They called her “Wicked Wanda.” But Wanda Darlene Dowlin was anything but wicked.
Sure, the longtime Forsyth Country Club manager didn’t take much guff. She was quick to make a wisecrack and had no trouble calling anybody’s bull. But, those who knew her best, counted on her soft-spoken honesty and dyed-in-the-wool support to see them through.
Wanda died on April 4, 2018 at Billings St. Vincent hospital after having a stroke. She was 67.
Wanda, daughter of Floyd and Annie Isabella (MacKerlich) Dowlin, was born in Dillon, Montana on Aug. 10, 1950. In 1966, her family settled on a ranch along Armells Creek, southwest of Forsyth.
Wanda graduated from Forsyth High School in 1969 and found work in restaurant kitchens. She cooked at the Joseph Cafe under the guidance of John Henry Smith. She later took a job at the Speedway Diner before opening the Big Sky Cafe. It was unofficially called “Wicked Wanda’s.” Her gravy-smothered french fries, burgers and chicken-fried steaks often had more than a dozen trucks full of hungry folks lined up along Front Street.
Wanda eventually left the cafe to manage the Forsyth Country Club. For four decades, she ran the 9-hole golf course and worked in the clubhouse as chef.
She often hired teenagers who seemed to challenge other authorities. As long as it was understood that crossing a cook — especially in her kitchen — is never a smart move, most of them got by without much trouble. Those who might have spilled a mop bucket and left the slippery mess for her to find the next morning or ate the steak she had saved in the cooler for lunch, found themselves working their way off her list.
The steak-snatching groundskeeper found it was awfully hot to have to eat his meals outside the comforts of the air-conditioned clubhouse during the summer in Eastern Montana. He eventually earned his way back into Wanda’s good graces and he hasn’t stolen a steak since.
After she retired, Wanda took a part-time job at the Rosebud County Museum. She was also the Senior Warden at the Church of Ascension in Forsyth. It was Wanda who helped her Episcopalian pastor feel at home after he moved to rural Big Sky Country from the East Coast.
She cared for close friends, a few as they faced illnesses and eventually death. When they were sick, she’d cook them meals, making sure to include their favorite comfort foods, such as her homemade mashed potatoes and gravy. She drove them to doctor appointments and offered her company during hospital stays.
Wanda was there for her friends and relatives. She’d listen, even as they rationalized decisions that were obviously ridiculous, at least to her. She’d give them that oh-please look, then go along for whatever ride they chose. After it turned out she was right, she was there to help clean up the mess. Wanda made her friends stand taller.
She is preceded in death by her parents and older brothers, Dale MacKerlich, and Robin and Doug Dowlin.
Wanda is survived by her sisters, Kerry (Bob) Downing, of Park City, and Sandee Dowlin, of Casper, Wyoming; brother Buck Dowlin, of Forsyth; sister-in-law Natalie Lothspeich, of Miles City, and numerous nephews, nieces, great-nephews and great-nieces.
A memorial service is scheduled for her at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 14 at Stevenson & Sons Funeral Home in Forsyth. To leave condolences, go to stevensonandsons.com.
In lieu of flowers, please donate to Camp Marshall, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Montana. Its Grace Camp program offers free summer sessions near Flathead Lake for children who have a parent in prison.
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