Rosemarie Steele is the Wheatland County Treasure. No doubt about it. She even has two signs to prove it. One was made in copper many years ago by Bob Brown, Sr. That was when she was Rosemarie Thompson. Bob was the local A & D Counselor and made the sign, “Just because he liked me.”
More recently, Jack Miller was making signs out of wood for all the county offices and Rose got the first sample for the office of the Treasure. Certainly the only Treasure in the County Courthouse.
Rosemarie has numbers of treasures in her own life - like the most extensive license plate collection in the state of Montana. Deer Lodge - where they make them at the prison - may have more plates, but they are all samples. “We have at least one plate for every state in the union and all the Canadian provinces. Along with Montana plates dating to 1912.” Rose also has a growing collection of personalized plates and a number of foreign license plates including the Philippines and Kuwait. Mary Lilley and Sigrid Kalberg, former Treasurers, started the collection long ago during their alternating tenures.
“Collectors from all over the state come in to look at them. The collection has become quite well known.” Rose got her last two state plates recently - Rhode Island and Connecticut. One of those was given to her by a visiting collector. Now, people are bringing in personalized plates.
How did Rose become County Treasurer? “Charlie Hereim hired me as CETA clerk for a one-year training period. It was a way to help people go out and get a job and join the work force. After that year, I was Deputy Treasurer for another year. Then, Charlie retired. I ran for office and won.” Rose is working on her seventh 4-year term now.
Pat Langston is her current deputy. She handles most of the motor vehicle and drivers licenses, listing of school checks, and counter service with customers. Pat Black and Janet Hill preceded Patty Langston as Deputy Treasurer.
What exactly does the Country Treasurer do? “I’m pretty much the banker for the county, its offices and schools. I collect all monies from drivers and motor vehicle license, land and property taxes. I also handle investments for the county.”
The different county offices write warrants to pay their bills. Then after they are cashed and processed through the Continental Bank, John Paulson goes to the Treasurer’s office each day. Rosemarie totals up all the warrants and writes a big check to the bank. “I’m the banker. I cover the warrants.”
Biggest check ever written? $600,000. For taxes collected. The Treasurer has collected as much a $1 million in a day. “I collect monies and send checks and reports monthly to the Montana Departments of Revenue and Justice, the Cities of Harlowton and Judith Gap, the UM Museum, and Upper Musselshell Conservation District (SCS).
Sounds like lots of numbers and calculations. “I’ve always liked working with numbers. I love solving money problems and balancing books. When I first took office everything was done by hand in the big ledgers. Now, it’s all done on computers. I have to balance books every day and every month. Everything has to total up.”
The county, including the treasurer’s office, is going through changes right now with two new computer systems. “Really, just one so far. The county changed from Unix to Windows. Windows is a lot easier and faster once you learn it. You can do all your transactions on one screen rather than opening and closing them.”
“I’m not one who dislikes change. You might as well just accept it. Change keeps happening.”
A new motor vehicle registration system was supposed to have been in place by September. “Now, they are trying for February. They keep running into glitches. The state trained us in June. By the time we go live, we will have forgotten everything they taught us. But in the meantime, we have gotten used to the Windows system which the vehicle registration will use.”
The County Commissioners and Clerk are on the new county computer system and the Assessor (who is employed by the state) also uses the new system.
Steele practically works for both the county and the state. Motor vehicle monies go direct to the state. “The job is completely different than when I started. With every legislature, things change.”
Rosemarie reports monthly to the County Commissioners. “We’re in much better shape financially since we got the Wind Farm. It has helped considerably.”
“We would still be struggling without the Wind Farm. It has made a huge difference in paying bills and payroll. We get $65,000 a month for the first three years which goes into our impact fund and is gathering interest now. Then, we collect around $500,000 in taxes every six months. (Half goes to the state.) The county excused 50 percent of its tax bill for the first five years. Thereafter, taxes will rise incrementally to 100 percent.”
“We certainly would be happy if Invenergy put in more towers at the Wind Farm. It was good for everybody that the County Commissioners worked so closely with them to get the Wind Farm in the county.”
One of Rosemarie’s personal treasures is her father, Ben Steele. Ben is famed for his art work, much of it based on his experience in World War II in the Pacific and especially during the Bataan Death March. “He’s the artist. I can draw. I was raising children and didn’t have time for art. I do needlework and hand crafts. And read a lot. I’m one of the best customers that the Public Library has, I swear. I read most anything, but I like mystery and suspense.”
“My father is still painting at 90. Paints every day. He retired as professor and head of the art department at Eastern Montana College when he was sixty. He said if he knew he was going to live this long, he would have kept teaching.”
Rosemarie has four children. Dean Thompson, runs Steve Parks Apiary, and Wendy Brouillette, has her own massage therapy business and also works for the hospital. Both live in Harlowton. Faron Thompson is employed by the state and teaches Tae Kwon Do in Billings. Kari Lane works in the school system in College Station, Texas, and is studying to be a teacher.
She also has eight grandchildren, five nearby and two in Texas and one in Arizona. “Oh, yes. My children and grandchildren are absolutely my treasures.”
While her father may be the artist in the family, Rosemarie has a singing voice and a flare for the dramatic. She has been one of the Jawbone Players for many years. Her first role was in Fiddler on the Roof. “I wanted to be in the chorus but I was cast as one of Tevye’s daughters.”
Rosemarie was Mother Superior in Nunsense and performed in The Music Man, My Fair Lady, and more recently in the female version of The Odd Couple and Death By Chocolate.
“I directed the first non-blackface Kiwanis Show. The Club voted for that change in 1992. There were some complaints and some people quit over it, but we thought it was for the best.”
Steele was director of the Kiwanis Show for eight years. “I had taken part in the chorus and the women’s quartet. And, I used to direct the country and western variety show that raised money first for the Chamber of Commerce and later the Swim Team. We called it the Brand New Opry and then Nashville Montana. It wasn’t elite like the Kiwanis Show. Anyone could join in.”
Steele was one of the first five women to become Kiwanis members. The others were Linda Hickman, Geri Hensel, Janet Hill and Beth Keating. Like Geri Hensel, she gets into holidays and decorates her house for every one of them. “My house is filled with decorations at Christmas. I do some decorating at the office, but mostly at home. I love Christmas.”
These days, Rosemarie Steele is Harlowton Kiwanis President. “I’m kind of enjoying it. It’s not as hard as I thought it would be.” Ms. Steele leads the Wednesday meetings and always enjoys directing a heartfelt chorus of Happy Birthday or Anniversary when someone’s day comes up. It would be hard not to notice her enthusiasm, sense of humor, and dedication to the community.
As a Kiwanian, Rose recently shared some of the fun, crazy and laughable letters she has received as County Treasurer over the years. (See letter and story below.)
To be sure, Rosemarie is a local treasure as well as the Wheatland County Treasure.
When Pat Black was Deputy Treasurer, money - a lot of money - turned up missing one morning. When Rose opened the safe there was NO MONEY to be found in the vault. Rose and Pat looked and looked, but NO MONEY.
“We thought we had been robbed. But, that was pretty unlikely because it is time-lock safe which is inside the vault. But, we got the Sheriff, Steve Riveland, on the case. We were at it for 2 1/2 hours and I had to go to the bank to get cash to work with customers . . .
“When we found the money hidden behind the door in the wrong place. It was in a drawer instead of the safe. Whew!!”