The world has lost a great man.
Neal LaFever passed away in the early morning of Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015.
He was born on June 16, 1944, ten days after the Invasion of Normandy, to Clarence and Helen LaFever. He grew up in Batavia, Wis., with his three brothers, Mark, Miles, and Dennis. He spent the most treasured days of his childhood on his grandparents’ farm, a place that remained very special to him throughout his life.
He graduated from Random Lake High School in 1962 and attended the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, where he majored in history and geography after five years, taking an extra year because he was having too much fun to leave. He worked hard to put himself through school, working as a bartender at Robin’s Supper Club in Oshkosh where he learned the art of the cocktail and began his lifelong career in the bar business.
He ventured west to Montana for the first time during college, hitchhiking all the way from Wisconsin with his best college buddy Richard “Schmitty” Schmidt. The spirit of the west resonated with him and he moved to Billings in 1968, driving out in a $10 1949 Chevy. He tended bar at the Golden Belle at the Northern Hotel, the Koko Club, and the 1145 Club, among others. He began to sell real estate in the 1970s, mastering his ability to make a deal.
In 1975, Neal wound up in Virginia City searching for gold. While he didn’t strike it rich in Alder Gulch, he bought the Pioneer Bar on May 26, the same day gold was first discovered there in 1863. The friends and memories he made in VC and at the Pioneer were some of his most beloved.
He married his wife, Dianne, on Sept. 27, 1980. They bought the Monte Carlo in downtown Billings in 1985, and together they built the business to what it is today. They were a great team, they were partners in life and business, but above all else, they always had a lot of fun together.
Later in life, he became involved in the oil and gas business, where his passion for business deals grew into a profession he truly enjoyed.
Of all of his accomplishments, he was most proud of his three daughters: his first daughter, Cresta, and his two daughters with Dianne, Alison and Cori. Nothing brought him more joy than spending time with his girls, and they will forever be grateful for the lessons he taught them and the memories they have of their dad, their “buddy,” Nealo.
Neal lived a full life, traveling the world and making friends everywhere he went. He worked hard, and was a respected and sharp businessman, but he was also kindhearted and very generous to people of all walks of life. He was involved in the Masonic Lodges of Billings and Virginia City and the Al Bedoo Shrine, as well as numerous other fraternal organizations and social clubs throughout his life, such as the Billings Jaycees, the Billings Trap Club, and the Montana Tavern Association. He enjoyed hunting for game of every kind and fishing in Canada with his brothers, and appreciating a fine wine and a gourmet meal. His latest adventures took him to Europe, Tanzania, South Africa, Argentina, Peru, and Brazil. Neal is on to his next great adventure, wherever that may be. Godspeed.
Neal is preceded in death by his parents Helen (Mehlos) LaFever and Clarence LaFever, brother Jay LaFever, his father-in-law Phil Holten, and his sister-in-law Sandy LaFever. He is survived by his wife Dianne (Holten), of Billings; his brothers Mark LaFever, of Random Lake, Wis., Miles LaFever, of Butte-des-Morts, Wis., and Dennis LaFever and his wife, Jackie, of West Yellowstone; his three daughters: Cresta LaFever and her husband Mike Allenbach, of Seattle, Wash., Alison LaFever, of New York, New York and Cori LaFever, of Billings; his mother-in-law Ella (Woltermann) Holten, of Columbus, as well as numerous in-laws, nieces, nephews, and cousins.
A memorial service will be in Billings at the Shrine Auditorium at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 27, with a reception immediately following. Additional celebrations of his life will take place in Virginia City, Montana and Batavia, Wis., in the coming months.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his name to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Al Bedoo Shrine Transportation Fund, or the charity of your choice. Condolences may be shared with the family by visiting smithfuneralchapels.com.