In memory of

Einar John Stromnes, age 76, of Helena

October 13, 1942 – October 26, 2018

Einar John Stromnes, recently of Helena, Montana, passed away in the early morning hours of October 26, 2018, peacefully at home. John was born in Great Falls, Montana, on October 13, 1942. He was the son of Einar John Stromnes I and Harriet Meyer Haynes Stromnes; his sister was Karen Alland.

As a child, he was independent, adventurous and passionate for the outdoors, riding his bike out to the canyons and springs. John’s father was Speaker of the House of Representatives (1941-1942) and a democratic Montana state legislator. After surviving being hit by a train, he died of a sudden heart attack at age 52 when John was 9, an event that upheaved John’s life.

John and his mother later moved to Missoula to be near Harriet’s sister Esther and her friend Dorothy Tupper, who influenced John. In his teen years John played the trombone and taught himself to play piano by ear, a gift inherited from Harriet. John learned quickly and became an exceptional jazz and blues musician. He knew music theory, chord structure and melodic line. By the time he was a high school senior, he could hold up his end in an improvisational jazz group. John and his close friends were influenced by the changing times. He was a beatnik, wrote poetry, endlessly read literature and history, composed music and, in short, was an iconoclast.

After graduating from Missoula County High School in 1960, John studied at the University of Montana and entered the Marine Corps in July 1962. He received the rank of EPL E-4 in 1963, a rifle sharpshooter badge, and was a cryptographer. He served in the Marine Corps Reserve from July 1965 until March 1968.

He returned to UM, where he met the love of his life Jean Kathleen Stang. They were married on December 2, 1968, and raised two daughters. Experiencing nature was quintessential John; he took family and friends hiking, fishing, camping, swimming, boating, white-water rafting, trail riding on family horses, and sailing. He ran several marathons, enjoying training on Blue Mountain or Pattee Canyon. Even late in life, John continued to hike and ski, and became an avid kayaker.

John found a spiritual home in the practice of Zen Buddhism. He meditated and played the shakuhachi flute. He became an expert potter, and built a studio and kiln, always perfecting his Japanese-inspired rustic tea-bowls and teapots. John also was passionate about cooking. Similar to his way of life where he pushed boundaries and endlessly worked, he frequently created new variations on ethnic meals.

John worked at the Missoulian from 1973-2006. He started as a printer and typesetter then moved to staff reporter. He later worked as an editor, and was instrumental in starting the Montana Outdoors section of the Missoulian. John with his colleague Jeff Herman received the paper’s first Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1977, nominated by the President of Long Beach State University for a series on bogus credits for college athletes that had regional implications. He was selected to go to Japan to interview Ambassador Mike Mansfield and cover the Montana-Army football game. John also wrote columns for years with a piercing irony and humor. He practiced integrity, professionalism, and a direct but easy manner with people. Lacking pretense, he was an advocate for the everyday individual, regardless of money or status. He made lifelong friends at the newspaper.

Throughout his life, John instilled a strong work ethic, passion for the pursuit of knowledge and a love of the outdoors in his daughters. He enjoyed being in the company of family and good friends. A classical music enthusiast, he supported public radio and local symphonies.

In 1997, with daughters raised, John and Jean moved to Jette Meadows in Polson, Montana. John served on the Landowner’s Board and was chairman of the Water Board. He acquired a federal grant to develop another well. He cleared his land of knapweed and leafy spurge, also removing invasive species on daily hikes.

John was driven to take care of his family and was cognizant of his age. In spring of 2018, John and Jean moved to Helena to be closer to their daughter Katja. He loved hiking Bonaparte Mountain, Mount Helena, and Mount Ascension with Jean and their dog Sheba. John dearly loved his grandchildren, attending school and theater events in Helena, and visiting grandchildren in Minnesota. He loved being outdoors with them.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Jean Stromnes, and daughters: Katja Allyn Elias (Abe Elias) and Ingunn Margarete Stromnes (Jeff Bonner) and five grandchildren: Khalil, Freya, and Emma Elias (Montana); Sindri and Tiernan Bonner (Minnesota); and nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held in Missoula in spring. Memorial donations may be sent to the Prickly Pear Land Trust, P.O. Box 892, Helena, MT 59624. Please visit below to offer the family a condolence or share memories of John.


Read the thoughts and memories, then feel free to add your own.

  1. Renata Birkenbuel says

    My heartfelt condolences to John’s family. When I was a Sports Writer at the Missoulian, John always kept me/us entertained with his excellent columns and very fun demeanor. Another difficult loss for those of us who worked at the Missoulian when we had great role models and a thriving newsroom. I hope we can access John’s columns to read them again and share with a new generation. My thoughts are with you.

  2. Robert Long says

    I am sorry to heat about this. I grew up with John in the Missoulian. I knew him personally when he was a Polson resident both before and after his retirement from the MIssoulian. He was one of a kind. I loved his no nonsense demeanor, dry wit and deadpan humor. Great guy I will miss.
    Everything he ever wrote for the Missoulian is available at

  3. Curtis Hammond says

    Dear Jean, George and I send our heartfelt condolences to you. John was a blessing to us all through his writing. Take very good care of yourself, you’re in our thoughts.

  4. Carol Werner says

    So many of your friends in the Mission Valley are saddened by John’s death. He was a light in our community for those concerned about what is right and true. One of my favorite memories is seeing John standing alone in front of the county courthouse seeking signatures to overturn Citizens United.

    Jean, please know that so many of us are holding you in our thoughts and in our hearts.

  5. Barfoot family says

    Dear Jean and family,

    Patricia, Nina, and I were deeply saddened and startled today with the news of John’s death. His memory and good deeds will endure with us and the larger community. You guys were wonderful neighbors over the nearly last 20 years and we so enjoyed having you nearby. In addition, John’s contributions to our little Jette Meadows subdivision were so significant and lasting. Take good care Jean and know that we are thinking of you.

  6. Don Schwennesen says

    Rose and I were saddened and dismayed to learn of John’s passing. It was too soon for guy who was a fine columnist and a wonderful colleague at the Missoulian. Please accept our condolences.

  7. Richard Chapman says

    Sad to hear of John’s passing, and at such a young age! I followed his columns and reportage for years. A good man, too soon gone. Hugs to Jean and daughters. …

  8. Renee Woods says

    Dear Jean
    Didn’t know John long, but he was the kind of person that made you feel otherwise. Will never forget the first time I met John trekking out of the woods, blazing his own trail in knee deep snow to the plowed Great Pine Hill which I was walking. It was inspiring. I so enjoyed seeing you, John and Sheba on walks. It was a pleasure working with John on the Jette Meadow Water Board where his no nonsense- by the book style was combined with wit and a sense of humor.
    He will be missed. Your family is in my thoughts and prayers.

  9. Pat and Glenn Wallace says

    Glenn and I are so sorry to hear about John’s death. I remember John purchasing one of my rosemaling pieces at the art in the park a number of years ago. We send our heartfelt sympathy to you and your family.

  10. Kara Saffel says

    Sending our warmth and comfort to you and your family. We were fortunate to meet you and John when we purchased his Honda Element. We felt connected to you upon the first hand shake. You welcomed us into your home and we fell in love with you both. Not a day goes by that we don’t think of you and our brief time together. We will continue to drive our Honda and smile in John’s memory.
    Kara and Patrick Saffel

  11. The Hankels says

    We were so sorry to hear about John’s passing…Wishing you peace and comfort in this extremely hard time for you…and the courage to face the days ahead. Words cannot express how truly sorry we are…and although nothing can mend your heartache right now, please know you are in our thoughts and prayers, and are just a phone call away.

  12. John Holbrook says

    Late on a Sunday afternoon, in the fall of 1966, prior to starting my graduate studies at
    U of M, and after a long drive straight from Detroit, I pulled into Missoula, parked on Front Street, tired, cranky, thirsty for beer. Trying the Stockman’s first (the foul waft of the men’s room driving me out), I strode across the street into the Top Hat Bar. All but vacant except for this thick-speckled dude hunched over a brew, smoke curling from an ashtray, his rhythm-tapping fingers keeping up with the jute box beat flooding the floor, sat John Stromness, my first, my longest lasting Missoula ‘bud. Skeptical of my Detroit ‘cool,’ my hippy, bell-bottomed, wire-rimmed affront, he never-the-less welcomed me into his fold, ordered up a couple of mugs, then a few more, then more after that, then…then telling me the best bar of all (since I had asked) was further down town, a joint named Eddies Club. And the rest is history, the richest a friend could have ever hope for. Thanks, John. You were the best. Oh, in case you haven’t heard, Tester just beat that phony son of a bitch Rosendale! How about that?! Be seeing you.

  13. Bev and Steve Glueckert says

    To the Stromnes family- we are sending all good wishes, thoughts, and condolences. Loved this obituary- what a guy! He will surely be very missed. Hugs esp to Katja and Ingunn and families. Take care and wishing you all comfort and blessings……..

  14. At a time when I desperately needed a friend, John was that friend, and helped me through a most difficult time. I am grieved to know he is no longer with us, but pleased to know he was blessed with so many good friends and such a fine family. I have hoped our paths might cross again someday; alas, not to be. I remain forever grateful for his kindness.

  15. Chuck Johnson says

    My condolences to the Stromnes family. I worked with John at the Missoulian and later we were colleagues for Lee, he in Missoula and me in Helena. John always did a good job reporting whatever story he was assigned and brought his unique style and perspective. I know John really liked it when he moved to the Flathead to report from there. Decades earlier, I heard him play jazz piano a couple of times, and he was really good.

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