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Storm clouds hung heavy in the sky. The thunder rolled and the lightning cracked. The atmosphere was ominous, at least that’s how Mary’s brothers recall the late July day that they were left at home with grandparents while their parents were in the delivery room at Marcus Daly Hospital.
And then it was over. The skies parted and the sun shone brightly. And for forty years, three months, and seven days the sun shone everyday. Everyday that we were in the presence of Mary. She was our Mary Sunshine.
Mary was born as the skies cleared in God’s Country of the Bitterroot Valley, Hamilton, MT on July 26, 1983 immediately bringing new life, vibrance, and love into the world.
Mary was one with ranch life as soon as she could crawl. She went everywhere on the ranch bareback on a horse or way too fast on one of her brothers’ hand-me-down bicycles. The “kid’s” horse quickly was traded out for Mary’s own horse as her skill and ability on the back of any steed exceeded her young age.
Mary joined 4-H at the earliest age possible and quickly outperformed her brothers and older kids in the beef showring first at the Ravalli County Fair and then on to the Montana State Fair the NILE, and national Simmental shows in Denver.
Mary was an introspective student in grade school. Always listening, and ready with an answer or well-thought-out opinion when called on. Mary was deeply sentimental. Whether it was looking for the perfect gift for a friend’s 10th birthday or finding a way to support a classmate that was going through a rough time, Mary cared deeply for everyone she knew and everyone she knew, she considered a friend; and for most, a friend for life.
Mary’s ability to soak in knowledge and learn from mentors quickly translated into accomplishments in high school including top livestock judging honors at the state, regional, and national levels, qualifying for the National 4-H Congress in Atlanta, Citizenship Washington Focus in Washington, DC, and numerous conferences and leadership events across the state.
Mary ran track for the Stevensville Yellowjackets and was a proud member of the concert and pep bands playing her great uncle Eddy’s tenor saxophone.
Mary and her childhood friends teamed up to win competitive events in 4-H and FFA ultimately leading to Mary attaining the American FFA Degree and being elected to serve as the Montana State FFA Secretary in 2002. Serving as a state FFA officer added seven more lifelong friends to her circle and opened more doors as she entered college at Montana State University in Bozeman that same fall.
At MSU, Mary broadened her mentor network and was a sponge for information, ideas, and best practices in agriculture. Mary took copious notes in class and most impressively, those notes were at the ready twenty years later when a question or concept in agriculture economics or animal nutrition came up.
While in college, she worked for the Montana 4-H Foundation and the Agriculture Dean’s office at MSU. She never thought about the paycheck. Instead, she took employment where she could prioritize relationships with people and build her mentor network. Her connections at MSU remained strong throughout her life and opened many, many doors.
Mary loved children and especially kids involved in agriculture. Early professionally, she served as the 4-H youth development program manager for the University of California system as the 4-H specialist for the city of San Francisco and San Mateo County. She later focused on youth as the event manager at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds in Coeur d’Alene and again as the 4-H youth agent for Lewis & Clark County in Helena. Mary worked for ORIgen in Billings and Hogan’s Ranchers Ag Supply in Deer Lodge.
In every position Mary held, she immediately looked for the leading edge of the field and sought for ways to develop professionally. She quickly built bonds of trust in those she served and added mentors to her ever-growing network. She earned certifications in Ranching For Profit, advanced in animal nutrition training, presented at national conferences on youth and volunteer management, and was an officer with the Blackfoot Cattlewomen and Rocky Mountain Stockgrowers Association.
Mary’s quick ability to organize a situation and bring efficiency to a process made her in high demand to help with a variety of nonprofits. She especially enjoyed helping with event planning and fundraising for several Montana chapters of the Mule Deer Foundation, AIDS charities in California, and youth events everywhere she lived. Through all of her endeavors, efforts, and professional engagements, Mary placed people above everything except her Lord.
Personal and professional opportunities aligned in 2020 for Mary to realize her longtime dream of owning her own business. She incorporated Diamond D Ranch Insurance and helped ranchers across Montana mitigate risk through precipitation insurance. Mary’s interest in owning her own business wasn’t financial. Rather, Mary was most drawn to her ability to set her own schedule, so she could support her friends and make new ones. She used her time as a business owner to help friends with fall roundup, spring brandings, and trail rides deep into the Bob Marshall.
To encounter Mary with children was yet another wonder. Mary never had to ask what books, favorite foods, or activities kids liked. She intuitively watched and played with kids, including her nieces and nephews and showered them with the most special gifts and time spent. Mary showed up to summer birthday parties with one-of-a-kind super soakers that could actually shoot 100 feet (as advertised) and always had the next book in a series to give a special niece just in time. Mary loved taking her nieces and nephews on rides with Cooper, fishing (or more likely splashing in a creek), and camping in her motorhome.
We all know someone whose laugh or smile is infectious. For Mary, her entire personality and zest for life was infectious. To know Mary was to be forever positively impacted by Mary. Mary had a radiance and love that lit up any interaction. She loved life and was a student of all that was around her. With eight billion people in the world, you were either Mary’s friend or someone she hadn’t met yet. There was no in between.
The skies darkened as we lost our effervescent Mary Sunshine on November 1, 2023 at Providence, St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula. Breast cancer never defined Mary. In her rare use of the term, she said, “cancer does not own me, God owns me”.
Mary now is galloping towards endless verdant horizons where she joins her paternal grandparents Henry (1992) and Irma (1998); maternal grandparents Lila Gee (1995) and Elmer Gee (2003); paternal uncles Fred (2008) and Marvin (2018); paternal aunts Jean (1932) and Lynn Nemsgern (2015); maternal uncle Larry Gee (2018); and paternal cousin Ann Penrod (1973).
Those who survive Mary do so in the powerful knowledge that Mary held a deep and intricate faith in Jesus Christ that exceeded Earthly bonds. Mary’s faith, especially in this last year was so profound, yet nuanced; tangible, yet imperceptible that it leaves her surviving family confident that we will meet her again. Mary’s father and mother, Jay and Colleen of Stevensville; brother Ben (Michelle) and nieces Adelaide and Emery of Stevensville, brother John (Molly), nephews John Jay Henry and James Leo, and niece Cora Rose of Bellflower, Ill; paternal aunt Trudy (Barry) McLean of Whitehall; maternal uncle Richard (Cindy) Gee of Shepherd; paternal cousins Beth Murphy of Great Falls; Matt (Tonda) Meyer of East Helena; Mike (Alice) Meyer of Billings; Mark (Liann) Meyer of Helena; Britt (Casey) McLean of Whitehall; Beau (Courtney) McLean of Stevensville. Maternal cousins Janeen (Brent) Parries of Estacada, Ore; Jason (Jeannie) Gee of Oregon City, Ore; Dillon (Shelby) Gee of Billings; and Karen Gee of Cody, Wyo.
Should one feel inclined, the family kindly encourages memorials to Mary’s favorite organizations and associations that she was involved in including the Rocky Mountain Stockgrowers Association in Avon, the Blackfoot Cattlewomen in Ovando, the Montana 4-H Foundation in Bozeman, or the Montana FFA Foundation in Lewistown.
Celebrate Mary’s extraordinary life at a vigil service, viewing, and rosary at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Stevensville at 6:30 p.m. on November 8. Mary’s funeral service will be Thursday, November 9 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Mary’s Family Center also in Stevensville. Interment in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery will be followed by a reception luncheon. Please come to share stories at the Wednesday evening vigil service and celebrate Mary’s life at both events.
Mary, our daughter, sister, aunt, godmother, and best friend; ride fast and far, shine brightly, and be unburdened from pain. Our Lord gathered you into his arms on All Saints Day. We have faith that we will see you again and we take comfort in knowing you are free to shine among the saints. We love you and miss you so much. We know that every day when the sun rises, we’re blessed to have you with us from afar, our precious Mary Sunshine.