Theodore Vincent Lechner
Theodore Vincent “Ted” Lechner, 83, of Billings, passed away on his birthday, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, after a short encounter with pancreatic cancer. Ted was a kind, compassionate, soft-spoken yet strong man, who deeply loved his family. His heart was big enough to welcome and help all children in need of guidance and direction. Never one to boast of his accomplishments, his life’s work exemplified the man he was. Montana has lost an incredible gentle giant who positively changed the lives of many. He adored his grandchildren, sons and daughters-in-law, and spending time with them no matter what the activity. His bear hugs were legendary and he was always willing to help, explore or tackle any family project presented to him. Be it coloring, constructing egg launchers for school assignments, homework or home projects, Ted was ready. Attending volleyball, soccer, swimming or baseball, he was always present in the moment, making each person feel special and loved. He was an extraordinary man who devoted his life to his family, his work and his faith.
Ted was at born at St. Vincent’s hospital on Sept. 9, 1938, to Joseph and Catherine Lechner of Fly Creek near Pompey’s Pillar. The youngest and only of their 13 children born in a hospital, and thus was given his middle name. Three older brothers died after birth, leaving nine older siblings to help raise him on their family farm. They were admirable role models, shaping the person he was to become. Ted attended Huntley Project High School and graduated from Billings Central, Carroll College, and received his Master’s degree from the University of Washington School of Social Work. He was an All-Conference football player both at Billings Central and at Carroll, where he was elected to their football Hall of Fame in 1975.
Teaching in Custer, Juvenile Justice at Eastern (MSU-B), and serving in the U.S. Army Reserves all led him to a path focusing on and bringing about awareness and change for youth services. Working with children affected by abuse, neglect, foster care and adoption as a caseworker and supervisor for the Yellowstone County Welfare Department was the beginning of his lifelong mission. Following his passion to help improve the outcome for children, whether it was a youngster on a sports team or a youth in trouble at home, in society or with the law, Ted never gave up trying to help, to reach, to teach the thousands of children with whom he had contact. His journey continued when he became the Director of Youth Court Services for the 13th and 22nd Judicial Districts and of Juvenile Probation, a position which he held for 27 years.
When Ted became the Chief Juvenile Probation officer, there was no significant juvenile justice system or infrastructure in Montana. Juveniles were held in adult jails, had few rights, and there was no clear guidance or regulations to govern the care of juveniles across the state. Feeling strongly about helping youth, Ted volunteered his time and expertise with the goal in mind, to be involved with committees on the state or local level serving youth justice. Ted became involved with the emerging Youth Justice Council of the Board of Crime Control and was a key stakeholder in the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in Montana. This act provided for humane practices in juvenile custody and courts and ensured that juvenile justice focused on care and rehabilitation. Working as an advocate to pass, implement and improve the Montana Youth Court Act was one of Ted’s proud achievements. Additionally, working through Court Services and seeing the obvious needs, came the seeds for the development of Crisis Intervention, Tumbleweed, and Youth Court Conference Committee utilizing trained lay volunteers.
After 15 years addressing civic groups about the need for safe detention and shelter care, Ted’s dream was realized. The Youth Services Center of Yellowstone County was constructed on South 26th Street in Billings and dedicated in 1987. The County Commissioners, to honor Ted’s vision and commitment to youth, renamed the building the Ted Lechner Youth Services Center upon his retirement in 1997. Ted was honored, humbled, proud and thankful to have the Center continue his life’s work bearing his name. He is nominated for 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented at the 2021 Montana Board of Crime Control Conference. Many of his peers feel Ted is the father of juvenile justice in Montana.
Ted married his best friend, a nurse and fellow student at Carroll College, Patty Ellen Hall of Sheridan, Wyoming, and loved her for over 60 years. Together, they were immensely proud parents of three amazing sons: David, Tom and Michael. The boys and their families are ever grateful for time spent together with Ted, learning by his example life lessons in integrity, perseverance, kindness, love and respect for each other, and especially for their mother. His Catholic faith was also a vital component in his life, prayerful and devout, he remained active by serving on the Parish Council of St. Pius and then at St. Thomas the Apostle, where he ushered and counted collections. Ted embraced his love of all nature, including fishing, hunting and birding. The adventures were only made better by sharing these pastimes with his much-loved family. He appreciated being active and was not one to sit around idle. Coaching football, basketball, soccer, 13 years of Little League baseball, and enjoying nine years on deck at the Billings Aquatic Club were all memory-making pursuits. He also served as the Commissioner of Swimming for Montana Big Sky State Games. Ted spent countless hours building birdhouses to share, to introduce others to the delights of birding, fitting construction in around completing the family “Honey Do” chores. He was most happy puttering, tending his yard, flowers, bird feeders and garden and he loved road trips, especially if they involved birdwatching. Observing chickadees nesting in his balcony birdhouse while enjoying a cup of coffee brought him days and hours of joy. Three years ago, Ted and Patty moved from the family home to Mission Ridge on the beautiful campus of St. John’s United. There they continued to enjoy life, family, chickadees, Green Bay Packer games, and meeting new and renewing old friendships until the time of his death.
Preceding Ted in death are his parents, Joseph and Catherine; and all Lechner siblings, Mark, Mary Baker, Katherine Haaland, RoseEllen Weber, John, Karl, Jim, Glen and Charles. Surviving and left to carry on his legacy of helping others are his wife, Patty; son Dr. David Lechner and wife Kerry, and grandchildren Liam and Carlin of Missoula and Helena; son Tom Lechner and wife Amy, and grandchildren Megan (Levi Frickle) and Kyle of Billings; and son Michael Lechner of Billings. Also, sisters-in-law Beverly, Kate, and Ruth Lechner, and Patty’s sister Gloria Novakovich, and 25 awesome nieces and nephews. He is greatly missed by his family and all those who had the privilege to know him.
A funeral mass will take place on Friday, September 24 at 10:00 a.m. at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, 2055 Woody Drive, Billings.
In lieu of flowers, the family invites memorial donations in Ted’s name to Yellowstone CASA, P.O. Box 688, Billings, 59103-0688; Friendship House, 3123 Eighth Ave. South, Billings, 59101; or St John’s United Foundation, 3940 Rimrock Road, Billings, 59102.
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