Robert was born in Roundup on Nov. 27, 1933, to George and Francis Steffans (Grahek). He joined older brother Ed and sister Frances. His father passed away when he was very young, so times were tough living near Number 3 Coal Mine. He spoke Slovenian with his mother and started learning English from his older siblings before entering grade school. One of his favorite stories was asking his mother why the chicken they ate always had four legs. It turns out they ate a lot of rabbit. His brother jokes that it was a wonder he didn’t starve since he was not too fond of tripe, blood sausage, head cheese and the like. There was an outhouse and no indoor plumbing. Most winters, it would get so cold that the pitcher of drinking water would be frozen in the morning. Of course, there was a coal stove for heating and wood for cooking. Oranges were sometimes the biggest gift at Christmastime back then, so perhaps the reason he relished piles of gifts under the tree and the unwrapping frenzy in later years.
He loved playing basketball for the Roundup Panthers and graduated H.S. in 1951. He worked in the oil field and on the Pronghorn Ranch as a young man. Robert then joined the Army and was stationed at Ft. Hamilton, New York. He went to the University of Montana on the GI Bill and became a grade school teacher. Although he enjoyed physical education and would have preferred becoming a coach, he ended up teaching sixth graders for his entire teaching career. In the 1970s, he earned his master’s degree in Elementary Education from Eastern Montana College (now MSUB). His teaching career started at Lockwood, and he later taught at North Park and then Bench Schools before retirement. He had many funny stories about the kids he taught. Things had a way of sorting themselves out when it came to the playground bully. He did enjoy teaching math and English. When a student asked him how long their paper should be, he said, “Just like a ladies’ skirt, short enough to be interesting, but long enough to cover the subject.”
Robert married Marlene Kinney in 1958 and they had four children together: Eva Marie, Matthew Raymond, Robert Jr., and Heidi Lynne Steffans. He bought an old farm house at an auction (previously belonging to the Finley family), but due to I-90 coming through, a foundation was poured and the house moved to Greenwood Lane. He spent many years working on the house where the kids all grew up. Sometimes the kids could coax him to come upstairs and tell them a Jack in the Beanstalk story at night. Wrestling was always fun, or practicing high jumps with a board across the sawhorses, or playing catch, or running around the yard with a sparkler until it burned out. He would get a big kick out of giving you a ride to the Lockwood Junior High basketball game, driving up the steps of the school, and honking the horn. Robert loved watching any sport that was televised, so in the days of two TV channels, our choice was to join him or go outside and play; we played outside a lot. Robert and Marlene divorced in 1975, and that was the summer he rode his motorcycle to Roundup to tend bar at the Hub.
Most of Robert’s friends called him Bob, and his circle of friends was large. He was a member of the Laurel Golf Club for many years. He would ask his kids all the time, “Did you see my name in the paper?” Many times he golfed with brother Ed (just a larger version of Bob). After selling his membership, he started golfing at Par 3 in Billings, where he won the 2018 Senior trophy. Bob kept in touch with the Roundup alumni by attending monthly lunches at Gusicks. Then there was the card playing group that gathered at Jeff Iams’ house. Another really important group of friends are the ones who would stop for coffee in the morning at McDonalds, such as John Palagi, brother Ed and Chuck. His friends were so numerous, but we would like to mention Roger, Bill and Ralph.
At some point in time, his nickname became “Poppo.” His daughters had the good sense to marry men that Robert approved of, and they meant a lot to him. Heidi’s husband, Rick Brodston, would come out to the house to hang out with Matt and work on the motorcycles. Eve’s husband, Dave Allen, put him to work in his “retirement” at Auto Brokers. There, he also valued his friendship with the other “Bob” — Bob Brown. Poppo would make airport runs to pick up rental car customers and take cars to Don’s carwash. Tongue in cheek, he would tell people, “I’m third in command here.” In payment for being Third in Command, Dave and Eve would take him on a surprise trip every year. The last one being in January, a cruise out of Tampa so he could soak up some sun. He loved playing cards at the Nye cabin while Neil Diamond or Fleetwood Mac music was in the background. He also enjoyed listening to Dave practice the piano, while he drank his coffee with Irish Cream on the deck.
Poppo’s other hobbies included gardening and canning the fruit of his labors. At times, he might scoot over the fence for a hot pepper from neighbor Sharon Harris’ garden to make his salsa. His neighbor, Sindi Smith, was kind enough to ride her motorbike up to the big ditch to turn on the irrigation water. He had a fetish for pouring concrete and setting bricks and stone to make beautiful planters and patios. His son Matt mixed up the concrete for his last project in the summer of 2018. His house, and his daughters’ homes, are testimony to that skill. Poppo was an expert crossword puzzle worker, along with Sudoku.
Poppo was grandpa to Jon and Samantha Brodston, Megan Schreuder, Blaine Bond, Robert Steffans III, and Zachary Helmts (who predeceased him). He is survived by his brother Ed Steffans (favorite niece Jani Steffans, Cathy Brilz and nephew Tim Steffans) and sister Frances Potts (nephew Michael Potts). All of his children survive him, along with his ex-wife, Marlene Kinney, who still celebrated all family birthdays and holidays with him. He is also survived by the Burns brothers: John, Gene and Richard. Poppo was so thankful to have his son Matt living with him. There were times when he was healing up from heart or hip surgeries and needed extra help and companionship. He was tough and always bounced back, so we thought he was invincible.
Poppo died in his sleep sometime in the early morning of Feb. 4, 2019. We have some comfort in the fact that he did not suffer and had a life well-lived. Rest in Peace. We love you and will miss you.
Viewing is scheduled for from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21,at Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary, 1001 Alderson Ave. The memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at Michelotti-Sawyers, with a reception to follow at the Elks Lodge. Burial will take place at the Roundup New Miners Cemetery, with Military Honors, in the Spring.