Preston Ray Sweeney, Sr. “Sweeney” was born on Nov. 2, 1931, and was just a few days from his 87th birthday when he left this world on Oct. 19, 2018. His parents, Wilbert Preston Sweeney and Alta Faye Kephart Sweeney, moved to Billings from Holt County, Missouri, in the 1920s. Sweeney’s first job was working in the family truck garden on Poly Drive.
At the age of 8 years old, he developed polio and spent several months in the hospital. He often recounted that, from his hospital window, he had watched the Northern Hotel burn down (fall of 1940). He never allowed polio to make him a victim, even with a “bad leg.” He had seen the children on his floor lying in an iron lung, and knew it could have been worse for him.
After graduating from Billings Senior High, he attended Billings Business College, and then worked briefly at J.C. Penney’s, selling shoes. There, his mother introduced him to his future wife, Elizabeth “Betty” Marie Tracy Sweeney. Shortly after their marriage, his father and uncle asked him to join them in the masonry business, and “I didn’t know enough to say ‘no.’” Sweeney eventually moved his growing family from under the Billings Rims to an apple orchard near Boyd on Rock Creek.
Sweeney built a masonry business that served the area for his entire career, including celebrities in both the professional and the entertainment world. During this time, Sweeney Masonry and Sons was awarded the Craftsman of the Year honor for the restoration of the Trinity Lutheran Church on Grand Avenue in Billings. His favorite jobs were when he could do any stone restoration job such as Trinity Lutheran, Yellowstone Bank in Laurel, and the Rocky Mountain College bell tower. His “fun jobs” included the sensory gardens at the Zoo and Montana State University, Billings.
Sweeney was easily recognized as the mason in striped bib overalls with an Airedale at his side.
He is survived by his five children, Debra (Everett) De Witt of Midwest, WY, Kelley (Randy) Barkhuff of Shepherd, Preston Ray, Jr. “Duff” (Shawn) of Boyd, Bridget (Mike) Firehammer of Boyd and Sean Patrick of Joliet. He also leaves grandchildren Riley De Witt, Morgan De Witt, Casey Cheser, Adam Barkhuff, Andrew Barkhuff, Megan Sweeney, Ryan Sweeney, Aaron Firehammer, Devon Firehammer, Gunnar Firehammer and Matthew Sweeney; and great-grandchildren Clay De Witt, Derek Cheser, Hunter Cheser and Preston Jerald Johnson.
Sweeney is preceded in death by his wife, Betty; sister Shirley Jean Johnson; and grandson Derek De Witt.
Sweeney’s grandson Morgan De Witt will officiate the memorial service. Interment will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Rockvale Cemetery (Highway 310), followed by a celebration of life at the Joliet Fire Hall, 129 N. Main St., Joliet.
Memorials in Sweeney’s name may be made to the Beartooth Humane Society (PO Box 2333, Red Lodge, MT 59068), Carbon County 4-H Shooting Sports (PO Box 282, Boyd, MT 59013), Joliet Community Center, or charity of one’s choice.