DRUMMOND – Bill Ohrmann once wrote in a letter to a friend, “I will be pretty well satisfied if the spirits of my faithful dogs will remember me.” Without speaking for those creatures, it’s certain that Bill’s humor, creativity, energy and kindness will be remembered by the humans who were fortunate enough to know him.
William Robert Ohrmann was born Jan. 2, 1919, in a farmhouse outside Philipsburg. Soon after, his parents, August and Flora, moved the family to Ovando, where Bill’s first memories formed: Nights by kerosene lamplight, entertaining himself with toys his father carved out of wood from apple boxes; days of school and helping his father on the ranch.
In 1933, the family purchased a ranch two miles south of Drummond, where Bill lived the rest of his life. His parents died of separate illnesses in 1938, leaving Bill in charge of the ranch. During World War II he served in the Army Air Corps, primarily stationed in Northern Australia and Port Moresby in New Guinea.
In 1944, Bill met Phyllis Sliter, a schoolteacher from Minnesota. The two married in 1948 and settled back into life on the ranch, where they raised three children, Susan, Jane and John, and ran registered black angus cattle until Bill “retired” in 1996.
All along, Bill quietly explored his creativity, producing hundreds of woodcarvings, bronze sculptures and other three-dimensional works. After he stopped ranching, Bill immersed himself in painting, ultimately producing more than 250 canvases that explored his deep-seated beliefs about justice and spirituality, his views on history and his visions of the future, and his impassioned concern for the plight of oppressed creatures and cultures of the earth. He drew inspiration from poetry by his friend, John Haines, and other great thinkers of history, from Buddha to Blake, Thoreau to Twain.
In 1999, 40 of Bill’s paintings were celebrated in a touring exhibition organized by the Missoula Art Museum. Since then, his life and work have been honored in a documentary film, “Be Thou Always As a Guest,” by Sean O’Brien; a coffee table art book, “Tainted Revelations,” by Joe Ashbrook Nickell; and many newspaper and magazine articles. Bill’s gallery and museum at his home on Highway 1 south of Drummond – recognizable by the menagerie of welded steel animal sculptures in the yard and the “Usually Open” sign on the barn – remains a popular stop for locals and visitors alike.
Bill passed away on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. He is preceded in death by his parents; his three sisters, Jerry Hollar, Anita Shawen and Marjorie Benander; his daughter Jane Hultman; and dozens of beloved dogs, cats, horses, and Molly the mule deer.
He is survived by his loving wife of 66 years, Phyllis; daughter Susan (Randy) Peterson of Drummond; son John and his partner, Myrlin Rasmussen, of Drummond; grandchildren Callie (Peter) Klempay of Stafford, Virginia, and Ty Hultman of Philipsburg; and great-grandchildren Joey Klempay, Reagan Klempay, Haylee Hultman and Hanna Hultman.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests making a donation in Bill’s name to Five Valleys Land Trust (P.O. Box 8953, Missoula 59807; firstname.lastname@example.org), Footloose Montana (P.O. Box 8884 Missoula 59807; email@example.com), or an organization of your choice.
No funeral will be held; instead, the family suggests sitting by a quiet stream or having a conversation with friends in Bill’s honor. You could talk about wild places, your favorite art or a good dog you once knew. Bill would like that.