Lowell Henry “Ron” Cloninger, 82, of Missoula and Swan Lake, MT, died peacefully in his home on February 20, 2019 from complications due to cancer with his family at his side.
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Lowell was born July 26, 1936 in Helena, MT to Dan and Lillian (Gagnon) Cloninger. His early childhood was spent in Helena. In the 5th grade, the family moved to Wolf Creek, MT when his parents purchased the “Oasis” bar and café. The family first lived in a small log home with no indoor bathroom. Behind was an outhouse and showers occurred once a week at the nearby gas station. His first job was delivering papers, often aboard his favorite horse, “Brownie”. He attended Helena High boarding with a local family, occasionally getting back and forth by hitchhiking. Upon graduating in 1954, he joined the Navy at the “suggestion” of his father. Big Dan’s advice was sound; Lowell emerged more mature and with a plan to attend MSU on the GI bill majoring in chemical engineering.
He met Gwendolyn Fitzgerald of Sheridan Wyoming in 1959 while she was dating one of his friends. Somehow, he talked her into switching horses and they married in August of 1960. Little did Mom know that she was beginning a 58-year training mission. While attending MSU he joined the Sigma Chi Fraternity where he made many lifelong friends. He graduated in 1961 with a B.S. in chemical engineering and accepted a job in Salt Lake working on the minuteman missile program. His interest in rocketry and space was lifelong but the pull of Montana proved too strong. The now growing family moved to Missoula in 1966 where he embarked on a career in the pulp and paper industry lasting more than 25 years.
In December of 1993 Lowell was diagnosed with lung cancer. While detected early, his first doctor told him he would likely die within a year. True to form, and with the help of a friend of Mom’s, he got himself a new doctor with a better attitude. Intensive radiation and chemotherapy ensued at Baylor Medical Center followed by the removal of the tumor and a portion of his lung. He returned to work in May 1994 but soon found he could not perform to his normal standard and decided to retire. Calling cancer a blessing might get that “oh really?” look from Lowell but it allowed him to focus on his family which he did for the remainder of his life, mainly at Swan Lake where they resided for 20 years. Finally, realizing that his semi-competent maintenance crew (Dirk and Bob) were getting old, Mom and Dad returned to Missoula in 2016.
True to his generation, Dad was a simple, humble, hard-working, loyal, straightforward regular guy. He was thrifty; he never had a bad beer (just a couple of warm ones), his wardrobe never made it out of the 70’s and he is really upset with this obituary at sixty cents per word! He loved his family unconditionally. He attracted the most unique, fun and slightly crazy friends; “pieces of work” as he would often refer to them. Most notably they included: Conrad Smith, Larry Walker, Dick Springer, Jim Callaghan, Gary Muralt, Tom Breum and Bob St. Pierre (his Florida golf buddy). He was an excellent water skier, a dedicated golfer and fan of the game, snow skied until he was 78, drowned thousands of night crawlers fishing and cherished the annual fall hunting camp at Springer’s cabin where the motto was always “Have a Pull and Save a Bull”.
He was proceeded in death by his parents, Dan and Lillian Cloninger. Survivors include his wife Gwen, Missoula; children Dirk (Becky) Cloninger, Missoula, Becky (Bob) Byrne, Missoula and Marcy (Tim) Dolan, Safety Harbor, FL; grandchildren Dan, Carrie, Brayden, Jacob, Caroline, Timothy Elizabeth and Matthew; brother Danny Cloninger, Helena, MT and nieces Mary Rose Cloninger, Carrie Murnion and Rene Cloninger.
There will be a Rosary Vigil on Wednesday February 27, 2019 at 7:00 pm at the Garden City Funeral Home in Missoula, MT. Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Thursday February 28, 2019 at 10:30 am at Saint Francis Xavier Parish in Missoula, MT. Father Joseph Carver, S.J. will officiate both services. A reception in the parish center will follow immediately after Mass.
Special thanks to Doctors Peter Szekely, Alan Thomas, their staffs and Missoula Hospice for their loving care.
Donations in Lowell’s honor may be made to Saint Francis Xavier Parish or the Missoula Catholic Schools Foundation.