Jack Dale Shanstrom

Jack Dale Shanstrom

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Come to order. Court is now in session, Honorable Judge Jack D. Shanstrom presiding.

Jack Dale Shanstrom was born on Nov. 30, 1932, in Hewitt, Minnesota. It didn’t take long for him to begin working. At five-years-old Jack was selling papers in Cody, Wyoming, and later had a paper route for five years in Livingston, Montana. At nine Jack took out an insurance policy. He sold worms for the fishermen and live mice to the casinos in Cooke City. During high school he worked at Livingston’s Farmer’s Creamery for three years and on ranches in the summer. One year he worked as a machinist’s helper on the Northern Pacific Railroad.

While working the summer of 1956 in Yellowstone Park Jack met Audrey Felknor and within months knew she was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. She was a waitress at Canyon Lodge. Today she wishes she had saved all of the silver dollars that Jack left her after dining. In 1957, after graduating from law school, Jack went back to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and married Audrey. The honeymoon was a fishing trip which should have given Audrey a clue to what would lie ahead.

Jack earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Montana in 1956, and a year later received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Montana and a Bachelor of Law from the University of Montana School of Law. He was a member of the Sigma Nu Fraternity. Throughout the entirety of his college years he worked, waiting on tables and washing dishes at the Delta Gamma house, and as a janitor at the Law School.

Jack and Audrey moved to Great Falls, Montana, where Jack was a United States Air Force first lieutenant, JAG Corps, from 1957 until 1960. Within months of discharge he filed for the county attorney’s position in Park County and won. After practicing as a prosecutor for four years he was appointed by Governor Tim Babcock in 1965 to become a Montana State District Court judge, which made him the youngest person, at 32, at that time to sit on the bench. He held that position for 18 years, until 1982. From 1968 through 1978 Jack was a member of the Montana Supreme Court Sentence Review Board, appointed by the chief justice. He was chairman for six years out of the ten. Also, Jack was elected to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission for a four-year term, commencing January 1, 1981, which investigates all complaints against judicial officers. He also served as water judge for the Yellowstone River Basin in the State of Montana Water Courts from 1980 through 1983. During said term he adjudicated all water in Powder River and four other basins. Jack was called by the chief justice of the State of Montana to sit on over thirty-five cases in the Montana Supreme Court. He was past president of the Montana Judges Association and past president of the Montana Trial Judges Association, a member of the Montana Bar Association and the Montana Judges Association, delegate to the American Bar Association of Trial Judges (1982) and served as a member of the University of Montana Law School Board of Visitors.

In 1983 Jack became Montana’s first full-time United States Magistrate Judge and moved to Billings, Montana. He served in that position for seven years, when on Feb. 23, 1990, President George H. W. Bush appointed him to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Montana. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 11, 1990, and received his commission on May 14, 1990. While on the Federal bench Jack developed the concept of mediation. He mediated more than 1,000 cases, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for litigants on attorney fees and costs. Today mediation is used across the United States. Also, during his judgeship he presided over courtrooms across the country, Guam and Saipan, and served on panels for the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Jack was chief judge from 1996 to 2001. After dealing with the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease for several years, Jack decided to assume senior status on Jan. 30, 2001, and ultimately retired from the bench on Sept. 15, 2013.

We’ll never forget some cases that Jack was involved in, like his first case as county attorney where he prosecuted and convicted the chief of police for burglary in Park County; or the case that made headlines across the nation involving a hitchhiker who was a cannibal that cooked and ate the fingers of the driver; or the ‘Freeman’ case where instead of judge he was a witness. His life had been threatened and he testified against those ultimately convicted of the threats.

Shanstrom received the 2011 Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Montana, an honor reserved for those individuals who have distinguished themselves in a particular field and who have brought honor to the University, the state or the nation.

Jack and Audrey had a wonderful life together, celebrating 62 years of marriage last June. They raised two children along the way, Scott and Susan.

Jack loved life. He was enthusiastic about everything he participated in, from hunting, fishing, trapping, collecting Winchesters, planting a begonia garden, or simply laying sod. He loved wind, snow, sleet, hail or sunshine. To him it was all perfect. Because of Jack’s thrill with fishing, Audrey often thought he could probably sit in the driveway in a boat and have a great time. His lunch for the lake would include a Pepsi, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a Snicker’s candy bar, always a sweet tooth. Because of his strong knowledge of the law and where the fish were hiding in Montana streams, he became close friends with several dignitaries who fished beside him for many years. It was because of Jack’s friendships that Supreme Court justices and others presented at the Jones-Tamm Lecture Series held at the Blewitt School of Law. As excited as he was about spending time with United States Supreme Court Justices Byron ‘Whizzer’ White and Sandra Day O’Connor, or Attorney Bob Bennett, among others, he was just as thrilled about learning and gaining expertise from local friends, trappers, hunters and fishermen. Through the years Jack gathered a large collection of guns. A few treasures were, one, the gun that ‘Wild Bill’ Hickock gifted to Calamity Jane, and, two, Mary Alice Fortin’s husband’s gun. Also, poker club was never to be missed. Jack was a humble man. It will always be remembered that he never complained about anything.

Jack passed peacefully with family by his side on Jan. 13, 2020, at 1:22 in the afternoon. He is preceded in death by his mother, Willian; and father, Harold. He is survived by his wife, Audrey; children, Scott and Susan; and grandchildren, Shelby Dineen-Shanstrom (Jared), Hudson Graf and Jacquelyn Strawn.

A celebration of life will be held at Mayflower Congregational Church, Billings, Montana, on March 7, 2020, at 10 a.m. Memorial donations may be made to American Parkinson Disease Association or to the Parkinson’s organization of your choosing.

Court is adjourned … for the final time.

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