Bonita “Bonnie” Ruth (Ballentine) George was born June 13, 1931 at the Abbey Hospital, Miles City, to Webb Atkinson and Mary Amelia (Teats) Ballentine. She joined older siblings Burt Webb and Mary Jeanne Ballentine at the family home at 925 Ivy Street. In December 1933, the family was complete when younger brothers Bruce and Bryce were born. Bonnie served as interpreter of the twins’ private language until the doctor advised her parents to ignore all three unless English was spoken!
Webb’s family had left Nashville in 1915 to homestead at Smokey Butte, outside of Jordan, before settling in Miles City, where he worked for the Milwaukee Railroad as a machinist. His maternal aunt, Lera Atkinson Baucom, was also part of the family home. Auntie Lera used railroad passes to take the children to visit extended family in Tennessee and Washington State. Bonnie spent several months throughout the years in Nashville, and she even began to talk for the first time on one of those trips to Tennessee.
Bonnie had countless adventures at work and play with her cousins at the Ismay area ranch of her maternal aunt, Ella Beardsley, and husband John. As a baby, she was saved from a coiled rattlesnake by a fatal blow from a singletree thrown by Uncle John. She loved babies and children, and treated one of her younger cousins as her personal live doll.
During the Great Depression, Webb would trade his welding skills for gas ration stamps. This enabled the family to drive to Yellowstone National Park. Geyser-watching, animal observing, hiking, and fishing provided lasting memories that Bonnie talked about her entire life. As an adult, she and husband Buck often took their family to join friends and relatives at “The Park”. She had a lifetime love of travel.
Life at the Ballentine home in Miles City centered on church. It was at church during Bonnie’s grade school years that she met Robert W. “Bucky” George. He was three years older and had his own bicycle, and Bonnie did NOT like him. As a teenager, she was singing gospel duets on the radio while Buck accompanied at the piano. At age 17, she and Buck eloped. Their love stayed strong until his death in 1995.
Like many other hardworking children of the 1940’s, Bonnie held jobs as a babysitter, then a part-time “number, please” telephone operator at the Bell Telephone Company in Miles City. After marriage, she continued to work while finishing her diploma at Custer County High School, walking with her high school class of 1949. Bonnie and Buck lived both in Miles City and at the George family ranch in Knowlton, before finally moving into the original log home with Buck’s uncle, Joe George.
Son Robert Joseph was born in December of 1949. David Webb joined the family in June of 1952 and Patricia Jeanne in November 1955.
Bonnie always had a large crowd at the ranch table, and she made a comfortable home without electricity until 1955. She was a good cook. No running water and a coal stove churning out dust and leaving clinkers! Despite those challenges (and the ever-present “slop bucket”), Bonnie liked to keep a clean house. After electricity arrived, during the warm months she was able to haul enough water and set up the electric wringer clothes washer in the yard. She was also able to sew clothes and mend countless pairs of work jeans. Nieces, nephews, and friends spent summers on the George ranch, where they were welcomed as part of the family. In later years, she invited family to live in her home when the need presented.
Square dancing and potluck suppers were a big part of country life. We all remember what fun it was to get together on those nights, with the kids running around outside playing tag, and the grownups do-si-doing the night away. There were countless gatherings for Knowlton School activities and upkeep, and community card parties with late suppers. As a photojournalist, Bonnie had a large collection of photos documenting rural life. She generously provided countless photos to all.
Hard times hit Eastern Montana in the early 1960’s with crippling drought. In 1961, Buck found employment at the Boeing Company in Washington. With heavy hearts, the family moved to Federal Way, Washington for two years. Buck subsequently became a missile inspector with Boeing, and the family followed the Air Force to four cities in three states. Bonnie had the challenge of cleaning each rental home before the family could move in. She had the children to enroll in school, doctors to establish, and she and Buck would seek out a new church for the family to worship in.
In 1966, Buck’s uncle Joe George fell ill, and he asked Buck to come back to take over the operation of the ranch. So began the big adventure of updating the ranch. This included pay-as-you-go remodeling of the original home. Stories too numerous to tell include how Bonnie continued to provide a comfortable home, as well as help Buck with the farm and ranch chores throughout those years. Running water arrived on the ranch in May of 1970. Bonnie picked back up with the community activities and was a member of the Locate Knowlton Homemakers’ Club as well as the Fallon Creek CowBelles (Cattlewomen). She provided room in her home for Bible study, made decorations for Christian Women luncheons, and was active in Knowlton church services and the Ismay Community Church. She later attended Grace Bible Church in Miles City. In later years, she watched and took comfort in watching the Christian Worship Hour on TV.
Bonnie had a large garden, and she canned and froze produce. The family harvested wild fruits which she canned and jelled. Together with Buck, she lived through the perils and joys of farming and ranching. Severe drought, blizzards, grasshoppers, hail, and fire – they relied on their faith in God to see them through. She pitched hay, filled drills, drove tractors, followed snowplow to feed cattle. She still managed to keep a comfortable and welcoming home. Bonnie was uniquely gifted to handle the problems that occur in daily living. One sub-zero morning, she chastised Buck for over-instructing her on how and where to drive while he pitched hay to the cattle. She advanced the pickup to third gear while circling a feed ground covered with frozen pinnacles, with Buck clinging desperately to the stock rack! She never lost her love of the ranch.
Always cheerful, Bonnie loved family and friends. She supported her children in their various activities. She celebrated seasonal changes. She loved giving gifts. Her love for animals meant happy kitties, dogs, and even “Ears”, the jackrabbit on the county road, who enjoyed veggies thrown from the car. She grew beautiful flowers. Even though football became her favorite sport, nothing could top a good Class C basketball tournament. She loved music: old hymns, southern gospel, classical, big band, military, opera and Broadway. Her favorite genre was anything performed by family members. Her quick wit and sense of humor made her a fun companion. She was proud of her Irish and Cherokee heritage. Although more nationalities flowed in her veins, these were the strongest in her two grandmothers who she mourned having never known in person. Because of this loss she felt as a child, she took extra effort to attend every function and give every gift she could as a grandmother to her own grandchildren and many others in her life. She selected “Granny” as her name in honor of her special Cherokee great-grandmother.
After years of struggling with major health issues, Bonnie was diagnosed in 1974 with Addison’s disease. At that time, she was given no more than ten years to live. Through a miraculous journey, she was accepted into the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the 1980’s as part of a study of Cushing’s syndrome. Yearly trips to Bethesda, Maryland, gave her the world’s best Addison’s treatment as she volunteered herself for research. In 2002, after suffering additional serious health complications, Bonnie was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She eventually had deep brain stimulators to help her battle the symptoms.
Throughout the years, family and friends rallied around with help in the house and yard. Bonnie was always humbled and grateful for everything that was done on her behalf. In 2005, daughter Patsy, husband Curt and granddaughter Toby-Jeanne Almy assumed the 24/7 care that she required. Buck’s cousin Elnor Knutson helped part-time 2008-2013.
Through multiple dangerous surgeries and broken bones, the prayers of her vast support system followed her trips to the Emergency Room. Bonnie escaped so many “at Death’s door” episodes that we became spoiled. We all thought she would always be able to pull through. Bonnie loved life and courageously faced each day and each loss without complaining. She practiced gratitude and forgiveness, leaning on her faith in Jesus Christ. Her lack of mobility led her to more hours of prayer for loved ones and her country. Always an independent and hard-working woman, Bonnie despised being the object of so much care. She gave her best effort in every way that she could to help the helpers.
A medical crisis on January 13 of this year forced her out of the home care protocol, but she lived to celebrate her 87th birthday on June 13, 2018. She entered Holy Rosary Hospice on June 20th. We finally lost our dear Bonnie on Saturday, June 23, as family comforted her. She traded the prison of her earthly body for the presence of her Lord and Savior in Heaven. She is free from the pain, suffering, and earthly sorrows. She blazed a clear path of courage under fire. We are so thankful for the many family and friends who visited and offered prayers on her behalf during her last days and hours.
In addition to her parents and husband Buck, Bonnie was preceded in death by toddler sister-in-law Patricia Joan George, infant cousin David Beardsley, nephew Michael Ballentine, sister-in-law Loretta “Reda” Ballentine, Cousin Pat Beardsley, niece Cindy Ballentine Roesler, brother-in-law George Lewis, Cousin Robert E. Teats, and many dear friends from the Knowlton community.
In addition to her three children and their spouses – Rita George, Gail George, and Curtis Almy, Bonnie is survived by her grandchildren, Robert Wayne George(wife Cindy), Andrew Joe George, Joe Webb George (wife Megan), Anna Amelia George (husband Jason Rapp) and Sarah Toby-Jeanne Almy. Great-grandchildren include Reagan, Tsuriyah and Madison George. Surviving are brothers Burt W., A. Bruce (wife Amy), and A. Bryce (wife Helen Ann), as well as her older sister and “rock” M. Jeanne (Ballentine) Lewis. Nephews are Burt E. Ballentine, Gary Ballentine; Clifton Lewis; Steve Ballentine and Craig Ballentine. Nieces are Kim Ballentine Pepin, Michelle Ballentine Jacobsen; Carolyn Jeanne Lewis; Elaine Martens, Connie Ballentine, Janine Ballentine; Denise Borntrager and Cherise Patterson.
Bonnie also leaves her “adopted kids”, Tom and Claudia Morrison, and Gary and Pam Wiens. Her surviving Knowlton family friends include Mary Ellen Anderson, and Rod and Marilyn Kelly. Her Beardsley family of cousins were dear to her, too: Joanne Perkins, Mary Lee Brown, Myrtle Herzog, Ellen “Nonie” Zook, Kathleen “Kay” Hofmann, Karen Krutzfeldt, and James Henry “Jim” Beardsley. She also loved her cousin Charlene “Chuckie” Teats Cook. To list additional loved ones that she clearly remembered and cherished would fill a book. She loved them all.
A Memorial Service is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on Saturday August 4, 2018, at Grace Bible Church, Miles City, Montana. In Lieu of plants and flowers, the family of Bonita George asks that memorials be made to the Christian Worship Hour, 1623 6th Ave. SE Ste. 1, Aberdeen, SD 57401, the Pregnancy Outreach Clinic, 516 Pleasant Street, Miles City, MT 59301, or to the Knowlton Cemetery Fund.
We will cherish any written memories that will be included in a memory book. To contribute, please email to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Almy, 507 North Cottage Grove, Miles City, MT 59301-2609.