Al was born in Sabetha, Kansas, on Aug. 30, 1925, to Charles and Jessie Sontag. During his childhood and early adulthood, he was called “Sam” after the doctor who delivered him. Al survived a difficult childhood, including contracting polio at age 4 and the early loss of his father. He left home at age 14 to make his own way during the deepest days of the Great Depression. After some traveling, Al relocated to Washington state, where he learned the logging trade that he would work at the rest of his life, and met his future wife, Mildred “Millie” Hutson. After opening his own business, he preferred to be called "Al" while family and old friends continued to call him Sam.
On March 31, 1944, at age 19, Al married “Millie” Hutson, age 16. These two fiercely independent, loving people would build a good life together, eventually settling in Montana. They raised four children: James, Janice, Annette and Steven. Their marriage lasted 62 years until Millie’s death in August 2004.
Al was always incredibly curious about the world around him and never stopped exploring, learning and questioning. His love of the outdoors and Montana was the driving force in both his personal and professional life. Al built a successful, respected, logging business that he managed until his retirement at age 78. His sons and grandson were a very important part of this business, and working with them was a source of pride for Al and something he treasured greatly. Another very colorful partner in the business was "Bear Dog," the fabled golden chow whose unique personality, hunting exploits – and rescue from them by Steve and Scott – are still a source of hilarious family stories. Two pieces of Al’s logging equipment have been donated to the Loggers Museum at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.
After Al’s retirement, he devoted his energies to another treasured pastime – his music. He was a self-taught musician and enjoyed singing and playing the guitar, banjo and piano. He became a devoted member of the Old Time Fiddlers, with whom he enjoyed performing. He forged many friendships, including Dorothy Wittenberg, who became his very special companion for the next eight years until her death in November 2013. She brought happiness and love back into his life.
As his health problems increased, Al came to reside at Riverside Health Care Center, where he lived for almost three years. The loving care and the meaningful friendships Al experienced at Riverside made this difficult time much easier for him and his family. The family would like to express their deepest gratitude to the wonderful staff at Riverside and at the Partners Hospice program. Many of the staff became like family to Al and to them.
Al was preceded in death by his wife Mildred and his companion Dorothy. He is survived by his children, Jim (Shari), Janice, Annette (Scot) and Steve (Diana); as well as his grandchildren, Jim Jr., William, Scott, Jessica, Amanda (Clay) and Kelleigh; and great-grandson, Charlie.
A celebration of Al’s life will take place Saturday, July 23, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Loggers Museum section of the Missoula Historical Museum. Please come and share memories and stories to celebrate Al’s nearly 91 years. (Direction signs will be posted) In lieu of flowers, please make any memorial donations to the Loggers Museum, Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, 3400 Rawn Way, Missoula, MT 59804; 406-728-3476.