Obert Undem

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Obert Undem descended from pioneer Norwegian ranchers, born in the Great Depression and hardened by toil on the family ranch north of Glendive. Obert Undem later lived an extraordinary life as a lawyer, banker and philanthropist.

His life was filled with art, music, travel, and gourmet cooking — his own — any dish that he cooked would be a delicious part of a wonderful meal. He loved to cook a meal for a party of friends or family. Obert enlivened his time with friends through a lively wit and intelligent conversation. He was known for his “Obert-isms”, pithy observations, like “Every good day is one day less of winter” and “I’m not a quitter, but I have a fast watch.”

He was devoted to his steadfast companion, his wife Ginny, who was always at the heart of his life. She, along with many friends, advocated he publish a cookbook of his recipes. That never materialized, although he unselfishly shared them when asked.

Undem attended a oneroom schoolhouse on Deer Creek before going to high school in Glendive where a kindly couple, who hired him to mow their lawn and shovel their walks, took notice of his academic achievements. Retired banker, Robert H. Watson, and his wife, Ino DeLong Watson, who he fondly called “Auntie Mame,” underwrote his education at Carleton College, which they had attended, and later his pursuit of a post graduate education at Harvard.

“My education was provided by someone who gifted it to me,” he recalls. “They paid all my expenses -- that was an incredible thing for them to do -- and all I did was mow their lawn when I was a kid.”

That memory inspired his work at Rocky Mountain College where he raised millions of dollars to help students through building endowments that would ensure the future benefit of students.

His bachelor of arts degree was awarded cum laude in 1957 from Carleton College, Northfield, Minn.; his master’s in business administration was from Harvard University School of Business Administration, Boston, in 1957; and his juris doctorate degree was conferred by William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul, Minn. in 1963.

Undem came to Rocky Mountain College in 1995, after a 15-year career as a solo practitioner as an estate and tax planning attorney in Fayetteville, Ark. Prior to that he had a 20-year career as a bank president, trust officer and consultant in Minnesota, Oklahoma and Arkansas. He was a recently retired member of the Bar Associations of Montana, Arkansas and Minnesota. He served 30 years as a director of the Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City, Mo.

Undem served as a board member of many civic, cultural and commercial organizations, among them the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, the Minneapolis Art Institute, the Arkansas Symphony, the Montana Community Foundation, the Billings Community Foundation and the Rocky Mountain College Institute for Peace Studies.

His honors include selection as the Outstanding Professional Fundraiser of the Year 2008, awarded by the Montana Chapter of the Association of Professional Fundraisers, and an Honorary Doctorate in Public Service by Rocky Mountain College in 2010. The Billings Community Foundation honored his legacy by creating the Obert Undem Community Vitality Endowment, in recognition of his determined advocacy for community foundations across Montana.

Undem is survived by his wife of 36 years, Virginia (Ginny) Undem; his son, Steve Undem of Morrow, Ark.; and his daughter, Carolyn Hollingsworth of Springdale, Ark. He is also survived by his grandchildren, Amanda Bayley, Sara Tice, Mia Undem and Zac Undem; along with several great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at Smith Chapel in Billings on Friday, August 2 at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers Undem wished for donations to promote and encourage the use of charitable endowments to uplift nonprofit services to the local community via the Billings Community Foundation, Obert Undem Community Vitality Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 1255, Billings, MT 59103. The BCF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.