Vernetta Ruth Kommers passed away on November 22, 2018 in the embrace of her family. She had deep roots in Montana. She was the daughter and granddaughter of coal miners, the fourth child of William and Jennie Shepard, following sister Velma, and brothers Jim and George. Born on Sept. 24, 1917, in a one-room homestead in Roberts, Montana, her early life flourished in the rich and rugged life of Washoe, Bearcreek, and a farmstead near Belfry. Her father was killed in the Smith mine disaster of 1943 near Red Lodge, Montana. Vernetta later chronicled and published this history in “Along the Creek, a History of Washoe, Montana”.
In her early days, Vernetta cherished many family excursions with canvas tents along the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone, through Yellowstone Park, and to California in a well-packed flivver. Teenage Vernetta also worked summers at Richel Lodge at the foot of the newly constructed Beartooth highway. A venerable family cabin along Rock Creek near Red Lodge holds many of her fondest memories, surrounded by the love of her immediate and extended family.
Vernetta’s parents prized education. With their help and a scholarship won as valedictorian at Bearcreek High School, she boarded the train at Red Lodge station to attend the University of Montana in Missoula. At the University she was an honorary Spur and Mortar Board member. Studying history under Mike Mansfield, later Montana’s distinguished Senator, she also served as president of the Associated Women Students. Vernetta graduated with a teaching certificate and a degree in English in 1939. The evening before graduation, she led the AWS candle-light procession on the steps of Main Hall with her proud parents looking on.
At the University she also met her beloved husband, Clarence Kommers, marrying him in 1941. While raising their family and with Clarence serving in the Army Air Corps, Vernetta continued teaching and learning across Montana. She taught in Judith Gap, Hardin, Bearcreek, Choteau and Butte. Later, her teaching was enriched by taking classes at Arizona State University, the U of M, and the University of California at Berkeley where she earned master credits in adult education. In over 40 years of teaching, her subjects included history, English, and literature.
Following the growth of her family, Vernetta engaged learners in the Great Books program, adult education at Butte’s Vo Tech, retirement programs for Montana Power Co. with Clarence, and writing autobiographies for residents of Aspen Pointe in Bozeman. She also found time to be state President of the Association of American University Women, convention chairman for PEO’s 1965 state convention; to serve as an original member of Butte’s Friends of the Library; co-supervise the 1970 Silver Bow County census; and to keep the lid on cub scout den meetings for seven years in Havre and Butte.
With her life’s partner, Clarence, the couple notably acquired the historic Butte Arts Chateau for the benefit of the community. To finance the purchase and restoration of the former mansion, they sponsored the well-known Butte Heritage Cookbook. The couple also traveled widely to New England, Italy, and the Caribbean.
Her interests were broad and avidly pursued. Beside reading and writing Montana history, they included collecting antiques and ceramics– many from Montana, some from China – and poetry, especially ‘haiku’.
Vernetta passes on her love of learning and Montana to her three sons and their families – Peter (Dianne), James (Nancy) of Bozeman, and Edward (Kim) of Seattle; grand-children Jefferson (Arthur), Faye (Wyatt), Nathan (Emily), Jay (Megan), Warren and Cody, and great grand-children, Laila, August, Mia, Ailsa, Marin, Lena, and Shepard. Vernetta and the family deeply thank the caregivers at Gallatin Rest Home and Bozeman Health Hospice along with the many friends of a well-lived life.
Vernetta vitally touched many for whom her life will continue to give its many sustaining gifts through love, learning, sacrifice, and affection.
Donations in Vernetta's honor may be made to PEO Continuing Education Fund, checks made out to PEO Chapter AG, Kommers Office/Memorial, P.O. Box 1812, Bozeman, MT 59771-1812.
An Open House Gathering to Remember Vernetta will be held Saturday from 2:00-4:00PM at Dahl Funeral & Cremation Service Tribute Center.
Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at www.dahlcares.com.