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Remembering Butler’s Bantam Jeep historian Leeland Bortmas

Jeep enthusiast Leeland “Lee” Bortmas, who died in February, will be recognized for his contributions to the Bantam Jeep Festival at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 11. Submitted photo

Butler County is known for its Jeep history and its memorable people — including Jeep enthusiast Leeland Bortmas.

A festival volunteer since it began, Bortmas died at age 94 in February.

His contributions to the festival will be recognized at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 11.

The Butler native, who often went by “Lee,” was an avid car enthusiast. He was so passionate about Bantam Jeeps that he restored three of them.

On top of his love for Bantam, he also restored and sold Packards, Austin Healeys and other collectible cars.

Lee’s passion for Jeeps and his generosity led him to restore a one-of-a-kind Bantam vehicle, the Bantam Factory Service Truck, which can be seen during the festival in the Jeep History Exhibit. After restoring the truck, Bortmas donated it to the Butler County Historical Society.

Leeland Bortmas, left, who died in Feburary, will be honored at 2 p.m. at the Bantam Jeep Festival on June 11 at Cooper’s Lake Event Venue and Campground in Slippery Rock. He was on the original festival planning committee that was formed in 2009. Submitted photo

After high school, Bortmas enlisted in the U.S Coast Guard Maritime Service in 1945 and served aboard the USS McClelland in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. From 1950 to 1952, he also was a sergeant first class with the U.S. Army stationed in Germany during the Korean War. This led him to donate one of his car restorations to the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Carlisle.

His third restoration was taken to Texas. Throughout his life he was a part of many different military and Jeep organizations.

Ellen Roberts, another festival volunteer and board member, met Bortmas in 1997 while working at the historical society. She mentioned that he and his wife “adopted” her as they got to know her through their volunteer efforts at the historical society.

“I don’t think there was anything about the Bantam Jeep and its history that he didn’t know,” Roberts said.

Bortmas was featured on the History Channel speaking about his knowledge of the Bantam Jeep’s heritage and was nationally and internationally recognized through the community of Bantam Jeep owners and enthusiasts.

He gave a presentation about the history of the Jeep at the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival up until two years ago, when he was 92 years old.

“Every year he would say to me, ‘I don’t think I will make it ’til next year,’ and sure enough he did,” Roberts said. “My love for the Jeep and its history came from Lee. He was on the original festival planning committee that was formed in 2009, as was I.

“I could go on about Lee forever because I miss that man. We lost a lot of history when he passed.”

Leeland Bortmas, who died Feburary 2022, will be honored at 2 p.m. June 11 at the Bantam Jeep Festival at Cooper’s Lake Event Venue and Campground, Slippery Rock. Submitted photo
Leeland Bortmas, who died Feburary 2022, will be honored at 2 p.m. June 11 at the Bantam Jeep Festival at Coopers Lake Event Venue & Campground in Slippery Rock. Standing with Bortmas is Patti Jo Lambert, festival coordinator. Submitted photo