Lee Poole, the man who turned 25,000 acres on the north face of Lone Mountain into Moonlight Basin, a ski and golf resort that added jobs and powder runs to southwest Montana, died Saturday at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital after a long illness. He was 66.
With a little money and a lot of love, he moved his wife and two kids from Rocky River, Ohio, to Ennis in 1973 to work at a guest ranch. “And it wasn’t long until all we had was love,” said Lathie Poole, his high school sweetheart and wife of 47 years.
Poole, most recently of Bozeman, loved to have a laugh, pulling many a prank on friends and family, but he was also remembered as a father figure to people outside his family.
Poole was generous to many people, even before becoming a successful real estate developer. His family recalled the story of Carl, a ranch hand he bought a bed for after finding him sleeping on the floor under a newspaper. They also remembered the woman with a disabled daughter that he bought a van for, anonymously, and the Haitian housekeeper Poole met while vacationing on the Turks and Caicos Islands whom he bought a home for.
“He so loved to give,” his daughter, Leesa, said. She recalled her father paying thousands of dollars for her friend to adopt a child from Vietnam and how he had treated all the Moonlight Basin employees like family. During his final days, Poole was still inviting people to go fishing, she said.
Before Poole developed Moonlight Basin, he was as a local entrepreneur. He traded in his first new car for a rusty Pinto so that he could buy three oil paintings by western artist Gary Carter, the first pieces for sale in the gallery he built with his wife. The paintings sold and his business made a profit — and he bought back the car.
In 1992, Poole bought the land near Big Sky and developed Moonlight Basin with business partners Joe Vujovich and Keith Brown. Russell McElyea, who worked for Moonlight Basin for eight years, knew Poole well, described him as a friend and recalled Poole’s policy of giving season ski passes to schoolchildren with high marks or improving grades.
In another moment of selflessness, at Poole’s own expense, he flew a man to Phoenix so that he could receive specialized medical care, McElyea remembered.
“He was constantly on the lookout for opportunities to help people,” McElyea said. “I think he considered the whole world his family. He was a giver. I don’t know that I’ve seen his equal in that regard. He may be physically gone, but he’s not gone in the hearts and minds of a lot of people.”
An avid sportsman, Poole was the past president of the Montana Bowhunters Association. He was sensitive about the impact of his work on the natural environment and made plans that reflected his love of the outdoors. He made sure that Moonlight Basin’s development preserved the open space, and gave consideration to the deer and elk populations.
Through Moonlight Basin and other development projects, Poole was able to surround himself with good people, have fun and make money, McElyea said. “That was definitely Lee’s vision,” he said. Moonlight Basin merged with Big Sky Resort in 2013, making it the largest ski resort in the United States.
Lee Poole was born in Rocky River on Aug. 20, 1948.
Survivors include his wife; son, Tracy Poole, and his wife, Shawna Poole; daughter, Leesa, and her husband, Tim Anderson; and grandchildren Cooper, Anelise, Christian, Laurén, Kelsie and Trever. A memorial is scheduled for 2 p.m. May 16 at Grace Bible Church in Bozeman.
Published in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, April 21, 2015.