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HELENA - Former Lt. Gov. Allen Kolstad, a longtime Republican legislator and prominent farmer and rancher, died Saturday in an assisted-living facility in Chester after a long battle with cancer.

Colleagues from both parties remembered Kolstad, 76, as a strong advocate for agricultural and rural Montana interests, a kind and generous man and someone who loved life.

The funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday in Our Savior's Lutheran Church. Graveside burial rites will be at 6 p.m. Thursday at St. Olaf Cemetery in the Ledger community. Rockman Funeral Chapel of Chester is in charge of arrangements.

Kolstad was prominent in Republican politics for more than 40 years, starting with his election to the Montana House in 1968. He served in the House and then the Senate for 20 years until he was sworn in as lieutenant governor in 1989.

Controversial post

He was elected lieutenant governor in 1988 on the ticket headed by future Gov. Stan Stephens, then a Havre broadcast executive and longtime senator from Havre. Kolstad resigned as lieutenant governor in 1991 to accept a federal job as U.S. commissioner to the International Boundary Commission, a controversial post that was later eliminated.

Kolstad was one of Ronald Reagan's earliest supporters in Montana. He was Montana's Republican national committeeman from June 2004 until ill health forced him to resign in December 2007.

"He was a great personal friend," Stephens recalled Monday. "I thought a great deal of his character. He was a highly moral man, a very devout and Christian man, and he lived that faith in all he did. There was always a lot of laughter. He was very upbeat about everything. He was never down."

Stephens' selection of Kolstad raised some eyebrows because Havre and Chester are only about 60 miles apart and defied the tradition of a gubernatorial candidate picking someone from a different part of Montana as a running mate.

"What he brought to our ticket was an understanding of Montana's largest industry, which was agriculture," Stephens said. "He ran a great farm operation."

Contribution to the state

Former Gov. Tim Babcock called Kolstad "a very good friend" who "made a good contribution to the state when he was lieutenant governor."

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, who succeeded Kolstad as lieutenant governor, said Kolstad "exemplified the characteristics of a true Montanan both in his public and private life."

"It was an honor to have worked under the strong leadership of Allen and former Gov. Stan Stephens during my years in the Montana Legislature," Rehberg said. "My thoughts and prayers are with (his wife) Iva and the entire Kolstad family."

Montana Republican Party Chairman Erik Iverson called Kolstad one of the state GOP's greatest leaders and said "rural Montana lost one of its most effective advocates."

"It's been a tough year for the party," Iverson said. "We've lost (former state Sen.) Jack Galt, (former Lt. Gov.) Karl Ohs and now Allen Kolstad. We've lost three of our party's stalwarts."

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Jim Mockler of Helena, former head of the Montana Coal Council, was one of Kolstad's closest friends.

"He lived life to the fullest, and he was a wonderful guy to be around," Mockler said. "He was very generous and thoughtful. He liked to play cards. He liked to eat. He liked to laugh. He just loved life."

State Sen. Roy Brown of Billings, the Republican nominee for governor, said Kolstad mentored many Republicans when the first ran for office.

"Allen was always the first to lend a hand, and I'll never forget the lessons I learned as he helped me and many others campaign for the state Legislature," Brown said.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, said his second cousin is married to Kolstad's daughter.

"He was a good man, he was a good farmer and a good friend," Schweitzer said.

Another Democrat, former state Sen. J.D. Lynch of Butte, said he and Kolstad enjoyed having dinner together twice a week during legislative sessions and playing the occasional pinochle game.

"Him being a farm Republican and me a Butte city Democrat, people were surprised at what good friends we were," Lynch said. "To me, it's a reflection of bygone days where it was truly bipartisan days when there wasn't rancor between Democrats and Republicans. We would still agree to disagree but be friends afterward."

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