By Elizabeth Zach, RCAC staff writer
Across Montana’s rural Chouteau County, the name Francis Engellant has been synonymous with quiet generosity and diligent work for decades. Engellant, who farmed and ranched near Geraldine, saw purpose in helping wherever and whenever he could. He volunteered to install heating and cooling systems at a senior center, modernized a fire station, outfitted parks with safe and inviting equipment, and spruced up fairgrounds.
Engellant died on July 22, 2016, leaving the communities to whom he’d dedicated so much time to mourn one of their best. Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) had announced that Engellant was selected as one of two Montanans to receive RCAC’s Yoneo Ono Outstanding Rural Volunteer Award just before he passed away. The award was to recognize the many contributions he made to the communities he loved.
The Yoneo Ono Award was created in honor of Yoneo Ono, one of RCAC’s founders. RCAC’s board presented the initial award to Ono when he retired from its board in 1984 for his lifelong commitment to rural development. The biennial award honors rural individuals within RCAC’s service area who have made significant lifelong contributions to their community in volunteer capacities.
Engellant was born April 10, 1926, on his family’s farm in Geraldine, Montana. The area had seen its share of booms and busts, at one time boasting a population of more than 1,100 and some 80 businesses. A drought in 1919 drastically reduced the town’s size and population; its economic potential never recovered.
But his family and friends say it was these challenges that propelled Mr. Engellant to work harder. He had seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for community service, in essence capturing Yoneo Ono’s spirit.
“He was the best father anyone could ever want growing up,” said his son Don. “He was so patient and had a lot of common sense. He was always very willing to help. He had strong leadership skills and served on so many community boards.”
Among other volunteer activities, Engellant served on the Geraldine School Board for 12 years and was instrumental in constructing a new K-12 school. For 30 years, he worked tirelessly as a 4H leader and supporter and served for many years as a board member on the Chouteau County Livestock Protective Association, which is critical to area ranchers as it provides the only county-dedicated brand inspector.
A WWII veteran who served in the Army Air Corps, Engellant was an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and he strongly supported the American Legion. He was also a founding and honorary member of the nonprofit Lippard-Clawiter Foundation, which secures and administers gifts or bequests to benefit Chouteau County residents. Since its 1980 establishment, the foundation, which is run by a volunteer board of directors has grown to manage $7 million in assets—a stunning achievement for a grassroots foundation.
RCAC presented a posthumous award to Engellant’s wife, Blanche, and the Lippard-Clawiter Foundation at a ceremony on August 4.
Rural Community Assistance Corporation is a nonprofit corporation that serves rural communities throughout the western United States and Pacific Islands. RCAC provides training, technical and financial resources and advocacy so rural communities can achieve their goals and visions.