anniversary of the National 4-H Congress in Chicago in leadership. He went on to be a 4-H leader.
Joe enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1951 during the Korean War and was stationed at Camp Hanford, Wash. When his superiors figured out that the young private knew a bit about putting in fence posts from his ranch work, they enlisted him to signal school and he served as a pole lineman during his two years of service. He was released early on a medical hardship when his father became seriously ill, but served another eight years with the Army Reserve. He was a 50+ year member of the American Legion Post No. 16.
Joe began courting a young school teacher, Geraldine “Geri” Schilreff in 1958, and within a few months they were engaged, then married in her hometown of Hardin on Feb. 28, 1959. They recently celebrated their 62nd Anniversary. He had a sweet tradition of seeking out the first crocus every spring and presenting a bouquet to his beloved bride.
Joe was a remarkable steward of the Stilson Ranch and was committed to continually improving the land to which he was entrusted. He raised beautiful alfalfa for feed for his commercial herds of Hereford, then later moving to Simmental, Gelbvieh, then Black Angus cattle. Through the years they expanded the farming operation to barley and wheat crops. He and Geri purchased summer pasture on Beavercreek in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains in 1980, and the family has many special memories centered upon both the Lower Spring Creek and Beavercreek ranch. Joe was proud to pass the torch to his oldest son, Daniel, who is now working with the fourth generation, as his son, Jordan, returned to the family ranch in 2015.
Joe’s father, George, was a founding member of the Lewistown Ditch Company, and Joe and his neighbors and their successors have worked hard to continue bringing and maintaining the irrigation water originating from Big Spring Creek in Lewistown to producers along the route to Hanover.
Joe was a 70-year member of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles in Lewistown, a long-time member of the First Presbyterian Church of Lewistown, and enjoyed participating in many skits, pinochle nights and social events through the years with the South Moccasin Community Club. Upon their retirement, he and Geri enjoyed being snowbirds in Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Mexico, then Yuma, Ariz. Joe became quite the shuffleboard player and won a number of tournaments.
Joe never met a stranger, and was bound to strike up conversations with people in cafes, gas stations, and waiting rooms across the country. His love of a good joke and embellished stories endeared him to his family and old and new friends alike. Alzheimer’s slowly took away his ability to communicate his yarns, but his family is comforted by the thought of him picking up those stories in his new heavenly home; no doubt bringing an indulgent smile to the face of His Savior, Jesus.
Joe is survived by his wife, Geri Stilson; children, Dan (Sherry) Stilson of Lewistown, Carrie (Kelly) Mantooth of Denton, Scott (Susie) Stilson of Pulllayup, Wash., and Diane Stilson of Helena; seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren; a sister, Betty Maruska of Lewistown; and numerous other relatives and beloved friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents, a newborn grandchild, Jacob Stilson, aunts and uncles, including his favorite fishing buddy, Madison Miner.
A memorial service is planned for Saturday, July 24th, at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Lewistown, followed by a barbeque at the Stilson Ranch
Memorials may be directed to the First Presbyterian Church of Lewistown or the charity of one’s choice and they may be left with the Cloyd Funeral Home. Condolences for the family may be posted online at www.cloydfuneralhome.com.