Kin recall man who died in cold — (Billings Gazette)

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The Billings Gazette

By ZACH BENOIT Of The Gazette Staff

Posted: Friday, January 8, 2010 11:45 pm

Just a few days ago, Mary Herman spoke with her older brother, Kirk Ostwald, about their grandma’s favorite recipes and how they should do something with them.

“We were talking about her recipes, and I said, ‘You must be hungry for that kind of food, those old kinds of recipes that people just don’t make any more,’ ” she said. “He said something like, ‘I think we need to get those recipes together and get a cookbook and open up a little place.’ ”

It was the last time they spoke. At 2:50 a.m. Friday, Billings Police officers found Ostwald lying face down in the snow between a vehicle and a wall near his apartment at 331 Bohl Ave. Paramedics declared him dead at the scene.

Yellowstone County Deputy Coroner Chad Fehr said Ostwald, 43, died of hypothermia due to exposure. The temperature was 9 degrees, with a wind chill of 30 below.

Herman, of Shepherd, said her brother may have been at a casino before he died and, if so, he probably had a few beers. Authorities are awaiting results from a toxicology test.

Herman thinks her brother didn’t drive home because his SUV wasn’t in his parking lot Friday. She speculated that the night out combined with his depression medication and the frigid night air may have confused him.

“It’s hard to tell, and maybe I’ll never be certain,” she said. “I’m just sad that he had to go like he did.”

Friends and family described Ostwald as a charismatic funnyman and loving father who came upon some hard times.

“Everybody had their faults,” said his oldest sister, Teresa Kirchner, of Elko, Nev. “But he had the hugest heart and was just so funny.”

Ostwald was the third-youngest of six children born to George and Jeannie Ostwald and grew up along the Yellowstone River near Columbus.

“We always got into trouble together, but he was a people person,” said childhood friend Mike Halvorson. “He always showed how much he cared about you.”

After graduating from Rapelje in 1984 and serving four years in the Army Reserve, Ostwald moved around a bit before coming home to Montana a decade ago. During that time, he married and had two daughters, Brittany, 19, and Brianna, 21.

“His daughters were his life,” Herman said. “He didn’t get to see them as often as he liked, but he would’ve been lost without them.”

After divorcing the girls’ mother in the early 1990s, Ostwald became depressed and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He worked numerous jobs, including stints in the construction industry and with Millstone Coffee, before going on disability because of the disorder five or six years ago.

“He was dealt a crappy hand and he did the best he could,” Herman said. “But it’s a part of who Kirk was now, and it’s important that people understand.”

Even though he had up and down days, Ostwald maintained his sense of humor. Kirchner recalled how in 2009 their brother George lost a tooth. Just before Christmas, Ostwald said he had found the perfect gift ­ a tooth from a deer his nephew shot.

“That’s all I kept thinking about today,” Kirchner said Friday. “I wonder if my brother got that tooth.”

Posted in Local on Friday, January 8, 2010 11:45 pm | Tags: Kirk Ostwald