MONTANA COWBOY HALL OF FAME Living INDUCTION
LENORE MCKELVEY PUHEK
DISTRICT 8 - YEAR 2024
Lenore McKelvey Puhek was born on April 6, 1938, in Helena, Montana. Her father, Thomas McKelvey, was a painting contractor and travelled across Montana painting Shell gas stations, taking his family with him. Her mother, Nora B. (Frey) McKelvey, was employed by the State of Montana Highway Department and proudly worked as a part-time secretary for Senator Mike Mansfield. Lenore has two sisters and one brother.
Lenore has been writing about Montana for eight decades. She writes what she sees in nature, people, lifestyles, communities, and ranching. At age eight she knew writing would direct her path when she read a quote by John Steinbech that had been painted on a wall in Lincoln, Montana. “…I’m in love with Montana…” (Travels with Charley.) Writing became Lenore’s passion. She discovered contests and entered, winning a radio from Highlights for Children. (She had hoped to win first prize … a puppy.)
As a freelance writer, Lenore writes travel pieces about Montana. “My first paycheck was for $5.00 from a Christian magazine about the hardship of finding a Christmas tree, in the surrounding area, near Miles City, during the Indian wars.”
Lenore’s grandparents homesteaded near Augusta, Montana. She learned ranching ways, met real cowboys, and attended Native American pow wows with her grandfather, at Browning, Montana, on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. She candled eggs to sell, saving that money earned to spend at the Great Falls State Fair.
School time always found Lenore back in Helena. She wrote a daily bulletin in high school and edited the school newspaper, The Spires. After graduation, Lenore worked for “Ma Bell” telephone company until she moved to Billings, Montana, where she met and married Steve Puhek. He owned a ranch near Red Lodge. Their son, Joseph, was born in Billings. Joseph needed medical care and was admitted to the Shriner’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. “The next five years found us living in Salt Lake City, so we sold the ranch to an uncle,” Lenore explained.
The family later moved back to Helena. “We vowed never to leave Montana again,” Lenore said.
Lenore resumed her education, graduating with a B.A. degree in English/Writing from Carroll College. She was awarded the A. B. “Bud” Guthrie, Jr. writing scholarship. Lenore said, “We became friends, and he gave me great advice on writing.”
Lenore worked in the college learning center, helping foreign students with their English studies. While a student she started a club for older classmates returning for degrees. “I put up bulletins on campus and two people came to the first meeting,” Lenore explained. “They promised to bring two more and soon we had to find a meeting room to hold all of us OTAs (Older Than Average Student).”
Lenore adds, “Every two years I attended writing conferences in other parts of the United States. Ivan Doig, Erma Bombeck, Maria Von Trappe, Richard Wheeler, Norma Ashby, and many other authors wrote me personal letters, advising, encouraging me. In White Sulphur Springs at a conference, I met a Pulitzer Prize winner from a Seattle newspaper. He challenged me to write a real story and become a real author. I listened to him and wrote The River’s Edge, connecting my love of Civil War era history and Montana.”
Lenore continues to write something daily. To her, even her grocery list is considered writing. “My latest book, Blood Brothers: Montana Territory 1860 - 1890, published by Primix Publishing, recently was awarded a finalist medal from The New Generation of Independent Writers as well as the book cover itself receiving a finalist award.” Lenore writes mostly historical fiction about women, who deserve to recognized for their contribution towards the Western Movement.
Since 2008, Lenore has written the nomination biographies of several Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame Inductees: John M. Frey; Broadwater Hotel and Natatorium; Charles Broadwater; Thomas Francis Meagher; Thomas Cruse; Nevada City Hotel; Ming’s Opera House; Annie Morgan, and John Raphael Quigley, Sr.
She has had Montana-themed articles and anthologies published in various publications: Wild West; Fence Post; Yellowstone National Park; Stained Glass: History of Cathedral of St. Helena, Helena, Montana; Grit; Highlights for Children; Spirit Talk; Whispering Wind; Farm and Ranch; Town and Country Living; Moody Monthly; Encyclopedia Britannica; and National Cowboy - Cowgirl Hall of Fame.
To date, Lenore has written seven books, all featuring the Montana pioneer spirit. Niskoskowa: life of the Blackfeet (out of print); The River’s Edge: life of Thomas Francis Meagher, Territorial Governor of Montana, and his wife Libby; Annie: a black slave woman who cooked for General Custer and homesteaded near Philipsburg; Forever Friends: life of a young woman doctor from Virginia who came to Montana to practice; No Time for Tears (sequel): the importance of a doctor in small Montana mining communities; Under the Banyan Tree: twenty-three year career Army nurse from Helena who was stationed in Pearl Harbor; Blood Brothers: Montana Territory 1860 – 1890: life of the Blackfeet Nation in northwest Montana and traditional ceremonial ways of life.
With a cheerful and positive attitude towards life, always learning, forever the student, Lenore embraces whatever life throws her way. She remarks, “One is never too old to live out your dreams.” Lenore’s philosophy mimics many famous writers: “If you are going to get old, you might as well get as old as you can.”