The Racing Journal Logo

Merrill LaVon Lee - Obituary

June 1, 2004     E-mail this page to a friend!

Papa is gone. Sure the paddock and the stable are dear to my heart, the greening grass and the prospect of a new crop of foals has never looked better. But no spread is so good that God cannot make one better. So when the Head Boss called, our Papa laid down his work and moved onto the Greenest Pasture.

Merrill LaVon Lee was born in Panaca, Nevada, November 29, 1912, the first of six children. His fondest childhood memories were of hunting trips with his father, camping out, gathering pinion pine nuts, and cutting posts. His love of horses started while chasing wild mustangs with his younger brother Arshal while still in their teens.

Merrill graduated from Panaca high school and then served in the CCC camps in Yellowstone Park before enlisting in the Army Air Corp. In 1941, Merrill was stationed in the Philippine Islands prior to the U.S. entering World War II. After being captured on the Bataan Peninsula, April 9, 1942, he endured the “death march” and 42 months as a Japanese POW.

Liberated in August 1945, Merrill came to Montana to attend good friend and fellow POW Ben Steele’s wedding. While there, he met the love of his life, Virginia Spidel. They married September 2, 1948. Three children quickly followed: Susan, Elton, and Robert.
The family traveled for the next 12 years, living at various Air Force bases, including three years in Germany, until Merrill’s retirement in 1964. Coming home to Virginia’s family ranch near Roundup, they built a home and pursued their life-long dream of raising Quarter Horses. Merrill strongly believed in Winston Churchill’s words that the outside of a horse was good for the inside of a man.

Merrill never lost his love for the outdoors, hunting and camping well into his 80s. He had a story to tell about every pasture, spring, winter storm, neighbor, mare, and season of his life. We will miss the family gatherings, with his telling of his stories, but they will always be a part of our remembrances.

In his later years he was still able to enjoy the thrill of watching their horses run on the track and fellowship with friends at the LDS church in Roundup. Merrill was excited to frequently visit the temple in Billings while he was still able.

Merrill celebrated his 91st birthday last November and lived to enjoy another Montana spring. On Tuesday, April 20, while out in the pasture preparing the ground for seeding, he breathed his last and died with his boots on with the wide Montana sky above him.
Merrill is survived by his wife, Virginia; daughter Susan and husband Rod Dahl and their children, Christopher (Leslie), Zachary (Sandy), and Toby (Jody); son Elton and daughter-in-law Barbara and their children, Ezra (Kristy), Amos (Sandra), Ruth Perry (Jack), Isaiah, Esther, Peter, Zephaniah, Abigail, Moriah, Tabitha, and Hannah; son Robert and wife Jayne, and their children, Edward, Elizabeth, and Rebecca; six great-grandchildren; brother Cecil (Genevieve); sister Gail; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Services were held at Wier Funeral Home in Roundup on April 24. Interment with military honors followed at the family cemetery on the Dahl ranch. Memorials can be made to the Roundup 4-H Council or your local VFW.