From Classic Boat Library
Lee Craft Boats
The following was submitted by Grady Lafferty III:
From The Daily Interlake Sunday, May 2, 1971 by Floyd Larson
"Lee Retires After 33 Years In Boat Building Business"
Lee and his wife, Pat, began the enterprise in April 1938 using $850 in borrowed capital. He manufactured Lee Craft boats out of wood at that time and some are still in use today. The last wooden boat was made in early 1960's and the fiberglass line, which was started using a hull design developed by Lee and his staff, was started in 1958 and will continue to be manufactured at Somers (Montana) under the new owners.
Lee has no idea how many boats the firm has manufactured over the past three-plus decades but in recent years production has been around 100 boats a year ranging from the popular 14 footers to customized 25-foot models.
In reflecting over the last years, Ole, as he is called by almost all his customers, recalled the first employee of the firm was Les Averill who now owns and operates Flathead lake Lodge near Bigfork. Today the firm has 16 full time workers.
He recalls warmly many boat shows in Spokane and Seattle and other points over the years at which his Lee Craft creations have met with excellent response from buyers. He estimates his boats are scattered all over the "lower 48," Alaska and many provinces in Canada.
What pleases him most is the fact that customers have returned to buy larger or newer Lee Crafts over the years. He mentioned one customer in Missoula that recently purchased a fourth Lee Craft, the first one being a wood model. Also a point of pride with Ole is the fact that many of the commodores of boat clubs in Montana favor Lee Crafts as their personal boats.
The 17-foot and 19-foot versions of the current Lee Crafts have been well accepted he said.
His future plans are indefinite. There will be a lot of odds and ends to take care of. Immediately after that he plans to do some hunting, and fishing and pleasure boating with emphasis on the pleasure. Naturally, he prefers a Lee Craft.
At 58, Lee has earned the right to take it a little easier but he is still young at heart in that he will not accept retirement. He plans to enjoy himself more and still will be active in taking care of his real estate holdings.
His wife, the former Patricia Flynn of Kalispell, looks forward to a new life also so she can get better acquainted as well with their four children and six grand children. She has worked side-by-side with Ole over the years and feels she is entitled to go along on a hunting or fishing trip herself. They will make their home in the house they built just north of the Lee Craft plant overlooking Flathead Lake.
And while Ole has decided to cut the ties that kept him at the marina from dawn to dusk on many days during the height of the boating season, he will not be abandoning the boat business completely. He says he will be spending some time in a sales capacity as time permits while the new owners get their feet on the ground.
Ole said he wished to thank all his friends and patrons for their support over the years and he hopes they will continue to give this support to the new owners.
Ole, who was born 58 years ago in Olso, Norway, with the help of his wife, Pat, parlayed an $850 loan into a high six-figure business enterprise. After 33 years, they have earned the right to take it a little easier and there would be very few among those who have known them over the years that would quarrel with their right to do so.
Retired Somers residents that worked at Lee Craft Marine which was located in "Holand Bay" included: Chuck Almini, Earl Bates, and others. Ole's son Tom continues the family heritage at Lee Marine; 100 Montana Highway 82 at the corner of Highway 93 and the Bigfork/Somers cut-across road. Lakeside resident and former employee George Bland is still repairing stern drives and doing boat repair. The Classic Boat Works in the old Stan Craft Marina on Conrad Point and Cherry Hill specializes in wood boat restoration and general boat repair and storage.
From the Kalispell News April 13, 1989 by James C. Ryan Flathead's Ole Lee: more than a builder of boats
The company was known for close to 43 years as Lee Craft, but for those boating enthusiastss who were fortunate enough to own one of Ole Lee Jr.'s wood or fiberglass creations, it could well have been named Lee-Craftsmanship. You see, good enough was never good enough for Ole Lee when it came to building boats for his thousands of loyal customers.
Even today, that same craftsmanship and dedication comes through as he shows visitors around his home and lush grounds on the north shore of Flathead Lake. From his manicured lawn and perfectly constructed stone walkway to his picturesque pond stocked with plump and contented rainbows and eastern brooks, Ole insists on doing things right.
While any story about the Flathead's most famous boat builder should center on his nautical accomplishments, a writer would be amiss to ignore the man behind the company. For all his world-wide fame...having sold his Lee Craft boats in almost every state and a number of foreign countries..he is a man in his mid-seventies who has tasted great financial success from his endeavors, but is just as proud when explaining the newest project around his home. At a time in his life when most men and women are content to sit back in their recliners and watch the rat-race rush by, Ole fills his days planning his schedule for tomorrow. While his yard rivals any professionally landscaped home in the valley, he describes his next project. A new walkway here...an added tree there...it is a picture postcard that would put the Garden of Eden at shame. With a quick step and a ready smile, Ole skips from one topic to another...but always pointing out that everything he designs fits together...perfectly...just like the 3000-plus boats he and his loyal crew built over the years. "There were several -insisted on," Ole recalls as he flips through the volumes of scrapbooks he keeps in his family room. "We had to build good dependable boats at a reasonable price." And they did!
Ole was in his mid 20's when he built his first boat, a 13-foot wood fishing craft of cedar and plywood that sold for about $125...as near as he can recall.
From 1938 thru the mid 1950's, Ole and his team turned out a variety of wooden boats...ranging in size from 13-20 feet...but halfway through that decade, Ole realized that the boating public wanted better and faster transportation over the water. Working two shifts per day, he started turning out the popular Lee Craft fiberglass pleasure boat. A testimony to his drive for quality can be seen every day of the summer on Flathead as parades of Lee-Craft vessels still head out for open water in search of "the big one that keeps getting away."
Ole retired from the boat-building business in 1971 when he sold the company, but he didn't retire from life. That fact is driven home by the magnificent trophy animals he has mounted on his walls. He explains that virtually every year he makes a journey up to Alaska for a round of fishing and big game hunting. Majestic bighorn sheep, elk and caribou attest to his hunting prowess. Whether it be building boats, putting a in a new patio, taking down a trophy elk...or coming up with a new "project" to keep him active, it is evident that Ole Lee has found the secret to success: whatever you do, do it well...and enjoy yourself along the way.
Ole Lee Jr. SOMERS - Ole Lee Jr., 90, of Somers, passed away Friday, Nov. 21, 2003.
He was born in Olso, Norway, on July 24, 1913, to Olaf and Gunhild Lee. They returned to Montana in 1914 and resided on the family homestead in the Swan Valley and later moved to Somers where his father was employed at Somers Lumber Co.
He attended elementary and high school in Somers and Kalispell, and was a member of the 1932 graduating class of Flathead High School. He was employed by Somers Lumber Co. and also sold Evinrude outboard motors in his spare time.
On June 21, 1936, he married Patricia Flynn of Kalispell.
Ole and Pat began the enterprise Lee Craft Boats on Flathead Lake in 1938 and operated it for 33 years. Ole and his loyal crew designed and built wood and fiberglass boats, earning him a reputation throughout the Northwest as "The Builder of Fine Boats." He raced hydroplane boats during the 1940s and '50s and was an avid hunter and fisherman his entire life.
Ole enjoyed reminiscing about the early days in Somers and the Flathead Valley and loved sharing his photos.
A 90th birthday celebration held for him in July was attended by his many friends here in the Flathead and by all of his family.
He was a member of the Elks Lodge and Sons of Norway in Kalispell and Eidsvold Lutheran Church in Somers.
Ole is remembered by his family as a loving and caring father and grandfather who cherished his entire family.
He was preceded in death by his wife Patricia, his parents Olaf and Gunhild and granddaughter Pam Michels.
He is survived by his four children, Nancy and Don Lockman of Anchorage, Alaska, Virginia Michels, and Larry and Ilene Lee of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., and Tom and Barb Lee of Kalispell; 10 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; sister Hilda Hatlen in Libby; and several nieces and nephews.