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Helen (Calhoun) Rich 1921-2005

Swan Song

 

Helen (Calhoun) Rich

At 7:10 a.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2005, from Missoula Community Medical Center came the news that Helen went to meet C.B. at the top of the pass. He's been patiently waiting for her since Oct. 12, 1996.

Helen Betty, a third-generation Montanan, was born in Columbus on June 3, 1921, to parents Gertrude Harris Calhoun and John Clarence Calhoun. She was later joined by siblings Patricia "Patsy" and John "Johnny." The local registrar of birth certificates changed her name to Helen "Elizabeth."

Her youth was spent at the family home in Columbus. Also in the Yellowstone Valley were extended families of the Calhouns that included the Lavelles and Harrises. She attended school there and was proud to wear the green and white colors of the Columbus Cougars.

Her freshman year she met and started dating a handsome senior "country boy," C.B. Rich. He was her soul mate and partner for the next 60 years. While she finished high school, C.B. pursued a degree in electrical engineering at Montana State in Bozeman.

She graduated from Columbus High School in 1939 and chose nursing for her future career. She enrolled at St. Vincent's in Billings and graduated with a registered nursing degree in 1942. Throughout her life she gave that "healing" of the heart as well as the body freely to anyone who came to her in need of it.

She married C.B. in Columbus on Sept. 3, 1942, and went from her city-girl upbringing to a life at the Rich Ranch homestead near Dean.

When C.B. joined the Army Air Corps during World War II and began basic training in Texas, Helen went to join him. They lovingly told stories of their time in the South during preparation for C.B.'s assignment overseas. After his training and attachment to the crew of a B-24 bomber, Helen followed him to the East Coast while awaiting C.B.'s deployment to England. For several days C.B. would leave in the morning not knowing if that day would be "it." He finally told Helen that he would "buzz" the house if he couldn't let her know any other way. Years later her eyes would still tear up when she would tell of the feel-ing the day he left and as promised "buzzed" the house n as she looked out, they tipped their wings and he flew off to Europe and the war.

The months to come were a lesson in faith and love. C.B.'s plane was shot down over enemy occupied France and he was reported missing in action on June 23, 1944. Helen never gave up hope n no word had been received of C.B. n but when there was a knock on the door on Sept. 3, Helen swore that it was from him. Her family tried to comfort her, fearing the worst, but she calmly said he wouldn't forget their special day (their second anniversary). At the door was a telegram telling her C.B. was alive. He had spent 60 days hiding and traveling through the French Underground to get back to Allied lines and to Helen.

Their next stop was Great Falls where C.B. finished out his military duty. Mary Anna, their first of five children, joined them there. In the fall of 1945, they moved back home to the Stillwater Valley and purchased the original Rich Family Ranch. There they settled in to raise a family, crops and cattle. Helen always said spring was her favorite time of year on the ranch and the best time to witness the rebirth of animals, crops, faith and the human spirit.

As the years at Dean passed, the family grew with Betty, Peggy, Sharon and Jack joining the fold. Along with raising a family and all that ranch life entailed, Helen was the postmistress at Dean and enjoyed frequent visits from her extended family in nearby Columbus.

In the spring of 1958, C.B. and Helen began to look for a different location to expand their dreams, which led them to the Double Arrow Ranch in Seeley Lake. In September 1958, the family, horses, cattle and childhood pets arrived in Seeley to begin their new adventure.

In addition to running the ranch, C.B. and Helen settled into their new community. Helen's nursing skills found her helping at the Well Child clinics and starting a volunteer ambulance service to Missoula. In addition, she and C.B. spent many days lobbying state and local governments to allow for a high school to be built in Seeley Lake. They were so proud when the school doors finally opened in 1964. Seven years of hard work and perseverance had finally paid off.

C.B. and Helen loved to dance and offered their lodge and barn loft for numerous dances and other community gatherings in the years before the high school. After the school was built they enjoyed chaperoning the weekend dances there. It was a joy to watch them dance because they found true joy and love in one another's arms.

The ownership of the Double Arrow ended in 1966, but another 28 years were spent on the ranch with their involvement in the family outfitting business and horse operation. Whether at home, in the lodge or on a pack trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Helen was an awesome cook and could fix a meal for many out of what seemed to be nothing at all. She never turned anyone away from a seat at the table. Her recipes were always asked for but hard to repeat. Could it be ... maybe the secret ingredient was her "love"?

In 1994, C.B. and Helen joined son Jack's dream and moved to the "new" Rich Ranch in Woodworth Meadows. Helen was so proud to see that dream come to life! Her wish was to share the family's Montana heritage with others and she was especially looking forward to the planned construction of the new Legacy Conference Building complete with family museum and dance floor ... (Don't worry, Mom, we're working on it!) As the Rich Ranch matriarch she embraced her role as official "hostess" and had a genuine ability to make all guests feel a part of the family.

Helen was often teased that she threw nothing away. How grateful we are as a family that she kept all those scraps of paper, photos and family "things." It adds a depth and richness to pass on to our families and to future generations. She also took the time for those people that life had tossed out. Through her healing and love they could rise up and continue on their life's journey.

Helen lived her life with passion. It's reflected in many ways including her role as a high school substitute teacher, which began with the opening of the school in 1964 and continued on with enthusiasm for the remainder of her life. For over 40 years she was not only a teacher, but also counselor, mother, grandmother and "Nonie," offering guidance and inspiration to countless students and others who passed through the halls of Seeley-Swan. And of course many people also came to know her as the ticket person at the Blackhawk sporting events. All will miss her smile and words of kindness as she greeted and met friends old and new.

She is survived by her children, Jack (Belinda) Rich, Sharon (Phil) Pohlman, Peggy (Ralph) Cahoon, Betty (Ron) Bergland and Mary Anna Rich; 19 grandchildren; 21 great-grandchildren; and brother Johnny (Eileen) Calhoun. Others who were special in her life include niece Kathy (John) Bartos and C.B.'s sisters' families, the Monks, Hovdeys and Russells, along with countless other family and friends who will miss her dearly.

A celebration of Helen's remarkable life will be at 7 pm, Friday, June 24, at the Seeley-Swan High School, C.B. and Helen Rich Activity Center. Refreshments will follow.

Honorary pallbearers will be her 19 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. They will carry on her legacy of kindness, caring, faith and love.

 

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