Bernice Lorene (Elliott) Payne, 89, of Gallatin Gateway, MT, for nearly 52 of those years, passed May 31, 2022, at Madison Valley Manor in Ennis, MT, deeply mourning the loss of her beloved husband Ralph who passed May 16, 2022.
She was born August 3, 1932, to Thurman and Jewell Grace (Butler) Elliott at her Grandma Elliott's home near Huron, Polk County, MO. She was the third of seven children, but the oldest as her brother Vernice Roy died the day he was born, August 2, 1929, and her sister Artie Mary was born August 31, 1930, but passed October 1, 1931. She grew up in the same general area as her husband-to-be northwest of Bolivar, MO. She enjoyed a wonderful country life as a girl. She was very close to both of her grandmothers, but especially so with her Grandma Butler who delivered her before the doctor arrived by horse and buggy. Many of life's lessons were learned at Grandma Butler's side, not least of which was the foretelling that the young boy that rode his horse up to the Payne Cemetery while they were visiting was the man that she would someday marry. Ralph and Bernice were nine and ten years old when they met.
High School was in Bolivar, MO, where she enjoyed Home Economics, English class and playing volleyball. She was also voted Homecoming Queen to the frustration and dismay of the cheerleaders. She already had the eye of one of the popular football players, Ralph Payne. Dating involved having a chaperone and that duty bound person was her "best buddy", her brother Wayne. That was okay, as Ralph and Wayne were great friends and enjoyed each other's company and many adventures together. Eventually Wayne married Ralph's sister, Mary Jane. Talk about a close-knit family!
Ralph joined the Air Force directly out of high school and while on a short leave, they were married November 6, 1950. Bernice moved to where he was stationed in Merced, CA; then May 16, 1952, delivered their first child, Russell. Ten weeks later, while visiting family in Missouri, their world changed forever. Ralph was on leave traveling home on his Harley motorcycle to Missouri (on Bernice's 20th birthday) when a hit-and-run car's bumper took off his lower right leg. With the help of family, Bernice raised Russell while Ralph endured a yearlong hospitalization in Texas, and her traveling back and forth to visit. They then moved to Denver, CO, where Ralph went to gunsmithing school, eventually opening a Gunshop with a partner in Ventura, CA. In 1961, a daughter was born, then two years apart each, another son and daughter joined the family. The big gap meant that Russell helped with caring for his siblings; not always willingly! Bernice worked as a hostess and was loved by all who knew her at Pier Pont Inn and later at Captain Jack's in the marina. Quite the clientele: judges, attorneys, celebrities, fishermen, etc., public stature didn't faze her at all as she respected everyone equally. The decision to move to Montana was an easy one as she loved the mountains, camping, hunting and fishing. She worked a few different jobs in the restaurant business after the move, but was most known for being a dental assistant and office manager for a Bozeman dentist for many years until his retirement. Sewing projects-a-plenty, gardening (canning, freezing, jellies, etc.), processing game, and baking/cooking of all kinds - she was the BEST! She was a life member of the Willing Workers Ladies Aid in Gallatin Gateway.
Before and after retirement, Bernice and Ralph spent many years traveling to their most favorite place to be: Three Lakes Camp, Jan Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada. There they spent many weeks fishing, picking blueberries and visiting with great friends. Bernice may not have caught the most fish, but she did catch the largest! It was their paradise, and we all believe that they are there happily together forever!
Beautiful inside and out. Kind. Generously caring. Funny and delightful. Bernice was loved by all who had the great fortune of her presence!
Bernice was preceded in death by her parents; brothers Vernice Roy, Wayne and Charley; sisters Artie Mary and Eva Darlene; eldest son Russell; and her adoring husband of 71-plus years, Ralph. Bernice's surviving family include brother Larry; daughters, Brenda (Ron) McMichael of Bozeman, MT, and Tammy Payne (Matt) Smith of Livingston, MT; and son John (Kerri) Payne of Gallatin Gateway, MT; five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and their children. She was also dearly loved by her many Grandpets!
A Memorial Service will be held at 4PM on Sunday June 12th at the Gallatin Gateway Community Center. Final resting place for both Ralph and Bernice will be the Payne Cemetery, Polk, Missouri.
Memorials may be made in her honor to the Gallatin Gateway Community Center and/or Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter.