When Don Pfau was nine years old the Ohio and Scioto rivers, which form a crescent at his hometown of Portsmouth, swelled and flooded. Water washed over six-foot high walls and mud destroyed churches and schools. Yet, his most vivid memory of the catastrophe is how everyone immediately pitched in to help reconstruct the town and rebuild lives. “From that moment on,” recalls his daughter Pam Higgins, “he decided he needed to give back.”
Pfau would go on to spend his entire adult life working to improve life across Montana, including spearheading flood control and conservation projects.
This year, Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) recognized Pfau with the Yoneo Ono Outstanding Rural Volunteer Award. The prize was established in honor of Yoneo Ono, one of RCAC’s founders, for his lifelong commitment to rural development. The biennial award honors rural residents within RCAC’s service area who have made significant lifelong contributions to their community in volunteer capacities.
Pfau worked with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, to help foster the development of Crooked Creek Recreation Area, the P-N Bridge construction and chaired the Fort Peck Advisory Council. He led efforts to build five flood control dams in Spring Creek after repeated flooding at Lewistown threatened lives and livelihoods. He helped organize Big Spring Creek Watershed Partnership (BSCWP), which has helped with conservation efforts on Spring Creek and the creation of a top-notch trail system along the creek and on Lewistown’s former rail bed. He continues to work with BSCWP in Lewistown to conserve and restore a stream’s natural meander to improve water quality, the fishery and wildlife habitat.
Pfau’s other volunteer efforts were significant, bringing economic prosperity to seven counties, and nearly a dozen rural communities, all intended to improve conservation, recreation, culture and education. In the early 1960s, he formed a hotel association which secured property to build what would become a popular convention center. That project earned him a reputation as an incomparable fundraiser and he was later tasked with leading campaigns to build a museum, a new high school and performing arts center, hospital, livestock pavilion and grandstands at the Fergus County Fairgrounds; and property acquisition for a Montana State University-Northern University system satellite campus. His service to the Central Montana Foundation, now in an advisory role, helped to create what has evolved into a community foundation with assets of nearly $23 million.
At an age when most people are eager to retire, 89-year-old Pfau still works hard to improve the state and community he loves. He keeps Lewistown brochures in his car and greets tourists on the streets. He also penned a fundraising booklet for small communities and he has served with the Lewistown Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lewistown Heritage Committee, which published “The First 100 Years…A History of Lewistown, Montana.” He is a former chairman of the Central Montana Medical Center Advisory Board, and has served on numerous other committees and boards.
RCAC’s board of directors honored Pfau at a dinner to “Celebrate Lewistown” on August 4.