My mother, Mary Alice Robinson O’Bryan, walked on from this world on October 2, 2018, in Ensenada Baja California, Mexico, where she was staying with me for the last two months enjoying the warm sunshine and sounds of the waves crashing on the shore.
She was born to Emma Overcast Robinson and Clarence A. Robinson on March 1, 1923, in Saskatchewan, Canada. Her parents, who were from Missouri, were in Canada working on the harvest at the time of her birth. The family moved to Garden City, MO, when she was an infant and then lived in Colorado and Wyoming, before returning to Montana where they lived in Great Falls and Missoula before settling on the family farm in Harlem. She spent her childhood and teen years helping her father on the farm rather than working in the kitchen with her mother. She spoke often of how she preferred working outdoors with her dad and that she had her own team of one horse and a mule to pull her hay-stacker. She would not hesitate to say that she preferred being outside with her dad instead of inside with her mother learning to cook and sew, which she never enjoyed doing.
Mom attended Harlem schools and here she met the love of her life, Jerry O’Bryan. When Jerry left for Fort Lewis, Washington, with his National Guard Unit in 1940, she was still in high school and graduated with the class of 1941. After graduation Mom worked at Buttrey Foods in Harlem while waiting for Dad who had been sent to the South Pacific when WWII started. Dad returned home in December of 1944 and Mom met his bus at the Great Northern Hotel in Harlem. I can just imagine what a homecoming that was for both of them. They were married on December 23, 1944, in Plentywood, Montana. Since Dad was still in the Army, they moved to bases in California, Texas and Colorado until he was discharged. They returned to the O’Bryan Ranch at Fort Belknap where Dad started ranching with my Grandfather and where I was born in April of 1946. They briefly lived in Libby, Montana in 1947 and 1948 and ran a grocery store, but they then moved back to the ranch and spent the rest of their lives in the Harlem area.
Mom and Dad opened the Merry Market grocery store in 1949 and Mom operated it until it closed in 1969. Mom loved and cared about all the people coming to the store and often gave groceries to those were having a “rough time.” In fact, the most important lesson my parents taught me was that helping others comes as natural as breathing and whatever you do for others comes back many times as a reward. After the Merry Market closed, Mom worked at the Food Farm at Fort Belknap for some time and was also an “Avon Lady” in Harlem for several years. She loved writing and wrote a column called “The Meanderings” for the Harlem News for a number of years. She also spent several years helping create the “Blue Book,” a history of Eastern Blaine County, including Harlem and Fort Belknap that included the years 1887 through 1987. For years, she was the keeper of the “Silver Knife,” used to cut cake at weddings, anniversaries, and special celebrations throughout the community and maintained the photo scrapbook memorializing each event.
Mom and Dad were involved in the 163rd Infantry Association from his Army days and attended the annual reunions held throughout Montana. They usually traveled with their life-long friends, Beth and Bunny McGuire, who were also members. The four of them also spent many weekends camping at Mission Canyon and later at their campsite in Zortman. They shared the Zortman campsite with good friends Max and Neil Johnson. It was their paradise and many kids and grandkids spent countless weekends there with them.
Mom and Dad loved canoeing on the Missouri River and searching for old purple bottles in the area dumps. They loved sports and were Harlem Wildcat supporters for many years. Mom and Dad attended the annual Fort Belknap pow wow throughout the years and enjoyed visiting with old friends and neighbors. They loved kids and their home was always full of young people and fun times. Through the years, several young people lived at their home and attended school in Harlem. Mom and Dad cherished these kids and were always so supportive of each individual.
We lost Dad to cancer on September 1, 1991, and it was a difficult time for Mom. Thankfully, she had wonderful friends and spent many hours and most of her meals with them.
Mom was an active member of the Ladies VFW Auxiliary and the Methodist Church. She was dedicated to local community projects, including the Harlem Seed Show antique displays, and always enjoyed being involved. She also helped to establish the Airmen Memorial at Centennial Park in Harlem. In 2016, the Ladies VFW Auxiliary honored her for her contributions throughout the years.
Mom was an awesome Mom, Grama, and friend. She doted on her three grandchildren her whole life and they loved her and cared for her in return. In her last year, her two Grandsons helped her to mostly stay in her own home until August 2018. Her favorite Granddaughter would travel from Seattle for visits and it was a special time for both of them. Her other kids, Sissy and Jug McGuire, were here for her during many years when her family lived far away. They were her special angels who also made it possible for her to stay in her beloved home. We can never thank them enough for their love and care for Mom.
Mom loved Harlem-Fort Belknap and all the people she had known through the years. Survivors are her daughter Sandy Stiffarm; grandchildren Douglas Leon Stiffarm Jr, Kyle Jerome Stiffarm, and Denise Lenore Stiffarm; great grandchildren Gage O’Bryan Stiffarm, Hawken Ender Stiffarm and Alana Stiffarm; her two granddaughters-in-law, Cari Bowers Stiffarm and Gilda Aceves Elias; her grandson-in-law Marc Taylor; her sisters Virginia Robinson-Rowlands and Bess Alpaugh; brother-in-law Jim Rowlands; and numerous nieces and nephews. She is also survived by her “other kids,” as she called them, Sissy and Jug McGuire of Harlem. She was preceded in death by her parents, the love of her life Jerry, her sister Stella, and her son-in-law Doug Stiffarm.
The family wants to specially thank Angel Care of Havre for their loving care in helping keep Mom at home as long as possible. If you would like to give to a Memorial for Mom, we suggest her favorites: Intermountain Children’s Home, St. Labre Indian School, or the Chief Seattle Club in Seattle.
Her service will be held on Saturday, October 13, 2018, at the United Methodist Church in Harlem at 1:00 p.m. Burial will follow at the Harlem Cemetery.