Don Lytle died February 1. He was 76.
Don owned bars and restaurants in Helena over the years, most notably Hap’s. He collected and beautifully restored old cars and trucks.
“He did it his way” is how his family summed up Don’s life. As his best friend, Dave Clark, said, “We were grateful to have him as long as we did.” His grandchildren said, “Grandpa didn’t know how much he was loved.”
Don was active in the Scottish Rite, Shriners and their Scooter Patrol and Jesters of Montana Court No. 5. He belonged to the Montana and Tri-County Tavern associations, and was president of the latter for three years. Don had a fondness for cats, most recently his cat Keno.
He was born Oct. 9, 1943, in Buhl, Idaho, to Winton R. Lytle and Josephine Lytle. His father died in a car wreck in Missoula when Don was 12. His mother later married Harold Mitchell.
His family ran the stockyards in Missoula. At age 11, Don was put in charge of 25 men working there. “He’s been the boss forever,” his family said. As a young man, he drove rodeo stock from Hot Springs to Drummond.
Don graduated from Waitsburg, Wash., High School in 1961. He played football, basketball and baseball in high school, where he acquired the nickname “Sugar.”
In March 1962, Don, who was working as truck driver, met the love of his life, Terry Fox, from Walla Walla, at a drive-in. He was driving a 1957 Chevy, with his best friend riding shotgun, while Terry, whose nickname was “Foxy,” was in a car with five other girls. Don and Terry were married Oct. 11, 1963.
Don enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in October 1962 and trained in Texas. While his friend was assigned to communications detail at the White House, Don was sent to Glasgow Air Force Base in Montana as a cook. His next assignment was supposed to be Vietnam, but instead he was sent to the Philippines to be part of a support group for men coming back from Vietnam.
Honorably discharged from the Air Force in July 1966, Don worked at Boise Cascade in Salem, Ore., loading paper. Don met a man who encouraged him to get involved in managing a food service business. The family moved to Helena, and Don took over as food service director at St. Peter’s Hospital from 1970-1973.
On the side, he bartended at the Rialto.
“Being a bartender, Don felt he was on stage,” Terry said. “He always wanted to be an actor or a song writer or singer.”
In 1973, the Lytles bought what had been George OK Café and turned it into Station 408 Café on Main Street. It’s now the Western Bar.
In 1975, Don leased and then bought Hap’s from George Schneider, and owned it for 44 years until his death. He also ran the kitchen at Green Meadow Country Club and started and sold Big Dorothy’s Saloon, current site of the Windbag.
At one point, Don owned Hap’s, Big Dorothy’s Saloon, Hap’s Hideaway and Fez’s Pizza, both in Kauai, Red Meadow Bar and Hap’s Corner in Townsend.
He also bought the former bus depot and moved it to Euclid and leased it and bought and moved the Budweiser warehouse. He collected and stored hundreds of damaged wheelchairs in an old railroad car. They were restored by correctional workers and sent overseas.
Surviving are his wife, Terry; son, Brent (Shawna); daughter, Gina; grandchildren, Brennan, Alex and Garret; sister, Linda (Tim) DeRuwe; and half-brother, Jimmy Mitchell, and nieces, nephews, cousins and good friends.
A Graveside Service with Military Honors is scheduled for 12:00 p.m., Thursday, February 13, 2020 at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery, Ft. Harrison. A Celebration of Don’s Life will follow with rock ‘n roll music at Haps Bar, 1505 Railroad Ave., Helena.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials to the transportation fund to take children to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, 2900 N. Rocky Point Dr., Tampa, FL 33607; Lewis and Clark Humane Society, P.O. Box 4455, Helena, MT 59604, or Cohesion Dance Project, 1020 Argyle St., Helena, MT 59601. Please visit below to offer a condolence to the family or to share a memory of Don.