Ralph Morrell Payne, 91 of Gallatin Gateway, MT, for nearly 52 of those years, passed May 16, 2022, at Madison Valley Manor in Ennis, MT, with his loving wife Bernice by his side.
He was born February 27, 1931, to Frank Russell and Blanche Orlena (Walden) Payne at home in Huron, Polk County, MO. He grew up in the area of Payne's Prairie, northwest of Polk, where the Payne family settled in the 1800's. High school was in Bolivar, MO, where his favorite subjects were study hall, girls (one in particular) and football. He loved playing football so much that he stayed in school another semester to play another season. He met his wife-to-be, Bernice Lorene Elliott, as young children (9 and 10 years old) and she was voted Homecoming Queen; to the dismay of the cheerleaders!
Ralph joined the Air Force May 25, 1950, serving in the Korean War. He was an Air Policeman when he was retired after nearly three years of service due to the tragic loss of his right lower leg in a hit-and-run motorcycle accident. He was AEC certified and flew on missions in a C-124 bomber cargo plane of "need-to-know" basis. He was very proud of his military service. Though he talked a LOT, he took many details of his service with him. Even brief conversations with knowledgeable veterans of the era referred to his service as, "Oh, you were one of those guys!"
While on a short leave, Ralph married Bernice on November 6, 1950. He was stationed in Merced, CA. After his military service abruptly ended and a yearlong hospitalization in Texas, he and his young family (Russell) moved to Colorado to train in the art of gunsmithing in which he excelled. He and a partner opened a Gunshop in Ventura, CA, and ran it for several years and his work was known and valued in many countries. His love of hunting, fishing and the great outdoors brought him to Montana in 1970 where he opened Payne's Custom Gunsmithing in Gallatin Gateway. He worked as long as he could (approximately 65 years in the business) until he turned it over to his son John. He remained a great source of information; even if he could no longer see well enough to do the work himself anymore!
Many camping trips, hunting and fishing aside, with his family were had over the years in oh-so-many beautiful locations. Always prepared for anything! After his retirement and time on his hands, he and Bernice found Jan Lake and the Three Lakes Camp in Canada. They traveled there and spent many weeks fishing and picking blueberries and visiting great friends for several years. It was their paradise!
Ralph loved spending time at his favorite cafes drinking coffee and talking. He loved to talk and everyone who knew him well, or not at all, knew that! So many stories, so little time! He had many sayings and one he was known for was, "not slow, not fast, but half fast!" Chief Walking Eagle will be sorely missed!
Ralph was preceded in death by his parents, brother Gervais and eldest son Russell. Ralph's surviving family include his lovely bride of 71 years, Bernice; daughters, Brenda (Ron) McMichael of Bozeman, MT and Tammy Payne (Matt) Smith of Livingston, MT; and son John Payne (Kerri) of Gallatin Gateway, MT. He is also survived by five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and two step-grandchildren and their children. He is also loved by his many grandpets!
A Memorial Service will be held at 4PM on Sunday, May 22nd at Dahl Funeral & Cremation Service.