Montana Lisle Reese spent the last hour of his life having birthday cards read to him. He died on his 95th birthday, August 25, 2005. He lived a life of service, and had many well-wishers, even after most of his contemporaries were gone. Like many of his generation, he worked hard without expectation of glory.
Lisle was the first employee of Crippled Children's Hospital & School (the name changed to Children's Care Hospital & School in 1994), a newspaperman hired in 1948 by the Crippled Children's Society of South Dakota to be a fundraiser. It was to become part of his life's legacy, for not only did he help establish Children's Care, he also chose to provide for children for generations to come by naming Children's Care Hospital & School in his estate plans.
Any story about Lisle, however, must include his beloved wife, Hepzi. Lisle's job as a reporter in Pierre naturally brought him to the governor's office, where the secretary, Edith Obele, was charged with keeping reporters at bay. "She was a regular Katharine Hepburn," Lisle would say later. A real sparkplug. She earned the nickname "Hepburn," which was later shortened to "Hepzi." Lisle won her heart, and they married in Pierre in, and spent the rest of their lives together.
When called upon to help raise money for a "crippled children's hospital and school," Lisle drew on skills honed during his World War II service as a public relations officer. With a $5000 grant from the Easter Seals Society as seed money, he helped raise $500,000 from around the state of South Dakota, mostly small gifts from hundreds of individuals who responded to the call to help children. It was a remarkable feat; with Dr. Guy Vandemark and nurse Irene Fisher Coon, Lisle visited service clubs, women's groups, families and individuals, telling of the needs of the children recovering from polio. Many in the area who were school children at the time remember saving pennies for the cause.
Finally, it all came together, and Crippled Children's Hospital & School opened in March of 1952. Lisle stayed on another year, and was then invited by the Florida Society for Crippled Children and Adults to organize a network of treatment centers and rehabilitation facilities. He started with little more than a typewriter and a telephone, but the project flourished under his direction.
Lisle also had a life-long passion for writing. While operating the Capital News Bureau in Pierre, SD, he was selected to direct the Federal Writers Project in 1935, and helped to publish 15 guidebooks during that time. He published six books of his own, had his memoirs published by the South Dakota Historical Society, and his aerial photos of the destruction of Tokyo by b29's during WWII were used worldwide.
Montana Lisle Reese was an original advocate for children with disabilities. In a newspaper quote from the Aberdeen newspaper on April 22, 1948, he said, "Our goal will be directed toward removing the physical and psychological handicaps of the hundreds of handicapped children in the state so that they can live normal lives and become successful citizens." That mission is still alive today.
Founded by gifts from over 40,000 individual South Dakotans half a century ago, Children's Care Hospital & School remains unmatched in this region for its care of children with special needs. This is true today because of generous gifts like those given by Montana Lisle Reese of his estate, leadership, and inspiration.
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