Stansberry

If you were a struggling kid, Stanz was your guy.

“He never gave up on anybody, never,” Terra Stansberry of her father, William “Stanz” Stansberry, whose career at Missoula Youth Homes spanned 35 years.

Never in that time did he cease to believe in a single child, no matter how challenged – and challenging – that child, his daughter said.

In fact, her father once went directly from the hospital after surgery for a broken neck to visit a client who’d run afoul of the law. “He showed up in a neck brace. He wanted people to know he had their back,” she said.

Stansberry died last month after a cycling accident in Arizona. On Thursday – on what would have been his 65th birthday – hundreds of his friends gathered on a sunny slope at Marshall Mountain to celebrate the life of “a wonderful man who lived well among us,” as the Rev. Peter Shober termed him.

It was also a life fully and intensely lived.

He was described as “a passionate athlete,” “a bit of a gym rat.” Those may have been understatements.

He encouraged – nay, demanded – that those around him be passionate about physical activity, too, his daughter said. “Every night, he’d do 10 push-ups.” The kids in the Youth Homes were expected to do them, as were his own children, Terra and her brother, Tate.

“When I was little, I tried to get out of it,” said Terra, who now works at Youth Homes. “But eventually I learned, ‘He’s not going to give in. You just do those damn push-ups.’ ”

Bicycling, baseball, basketball, hiking, snowshoeing – the list went on and on. Sometimes, he even was an observer, especially when it came to Grizzly athletics and Stansberry was with his brother, Eddie, said a friend, Bill Taber.

“I was a good friend of his, but I just tagged along whenever Eddie was around,” Taber said.

Eddie Stansberry wished his brother a brief goodbye at Thursday’s service. “I miss my brother,” he said. “He took me to ball games. He cut my hair. He did everything for me.” And he wished his brother a happy birthday in heaven.

Youth Homes executive director Geoff Birnbaum said Stansberry and his wife Sally became houseparents back in the day when it was a 24-hour live-in job.

“When you hire people to live in a group home and you’re going to direct that group home, you’re sort of put in the middle of their marriage. Your staff meeting is their marriage,” Birnbaum said.

One thing that taught him – they were the love of each other’s lives.

Stansberry’s intensity, Birnbaum said, could make him something of an acquired taste. But even a former resident who never really connected to him wrote to Birnbaum after his death to say, “I watched him with others and he had the Midas touch” for dealing with troubled youth.

That continued after his retirement, said Kim Anderson, a former Youth Homes development director who’s now on the board.

“His No. 1 priority was the kids. Even after he retired, he’d go to bat for them. He would never stop. He would never shut the door. He would never give up on them.”

Terra Stansberry said she went through her own troubled period in her 20s, and through it all, her dad was with her. “His was a tough love but a genuine love,” she said.

And she quoted that famous philosopher, Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, or gwen.florio@missoulian.com.

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