Born: Nov 28, 1928
Died: Mar 26, 2017
Stella Marie (Pankratz) Breitmeier went home to be with her Lord on March 26, 2017 at the Sweet Memorial Nursing Home in Chinook, MT with family and friends holding her hands and singing her favorite hymns. A celebration of her life will be held at the Harlem United Methodist Church in Harlem, MT at 11 AM March 31, 2017 with Pastor Jack Mattingly officiating. Burial will be at the Harlem Cemetery.
Stella Marie was born on the farm near Vida, MT, the tenth and last child of Elizabeth Schock and Robert Pankratz. The dry years of the 1930s brought hard times. Only the four youngest children were home when they had to leave the farm in 1937. Stella attended four grade schools, Vida, Nashua, Chinook and Harlem. She worked outdoors for her parents doing chores and in the truck garden on the 6 acre Resettlement Farm.
In 1944, Elizabeth and Robert only had Stella home, when they moved to Great Falls, MT where Robert worked at the smelter. Stella attended high school there and then returned to Harlem working for her room and board at Rev. Merle and Bernice Blinn’s, so she could finish her high school education in Harlem. She graduated from Harlem High School in 1946 and attended college one year at York, Nebraska. Stella loved music and singing. She was a member of a singing group at York and then sang in church choirs and at many funerals.
On Dec. 28, 1948 Stella married Rudolph G. Breitmeier. They moved to his parents (Fred Breitmeier and Matilda Radke’s) homestead 14 miles SW of Harlem to raise wheat, cattle and two children – Fred Eric born on May 10, 1953 (Mother’s Day) and Edith May “Ede” on June 22, 1954.
Her son Fred was born with Down’s Syndrome. In 1956 Stella began a one-woman campaign to help not only Fred but others like him. She visited with the county nurse, the county superintendent, welfare officials, ministers and anyone who would listen. From 1964 to 1970 Stella campaigned for more special education in Northern Montana Schools. These efforts enabled Fred to finally have a chance to attend public school in Harlem from 1971 to 1975.
In 1975 Stella was appointed by county commissioners to represent Blaine County in formulating a new statewide program of community service for developmentally disabled adults. That went from a day program to group homes to what the activities centers are today, including the one in Harlem. Stella received a number of awards for her 30 plus years of volunteer work for the handicapped.
Rudy and Stella were faithful members of the Harlem United Methodist Church and loved their Lord Jesus. They also were lifetime members of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society.
In 1976-77 Stella and Ede compiled a family history book, The Schock Family Album, “Yesterday and Today”. Nine years later they volunteered to co-edit a centennial book about East Blaine County titled “Thunderstorms and Tumbleweeds”. Later they were honored when the book was chosen by the Montana Memories Project and made available digitally. Some notable features in the book are pictures of the Assiniboine Sun Dance and Gros Ventre Fool Dance and the diary of a single homestead woman from 1914 to 1916. It took four years to put the book together with many people contributing articles, ideas and photos and of course Rudy would add, “And I did a lot of dishes”.
In 1987 Rudy and Stella enrolled the farm in the Conservation Reserve Program, sold the machinery, and began touring the US and Canada on Senior Citizen bus tours. They also loved visiting their many friends and relatives and went to several German-Russian conventions.
By 2006 they turned the homestead ranch over to their daughter and continued to live on the valley place near Harlem. About 2009 when Stella’s eyesight and memory began to fail and Rudy had Alzheimer’s and cancer, Ede moved in with her parents to care for them.
On Dec. 23, 2012 Rudy passed away just 5 days short of their 63rd wedding anniversary. Stella continued to live at home with the help of caregivers until March 11, 2015 when she moved to Sweet Memorial Nursing Home in Chinook.
Stella was preceded in death by her husband, Rudy; her son, Fred; her parents, Robert and Elizabeth, 5 brothers and 4 sisters. She is survived by her daughter, Ede, who raises registered Angus on the family homestead SW of Harlem; sister-in-law, Sally Ann Pankratz; and numerous nieces and nephews.