Remembering Don Winston

Don Winston teaches class on the edge of a giant canyon.

Don Winston, Professor Emeritus of Geology


Earlier this week, The University of Montana lost a beloved faculty member and long-time friend who had a tremendous educational impact on generations of students. Don taught sedimentary geology in the Geology (Geosciences) Department for 44 years, from 1961 until his retirement in 2004.  Even after retiring, Don continued to mentor students and lead spring break geology field trips for the department.

Few faculty have impacted UM students as broadly and deeply as Don Winston. Don’s emphasis on field-based learning and deductive reasoning, which was grounded in meticulous field observations, produced generations of students that have gone on to successful careers in academia, industry, and the private sector. Don’s intimate knowledge of Montana geology was unrivaled, and his career body of professional work vastly illuminated the scientific understanding of Earth’s early surficial environments.

Much of Don’s work as a geologist focused on the Precambrian Belt Supergroup – the thick section of 1.5 billion-year-old sedimentary rock that underlies most of western Montana, from the Missoula Valley to Glacier National Park. Every summer, Don led a group of students deep into the western Montana backcountry with a train of llamas to study these rocks. At the start of each fall semester, he and his wife Bente would throw an overnight party called the ‘Belt Bash’ for the Geology Department and friends at their cabin in the Jocko Valley. Both at these parties and on class field trips, Don would provide hearty entertainment around the campfire with his claw-hammer banjo and rich baritone voice, singing mostly folk songs from the Great Depression Era.

Those of us lucky enough to have known Don as a colleague and friend know that he was a one-of-a-kind geologist who was intensely passionate about his work and who deeply cared about the success of his students. He welcomed everyone into his classes and field trips, regardless of academic ability, appearance, or background. His generosity and sense of camaraderie were unrivaled, and his overall impact on UM unmatched. Don Winston will be deeply missed by many.

The Geosciences Department extends its deepest sympathies to the Winston Family and will hold a celebration of Don’s life and contributions to UM later this spring. More information will be forthcoming.

If you have memories or photographs you would like to share commemorating Don, please email them to Karie Hyslop.  Items shared will be compiled here and shared at our memorial in the spring.  

Memories from our Alumni

Don Winston was the single most influential individual in supporting me as an aspiring scientist and became treasured as a friend during my period at the University of Montana.  Upon my arrival at the University he quickly became my mentor, of which there have been very few before and since that time.  He not only taught me about the science of geology, but also taught me that my intuition should be trusted and that my opinions were valued.  He reassured me that the foundation of good science is high integrity and that there was joy in the pursuit of solving geologic problems. No dead ends to solving problems, only detours. Don also taught me that classroom teaching and “book learning” are valuable components to an education, but field work is an invaluable component.  My one-on-one experience working with Don was often followed by a 6 pack of Rainer Ale  which served as “synapse stimulation” as we pondered the days observation of the Belt.  I was always impressed with Don’s patience and commitment to every student.  I often revisit in my “minds eye” the image of Don atop a Belt outcrop with his Jacob’s staff preaching his gospel of the Belt with the fervor and passion of Moses delivering the Ten Commandments.  Working with Don in the field, of which I was often a part of as a student and teaching assistant, was always a special learning opportunity and life experience. Don was able to “reach” every student and leaves an indelible memory among many for his passion for teaching and contagious enthusiasm.

It is no exaggeration that Don’s support, patience, respect, friendship, and guidance were a great influence in shaping me as a scientist and as a person.

Don Bleiwas
USGS (retired)
M.S. Geology- University of Montana,  1977


I first met Don at the second Belt Symposium way back in the distant past. Later we were both part of the International Geological Correlation Project 447 investigating enigmatic molar tooth structures. 

Don will be greatly missed.


Dr Darrel G. F. Long
Waterloo ON, N2L 6L8

Don was an amazing teacher and friend, especially for an “older-than-average” woman (i.e. mid 40s) and high school failure who eventually went on to get a PhD in paleontology. I’ll never forget the field trip to Mexico where most of the participants got food poisoning.  Another student and I ran a “hospital” out of the only available hotel room in Flagstaff while Don or a grad student shuttled patients from the nearby campground.  It’s the only time I can remember his looking a little overwhelmed with the situation. He was eternally grateful that two of us, out of the 20 something students, somehow didn’t come down with it! 

“Frankie” Jackson, Ph.D. (retired)
Department of Earth Sciences
Montana State University


Shared Images of Don

Images of Don Winston sent to us from his friends and colleagues.