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Dave Walter, 63; historian brought Montana's past to life

HELENA -- Dave Walter, an author and Montana Historical Society research historian, died Wednesday night after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. He was 63.

Mr. Walter drew national attention for his research into wolves in Montana, World War II conscientious-objector camps in the state, and US Representative Jeannette Rankin's 1941 vote against entering World War II, said Tom Cook, a spokesman for the historical society. .

Society trustees, staff and others praised him for his work with people and organizations across the state to further the cause of Montana history, said Richard Sims, director of the historical society.

``We have lost a great friend and a champion of Montana history and heritage," Sims said. ``No one has done more to tell the story of this special place, from its earliest people to those today who follow in their moccasin and boot steps."

Mr. Walter was born in Wisconsin and took an interest in Montana when he visited the state with his family as a child, Cook said. In 1963, Mr. Walter took a summer job at Glacier National Park as a fire guard and packer.

After graduating from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Mr. Walter spent 10 years working with K. Ross Toole at the University of Montana.

He joined the Montana Historical Society in 1979 as reference librarian and later became a research historian.

Mr. Walter was well-known for his ``Jerks in Montana History: Speaking Ill of the Dead" series, which became a mainstay at Montana Historical Society history conferences, Cook said.

He traveled the state speaking on behalf of the society, and was a frequent contributor to its ``Montana The Magazine of Western History."

He also wrote three books and was working on a Montana history textbook.

``Teaching Montana history in our schools was extremely important to Dave," Cook said.

``He recently told me that the textbook project was going well. I am sure we will do all we can to see that project through to completion as a legacy to Dave's love for Montana and its generations to follow."

Mr. Walter received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Montana in 1994.

Leading Montana historian and Carroll College Professor Robert Swartout said Mr. Walter will be missed as a scholar and a humanitarian.

``He was unmatched in his ability to bring Montana's history alive for literally thousands of people," Swartout said. ``His intellectual talents were only surpassed by his unwavering kindness and genuine humility."

Mr. Walter is survived by his wife, Marcella, and three children. Private services will be held soon with a public memorial to be scheduled later.

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