By Brad Reynolds
Rancher Leroy Strand chose his words carefully. He was not a voluble man. He was known to stare off deeply and would sometimes take long pauses in conversation, mulling his thoughts over in complete silence. No, Leroy Strand was not a man known for his words, but by his deeds—a lifetime of labor and charity, the weight of which continues to impact Montana.
From the get-go, Strand seemed destined for agriculture. He was born on the family farm near Manly, Iowa in 1919 and spent much of his childhood helping his father, Oswald Strand Sr., with his livestock business. When he was experienced enough (and of proper age), he joined his father as a partner in the company, which was redubbed “Oswald Strand & Son.”
Strand’s life as a cattleman came to a temporary halt in 1942, after the U.S. entered the Second World War. Serving in the 112th Cavalry of the U.S. Army, Strand saw combat in several campaigns across the Pacific, for which he earned four Bronze Stars (among other accolades). When his tour of duty ended in 1945, he returned to ranching—though, with more responsibility than when he’d left; his family now owned a cattle outfit in Montana.
It was 1944 when the Strands established their second ranch near Geyser. The land had been purchased from the Osnes Cattle Company, and in addition to its acreage, the Strands had acquired the company’s longstanding cattle brand, the K Bar D.
In 1964, Leroy Strand became the sole owner of the 42,000-acre enterprise. His first wife, Norma Sorensen, passed in 1975, and in 1981 he remarried to Claris Loberg. The couple spent seventeen years together on the Strand Ranch, using their growing affluence toward the betterment of central Montana. In 1997 (one year prior to Claris’ death), the couple established the Geyser Public School Strand Scholarship, a program that over the years has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to Geyser High School graduates so that they might afford a secondary education.
Other individuals, communities, and causes have been beneficiaries of the Leroy and Claris Strand Foundation, established in 1998. A new county library at Stanford, for instance, is being built with more than $150,000 in funds from the foundation.
When Leroy Strand passed in 2016, he left numerous gifts in his estate, including $880,000 to Great Falls’ Benefis Foundation (which benefits Gift of Life Housing, the Greatest Need Fund, and Sletten Cancer Institute). Also notable is Strand’s immense art collection which was bequeathed to the C.M. Russell Museum for the enjoyment of all.
“Not everyone considers what will happen to their collection when they’re gone,” says Brenda Kornick, Collections and Exhibitions Director of the C.M. Russell Museum. “Leroy felt a responsibility to share this with the public.”
The Strand Collection, which includes 280 sculptures and 96 paintings and drawings, will be on display in a series of exhibits moving forward. The current installation is open through December 2018. Themes of these works include Montana wildlife and landscapes, ranching, and Western archetypes (cowboys, frontiersmen, Indians, etc.)—all subjects that were deeply personal to Strand.
“With each installation, we hope to share the appreciation that Mr. Strand clearly had for the talented artists that captured the essence of Montana and the American West,”