Sunday, April 14, 2024

Donald Lawrence, 94

| March 13, 2024 2:00 AM

Donald Jesse Lawrence was born in Loomis, South Dakota on Dec. 27th, 1929 to Marie Susan Wagner and Jesse Orville Lawrence.  The family moved to Kalispell, Montana when Don was still very young. There he grew up with brother Paul and sister Shirley.

In 1947 Don graduated from Flathead High School. Music was a big part of Don’s life, so after graduation he joined the Air Force Band.  He was stationed in Texas where he met Barbara Knecht.  They married just six weeks after they met and remained married for 69 years until Barbara’s death in October 2021. 

After leaving the Air Force, Don earned a music education degree from the University of Montana.  Son David was born in 1956 and in 1959 Don accepted a position teaching music to 6th-12th grades in Columbia Falls.  Daughter Rebecca completed the family in 1961.

Don taught in Columbia Falls for 25 years until he retired in 1984. During his time there, he started the high school jazz band Columbians, a group which exists to this day.  During his teaching career Don spent his summers working as a park ranger in Glacier National Park.  Over the years, many of Don’s musical compositions were inspired by his love of the park.

Upon his retirement, he took over a band which would come to be known as the Don Lawrence Orchestra.  He also directed the Flathead Valley Community Band as well as founding the Brasswerks and the Big Horn Trio.  When his brother Paul died, Don took over his band, The Bavarian Echoes.

Don also enjoyed refinishing old furniture and was an active member of the Columbia Falls Lions Club.

Don was preceded in death by his parents Jesse and Marie, wife Barbara, son David, brother Paul, and son-in-law Randy Bekkedahl.  He is survived by daughter Rebecca Bekkedahl, sister Shirley Cardew, nephew Jim (Jose) and niece Tracy; granddaughter Sandra Mallis (Nick), great grandchildren Max, Maya, and Milo; sister-in-law Barbara Lawrence, nieces Gayle Hoehn, Paulette Lawrence, Susan Weins, and nephew Neil Lawrence.

There will be a celebration of life and musical tribute to Don on Sunday, June 30th at 2 p.m. at Maranette Park in Columbia Falls.  Anyone who has ever played an instrument as part of a Don Lawrence organization is invited to bring it to participate in one giant mass band send off at the end of the day.

Columbia Mortuary in Columbia Falls is caring for the family. To send online condolences please visit Don’s tribute page at