Peter Steketee Dayton was a beloved husband, brother, uncle, cousin, good friend, exceptional attorney, talented violinist, and multi-faceted outdoorsman. He was a fun-loving adventurer and a dedicated mentor to many. His intelligence, sincerity, steadfastness, kindness, and sense of humor endeared him to all who knew him. Peter passed away unexpectedly on April 13, 2023 at the age of 69 while on a canoe trip on the Green River in Utah.
Peter was born on January 11, 1954 in Princeton, NJ. He grew up in Bozeman, MT, where he enjoyed outdoor activities from a young age with family and friends. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education from Montana State University in 1974 and was accepted directly into the doctoral program in Violin Performance at the University of Cincinnati. During a summer break, he worked for Bein & Fushi, one of the world’s premier dealers and restorers of fine stringed instruments. He chose to leave graduate school, continuing full-time at Bein & Fushi and relocating with them to Chicago, IL.
After a stint as a headhunter for David J. White & Associates in Chicago, Peter decided to pursue a career in law and was accepted by the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1978. He obtained his Juris Doctor in May 1981, passed the Illinois bar exam in November 1981, and started his career as an attorney at a law firm in Rockford, IL. During his time back East, Peter took up spelunking, exploring and mapping caves in Illinois and surrounding states.
Eager to return to Montana, Peter actively searched for opportunities, passing the Montana bar exam in November 1983 and moving to Helena to work in bonds and securities with John Oitzinger. He then joined Oitzinger & Mullendore in Missoula, which later became Mullendore & Tawney. Peter and Phil Tawney practiced together at Tawney & Dayton until Phil became ill with leukemia, passing away at age 45. Peter kept their Tawney & Dayton law firm sign in his computer room at home as a reminder that life can be short, so each day should be lived to the fullest.
In 1994, Peter joined Worden, Thane, & Haines, now Worden Thane PC, becoming a partner in 1995. His practice focused on a wide range of real estate matters, including purchase and sale transactions, subdivision and development activity, commercial leasing, easement and access issues, survey and boundary disputes, 1031 exchanges, and conservation easements. Peter was an expert on public road law, presenting statewide continuing legal education seminars on this topic and many others. For 15 years, Peter led a project to protect the land along the Alberton Gorge, initiating several land exchanges to ensure that no development would take place next to this pristine 10-mile whitewater stretch of the Clark Fork River, west of Alberton from Cyr to Tarkio. Work is underway to erect a permanent memorial marker in honor of Peter in the Alberton Gorge.
Peter retired in January 2019 and was so happy to pursue outdoor activities from before dawn until after dark throughout the week, rather than just on weekends. He loved adventures—the planning and the customization of gear, as well as the day trips and multi-day journeys themselves. He was an enthusiastic kayaker, backcountry skier, mountaineer, snowmobiler, hunter, spearfisher, fisherman, bicyclist, hiker, backpacker, and photographer. He explored the public lands, mountains, rivers, and lakes of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska, the Yukon, Canada, Mexico, and more. He was a delight to be around—a tireless advocate and conservationist who was fully engaged with the outdoor world. He never let a day go by without being on an outdoor trip or planning one, adventuring without pause. Peter’s love of and utmost respect for nature, his curiosity, wonderment, and delight, and his desire to learn were insatiable.
Peter’s professional associations included the State Bar of Montana and Western Montana Bar Association, and he was a member of the Missoula Symphony, Rocky Mountaineers, Missoula Whitewater Association, Missoula Adventure Crew, Northwest Kayak Anglers, and numerous other groups and forums. He served on the Board of Directors of the Missoula Whitewater Association and the Missoula Symphony Association. Peter was an avid photographer, sharing his activities at first with slideshows and then online. He generously shared his extensive experience and knowledge of outdoor recreation, including his favorite places, with everyone.
Left to cherish Peter’s memory are Colleen Hunter, his companion and wife of over 36 years, four siblings Barry Dayton (Barbara), Melissa Boyd (Randy), Andrew Dayton, and Beth Dayton (Jeff Jarvi), 8 nephews, 4 nieces, numerous cousins, and an extensive community of family, friends, clients, musicians, and adventurers. We are all grateful to have had our lives enriched by Peter and are blessed by spending part of life’s journey with him. We will all miss his friendship, stories, sense of awe, and calm approach to life. The only creatures not irrevocably saddened by the news of Peter’s passing are the Flathead Lake Mackinaw trout and the Salmon and Seeley Lake pike. We will look for Peter on mountain summits and in peaceful forests, whitewater rapids, lakes, waterfalls, soothing breezes, and in the changing of the seasons. His was a unique life, well lived.
Condolences may be left on Peter’s Facebook page, which is replete with beautiful photographs of the many people and places he loved. A Celebration of Life will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, August 4, 2023 at Garden City Funeral Home, 1705 West Broadway in Missoula, with refreshments to follow. Donations in Peter’s memory may be made to Moab Search and Rescue, Missoula Search and Rescue, Missoula Symphony, Five Valleys Land Trust, Missoula Whitewater Association, Montana Public Radio, Missoula Public Library, or a charity of your choice.