Mary Katherine closed her beautiful brown eyes the final time on Wednesday, October 12, 2022, having lived nearly 93 years. She was born to Nicholas and Helen (Sheehan) Pretti in Oak Creek, CO. The young family moved to a small farm southwest of Seward, NE, where she grew up. Mary Katherine enjoyed helping raise chickens, fruits and vegetables, which she sold and delivered to customers, depending on the season. She lived with a strong Catholic faith, learned the value of hard work, perseverance and customer service. These attributes served her well throughout life. She fondly recalled her hours spent on a bicycle, which not only offered freedom, but a means to deliver produce, eggs and “dressed” chickens to customers around town.
In her youth, Mary Katherine learned to play many musical instruments, among them, piano, bassoon, cello and saxophone. She was an accomplished pianist and organist. She accompanied the choir at St. Vincent de Paul during her junior and senior high school years. In the high school band, she was the solo bassoonist. With a beautiful voice, Mary Katherine sang in choir throughout her school years and well into adulthood. Mary Katherine Pretti was an honor student and class salutatorian, graduating with the Class of 1948 from Seward High School.
In the days of rotary phones and party-lines, she worked as a telephone operator until it interfered with her attendance at Sunday Mass. Using her knowledge in gardening and agriculture, she landed a job at Bick’s Farm Supply in Seward, where she continued to work until high school graduation. This was easily her favorite job for many years.
Following high school graduation, with a wandering foot and desire to see more than farm and small town life, she rode the train to Cedar Rapids, IA. After spending a year in Cedar Rapids, a dear friend, Sister Boniface, encouraged Mary Katherine to move to Milwaukee, WI, which offered more opportunities for a determined young lady. She attended Spencerian Business College in Milwaukee and graduated in 1950.
Seeking further adventure and a desire to go “out west” after working two years in Milwaukee, she moved to Kalispell, MT upon encouragement from Sister Boniface, who was then working at the Kalispell General Hospital. Mary Katherine worked in the administrative office of the hospital. She began to explore the national forests and loved her time in the mountains. Nightly dances and the social scene of young adults filled her spare time. There were plenty of dance partners to be found, as young men populated the area, working on the new construction of Hungry Horse Dam. It was an exciting time to be in the Kalispell area.
Wanting to further her education, she moved to Spokane, WA to attend Gonzaga University. While at a square dance, she met her future husband, Louis B Egan. Mary Katherine and Louis “Lou” were married June 18, 1953, at St. Aloysius Church on the campus of Gonzaga University. A year later, their first child, Louis B. Jr. was born. Lou pursued his career in air traffic control bringing about many moves throughout the northwest. The next four children were born at various locations; Mary Jo (Missoula, MT), Cathe (Burns, OR), John and Annie (Burley, ID). In 1959 they arrived in Bozeman, MT, where Mary Katherine resided for the remainder of her life. Six additional children were born in Bozeman, Theresa, Loretta, Sara “Sally”, Carmel, Cordelia and Tim. Mary Katherine had many stories of moving with small children and having the baby snuggled into a box, which rested on the front seat of the car next to mom, or between other children in the backseat. This was the mode of travel and idealism in the baby boom era.
In the late 60’s Mary Katherine faced raising 11 children on her own. Although a naturally shy and private person, she didn’t shy away from the immense job of raising the large family she had always dreamed of having. She faced it straight on and, as far as we could tell, she never looked back.
She was determined that all of her children would become involved in music and fine arts. On occasion, she continued to play the piano, much to her children’s joy. With little time to practice, she continued to play beautifully. She accompanied her children’s solos and ensembles at various music festivals and led them in many a sing-along, enjoying the old tunes that we fondly remember.
During the years of raising her family, she learned many skills and wore many hats, from serving as a Cub Scout Den mother, to being an accompanist or filling the duties of the PTA secretary for Holy Rosary School. She learned to play tennis and downhill ski while the oldest children were still young. She developed a love of photography and joined the Bozeman Camera Club. This involvement led to many excursions with her children. Touring the Archie Bray Foundation and several ghost towns throughout southwest Montana were especially memorable. She had impressive dressmaking skills, was an excellent baker and was known for her canning and jelly making abilities. She diligently watched the Indianapolis 500 for many years. Even at the age of 86, she still believed she might see the race in-person. Without a doubt, Mary Katherine was also a die-hard Nebraska Cornhuskers fan.
With a keen sense of humor, diligence and perseverance, she worked hard, fed eleven children, found time to sew creative dolls and doll clothing, worked on Christmas projects, dyed Easter eggs, sewed children’s clothes and gardened, while keeping a roof over our heads. While raising her family, she completed her bachelor’s degree at Montana State University. Graduating with honors, she received a B.S. in Home Economics from MSU in 1974. We were filled with pride and wonderment!
As a master of juggling a tight budget, she rented several bedrooms in her large house to international students who studied engineering at MSU. For her children this became an education in a variety of cultures. The family occasionally sampled a variety of international cuisine, much to the delight of her children. It was quite an experience, enriching her life and ours.
She was very creative and adventurous. She was known to cook a complete thanksgiving dinner, haul it and her children to the river for a unique Thanksgiving Day celebration. That, of course, depended on the fickle Montana weather AND the Cornhusker football schedule. If the Cornhuskers were on TV on Thanksgiving Day she might even leave the dinner table before the “thank you prayer” was said or the dishes were cleared. Yes, she had much spunk and enthusiasm, and knew how to celebrate a holiday.
Following college graduation, rather than uproot a large family and relocate for job opportunities in MSU Extension, she chose to remain in Bozeman and was employed by Reach, Inc. She worked many years offering vocational training, transportation and mentoring for adults living with disabilities. Another favorite job, much later in life, was working as an administrative assistant at the Beall Park Art Center in Bozeman. Rich in creativity, responsibility and office skills, her job was exciting. She especially liked working for Ken Bova.
She started two businesses of her own. The first was The Treasure State Dollhouse. She specialized in the repair and restoration of antique dolls, as well as new doll and doll clothing construction. She beautifully repaired an heirloom doll destined for the Smithsonian. The second business, Turn 5, allowed her to work on her terms, as a business assistant. She put to use the many office and administrative skills in which she was proficient. During her lifetime, her favorite career was that of a writer. She wrote articles for a variety of publications. She particularly enjoyed writing about eye health, specifically macular degeneration, and Montana history.
As her children spread their wings and started families of their own, Mary Katherine became a frequent rider of Greyhound Bus Lines. She travelled throughout Montana and to distant points in the US as her family spread further and further. It wasn’t unusual for her to ride many days on the bus to see the grandchildren she loved dearly and spend time with her children. Eventually she learned to be more comfortable with the idea of flying, which allowed her to visit John and his family in Alaska.
Mary Katherine was a devout Catholic. She was a member of both Holy Rosary Parish and Resurrection Parish in Bozeman. Always active in parish ministry, she volunteered on the parish council, served as a lector and prepared food to serve to MSU students on Bobcat Fridays. On any given Sunday morning, much to the chagrin of her teen-age children, she was quite adept at “inventing” a parking space to attend church service.
Gardening was another favorite hobby for Mary Katherine. It served many purposes while raising her family. She had quite a green thumb, always maintaining a plethora of house plants. There was not a flower (or weed) that Mary Katherine could not identify, using the common name or Latin. She loved to spend time walking, exploring or enjoying a campfire in the Bridger Mountains. Many a summer or fall day, she could easily be swayed into a day trip to Yellowstone National Park. She certainly enjoyed staying in the park for five days during a family reunion in 2002.
In her later years, she worked determinedly to remain independent. Mary Katherine lived in her own home until the age of 91, thanks to many good friends, neighbors, volunteers and family. As she often said about the life she lived, she “wouldn’t change it for a million bucks.”
Mary Katherine was preceded in death by her parents, her husband Louis, her oldest son, Louis Jr., sons-in-law Al Perry, Brett Hood and David Huttinga, daughters in-law, Marla (Chambers) Egan and Roxanna (Tiahrt) Egan, grandsons Isaac and Nathan Perry, Leland Shirley and Patrick Morin.
She is survived by her children, Mary Jo Perry of Dillon, MT, Cathe (Kevin) Maguire of Monument, CO, John (Judy) Egan of Houston, AK, Annie (Stuart) Shirley of Melstone, MT, Theresa Hood of Piedmont, SC, Loretta Strong of Missoula, MT, Sara/Sally (Pete) Morin of Hamilton, MT, Carmel (Wes) Minster of Hayden, ID, Cori Huttinga of Amsterdam, MT, and Tim (Tami) Egan of Idaho Falls, ID and special friend Dan Strong, Bozeman, MT.
She loved her 20 surviving grandchildren, Alice (Rob Rodrigues) Egan, Mathieu (Maribeth Davidson) Perry, Annella Jo Perry, Cheline (Jake) Valenzuela, Nick (Kate) Beardsley, Matt (Erin) Beardsley, Anna (Hunter Ventry) Galindo, Adrienne (Johnnie Enger) Galindo, Joe Galindo, Morgan (Joshua) Wright, Rome (Andrea) Egan, Andrew (Amy) Egan, Clint Shirley, Sam Shirley, Melissa (Jason) Hicks, Alisha (Billy Harless) Hood, Elaina Hood, John (Nicole) Strong, Larissa (Michael) Guthridge, Katie (Nick Wiatt) Strong, Madeline (Todd) May, Marie Morin, Timothy (Katie) Morin, Kurtis Minster, Kyla Minster, Carter Minster, Jeremy Huttinga, Zane Huttinga and Tessa (Sam) Cates.
She will also be missed by her 31 great grandchildren, Everly and Emmatha Perry, Nathanial Perry, Dominic, Gabe, Aubrianna and Theodore Valenzuela, Gunnison and Olive Beardsley, Lyric and Kadence Enger, Owen, Autumn, Isaac, Holly and Asher Wright, Kaynen Egan, Aurora Egan, Brianna and McKenzie Shirley, Eli Shirley, Drake Hicks, Nyomi and Alexz Harless, Kaehl and Nora Strong, WillaMae and Wynton Wiatt, Zakary, Buffy and Aria Cates; an amazing legacy from a remarkable woman!
Mary Katherine’s family would like to thank the wonderful staff at The Gallatin Rest Home for their love for and care of our mother. Our appreciation also goes to the staff at First Choice Home Health for their many years of care and support. Our deep gratitude is offered to the many friends and neighbors who provided their support to Mary Katherine, enabling her to remain in her own home. We are immensely grateful for their kindness.
A Vigil will be held Sunday, October 23rd from 5-7 pm (Rosary at 4:30 pm) at Dahl Funeral & Cremation Service, Bozeman. A Funeral Mass will be held Monday, October 24th at 10 am at Resurrection University Parish, Bozeman. Mary Katherine will be laid to rest alongside her parents, in Seward Cemetery, Seward, NE at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to: Benedictine Mission House, Christ the King Priory, PO Box 528, Schuyler, NE 68661 (www.missionmonks.org <http://www.missionmonks.org>), Resurrection University Parish, 1725 S. 11th Ave, Bozeman, MT 57915, your local food pantry or the Meals on Wheels program.