BILLINGS - Mixed between lessons on toughness and consistency, Dan Stanton stressed to his players the importance of showing respect to others, in part by being on time at the least, and on “cowboy time,” or 15 minutes early, at the best.
Dan Stanton passed away Sunday at Billings Clinic, on cowboy time, at the age of 47, in the company of his loved ones after a lingering battle with brain cancer dating back to 2007.
“He was just a great person. They say that the good ones go too soon,” said Clint LaRowe, a redshirt junior offensive lineman at the University of Montana who played for Stanton at Custer County District High School in Miles City, where Stanton coached for 24 years and taught U.S. and world history. “He was the biggest fan of all of us I know. Talking to other guys who play, they’d say the same, I’m sure.”
Stanton’s cancer first appeared on Mother’s Day 2007, when he suffered a seizure. Tests revealed a tumor on the frontal lobe of his brain known as the motor strip, which controls movement. The precarious location of the tumor caused many surgeons to decline to treat him, but Stanton went to San Francisco in 2008 for an operation to remove a portion of the tumor.
Last year, the tumor started to regrow, and Stanton had another surgery this spring, after which he seemed to improve enough to leave many in his family feeling hopeful.
Stanton was a middle child, with older siblings Kathy Mitchell, Jim Stanton and Pete Stanton, and younger siblings Rob Stanton, Missy Racht and Terri Stevenson. The family was raised by their father, Jim Stanton, who died of throat cancer in 2002, and their mother, Pat Stanton. Dan will be buried next to his father in Baker.
The family rallied around Dan Stanton after his diagnosis, although he tried to hide signs of his pain and discomfort and continued to coach through two-a-days this season. A few weeks ago, the family came together in Billings to watch Pete Stanton, the head coach of Dickinson State’s football team, face Rocky Mountain College on Aug. 29.
“He was just hurting a lot but didn’t want to show it, never complained, never said a word. He just hung with the kids and played with the kids and never showed it,” Terri Stevenson said. “It’s a good lesson never to complain.”
Lessons imparted with fairness and humor were Stanton’s strong suit, said Jeff Regan, a coach on the Miles City football staff. “You know he knew football real well, but the biggest thing was he treated everyone around him better, from his coaches to his players, and he believed in people and gave them chances to succeed and confidence to do it,” Regan said.
“He influenced my life for the better. Besides being a good coach, he was probably the best friend you could ever ask for. He was the godfather to my child, and it’s really hard to not have him around.”
In addition to Pete Stanton, Dan Stanton’s two other brothers are head football coaches. Rob Stanton coaches at Billings West and Jim Stanton coaches at Billings Central. The shared conference, Eastern A, of Miles City and Billings Central resulted in numerous showdowns between the brothers over the years, something that Jim remembers with humor.
“We laughed and made fun of all of you guys for making such a big deal about us. In reality, it wasn’t about Stanton vs. Stanton but Cowboys vs. Rams,” Jim Stanton said.
According to Rob Stanton, Dan Stanton’s “dry, witty sense of humor was without precedent” and he also had a knack for pranks. “When he was coaching, he had a trick he would do, if you were staying overnight and you went out to dinner, he’d turn the heat up in your room as high as it would go and you’d come back and it would be 110 degrees and you’d just laugh,” Rob said.
“He’s a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and we watched the game together. And when they got beat, I told him the next day that the headsets weren’t working for the Steelers,” Rob Stanton said. “He couldn’t talk, and he just frowned and shook his head, like he couldn’t believe the Patriots were cheating again.”
Stanton has left not only generations of Miles City football players and students behind, but also his wife, Kim, and his sons Kasey, 25, and Kyle, 23. Kasey is studying to receive his doctorate in psychology from the University of Notre Dame. Kyle took time off from school to help his father coach in his final days on the field.
“A couple things that stand out is what kind of father he was,” said Pete Stanton. “They were his world, and he set such an example for them and he was a father to so many people.”
Stanton’s sister Missy Racht likewise remembers the example he set for her sons. “I have three boys, and he was always so good to them. He always had a great sense of humor to them, and they looked up to him so much,” she said.
“I think for all of us, Dan was obviously a man of strong faith, and I think seeing him the last few days and the struggle he was going through, it makes me feel good thinking my dad was waiting for him with a bottle of beer.”
Dan Stanton died early Sunday, but not without sharing a final moment of love and respect with his family.
“By Thursday night, he couldn’t swallow, and by Friday he couldn’t really talk anymore,” Rob Stanton said. “Saturday he couldn’t speak, and my mom came and in and my mom grabbed his hand and she said, ‘Hi Dan,’ and he said, ‘Hi.’ And grabbed her hand and wouldn’t let it go. You know, a pretty special moment.”
The Stanton family asks that Dan’s current and former players wear their jerseys and for everyone else to dress casually and wear Miles City Cowboy clothing to the funeral Mass scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday at Sacred Heart Gymnasium.
That’s 9:45 a.m. cowboy time.