On Monday, August 15, the City of Missoula announced that five-term mayor John Engen passed away after suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Engen, 57, was born and raised in Missoula, went to Whittier Grade School, and graduated from Hellgate High School. He attended the University of Montana, where he received a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

He worked for the Missoulian newspaper for several years and also owned and operated two businesses.

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He was a member of the Missoula City Council for one four-year term and was first elected mayor in 2005.

Engen was reelected four times to become Missoula’s longest-serving mayor, before passing away.

Engen enjoyed being a master of ceremonies for many events as well as a volunteer auctioneer.

One of Mayor Engen’s major accomplishments was the acquisition by the City of Missoula of the Mountain Water Company, a years-long process that cost the city millions of dollars, but Engen and the city council said the long-term benefits of owning the water utility would far outlive the cost of the purchase and the millions of dollars in legal costs.

Also under Engen’s administrations, the Russell and Madison Street Bridges were rebuilt and the former Higgins Avenue Bridge (renamed the ‘Beartracks Bridge’) was completed.

Not long before his death, Engen bravely appeared in the Missoula City Council’s ZOOM presentation as he helped to present the 2022 city budget.

This is a developing story. We will provide more information when it becomes available.

The City of Missoula provided the following press release:

Missoula Mayor John Engen died Monday morning, Aug. 15, of pancreatic cancer. He was 57.  

Engen was Missoula’s 50th and longest-serving mayor. He was elected in 2005 and served from January 2006 until his death. He was known for his wit, his vision for the future of a progressive Missoula and his dedication to its middle class.  

“John was one of the kindest, funniest and most thoughtful people I have ever worked with,” said former Gov. Steve Bullock. “He dedicated his life to serving the town where he was born and raised, and he went to work every day with a vision of how a great place could be even better. He was bold in leadership, thoughtful in approach, fiercely loyal and steadfast in his determination to make life better for every member of his community. Missoula and all of Montana lost a legend today.”  

Engen often said his greatest accomplishment was securing ownership of Missoula’s water system for its people in 2017. He was steadfast in his commitment during the years-long struggle for acquisition. 

 Engen championed two open space bonds during his tenure, believing that preservation of lands around the city for recreation, well-being and good stewardship was key.  

“John left Missoula better off then he found it,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, director of the federal Bureau of Land Management and long-time Missoula conservationist. “He understood that the open space surrounding our town – which is open to everyone in large part because of his leadership – is not only critical to Missoula’s economy but a fundamental part of who we are as Missoulians, He left us far, far too soon, but his service will be felt for generations to come.”  

Engen believed that recreational and cultural infrastructure were crucial to economic development. Under his tenure, Missoula’s Riverfront Trail system continued to develop, as did Caras Park, the Missoula Art Museum, the city’s farmers markets and music venues, bicycling infrastructure, the city’s major bridges and countless other amenities. Missoula today is one of the nation’s most desirable places to live.  

Engen was also a champion of nonprofits, believing that collective partnerships between local government and the effort and commitment of residents led to a better city for all. Engen’s leadership set the tone for Missoula’s welcoming of refugees from around the world.  

“John Engen exemplified caring for community, both as Missoula’s mayor and as a lifetime resident who understood that our community is stronger when we all do our part to help others,” said Susan Hay Patrick, CEO of United Way of Missoula County. “In John’s own words, he always enjoyed getting great work done with really smart people, whether it was through local government or arm-in-arm with nonprofits. He was a giver, a volunteer and an advocate. That showed whether he was serving meals at the Poverello Center, serving on boards of directors of causes he believed in or raising thousands of dollars for nonprofits as Missoula’s most popular charity auctioneer.”  

Missoula City Council Chair Gwen Jones is acting mayor. The City will hold a press conference, for press only, today at 1:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers. Jones will be joined by Council Vice President Jordan Hess and Chief Administrative Officer Dale Bickell. For information on the City’s mayoral succession procedure, visit here. 

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