News

Aug 28 2012

UM REMEMBERS A DEAR FRIEND


As reported in the Missoulian:


The University of Montana community lost one of its biggest supporters last week when Lawrence “Tony” Wertz, the nominated chairman of the UM Foundation, was killed in a vehicle crash near Lincoln.


Members of the UM Foundation were expected to meet this week to discuss the accident, the foundation’s immediate future and ways to remember Wertz, who was described as a longtime university supporter.


“He was definitely a son of Missoula and a son of the university,” said Laura Brehm, the foundation’s president and CEO. “He was raised in Missoula and graduated in the class of 1965.”


Wertz, who attended Sentinel High School, came from a long line of UM graduates, including his parents Sherman and Flora, who graduated from the university in 1929 and 1934, respectively.


His brother, John, also graduated from UM, as did several family members and two of his three children.


“His roots ran really deep and he was committed to UM,” Brehm said. “Being a family man, he was a wonderful person to be with.”


Wertz was nominated as the UM Foundation’s vice chair two years ago. The board was expected to officially appoint Wertz its new chairman in September.


Brehm said it was a position Wertz was looking forward to.


“He was the most excited and honored of any incoming chair I’d seen,” she said. “He really wanted to make a difference. He had vision and excitement on what could be done in new and different ways. It’s particularly hard to see him gone so quickly.”


***


Dick Ford
had known Wertz for 50 years. The two lifelong friends met as members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at UM back in the 1960s.


“We’ve worked closely both on the UM Foundation, but more so in dealing with the SAE fraternity,” Ford said. “He contributed money to renovate the fraternity house and he continued to stay involved. He was a very positive guy and he always had a smile on his face.”


Ford recently returned to California from Montana, and while here he and Wertz held a reunion for members of the SAE fraternity. Wertz, who Ford described as a people person, made the rounds with the crowd.


After the event, he and Ford went back to their college stomping grounds, stopping in at the fraternity house to address its class of undergraduates.


“We discussed some real issues with them,” Ford said. “We talked about alcohol in the fraternities and current things like the sexual assaults. We gave them a different perspective. (Wertz) had an understanding about young men and he wanted them to think twice before they did things. He was a good counselor in that respect.”


Wertz had three children of his own. Two of them attended UM, including his youngest son, Garret, and his daughter, Lizabeth, who played on the UM volleyball team and gave birth to her second child the day before Wertz was killed in the accident.


Ford described Wertz as an optimist and a positive person. It is, he said, what kept them close over the years. Wertz had done well financially, Ford said, and he always was willing to share his successes with others.


“When he got involved in something, you could count on him doing the work,” Ford said. “He was fun to be around. He had these super plans on what he was going to do with the UM Foundation.”


Wertz and his wife, Grace, collided with a pickup truck on a curve on Montana Highway 200 west of Lincoln at around 4:30 p.m. last Wednesday.


Lewis and Clark County Coroner Mickey Nelson said Wertz died in the crash. His wife was taken to St. Patrick Hospital and remains in the intensive care unit.


The pickup was driven by a 17-year-old Lincoln girl. Nelson said the girl suffered minor injuries.


Funeral services are pending in Helena.


Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260 or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.