Gladys Ronning Clark passed away peacefully on June 16, 2014 at the age of 98 surrounded by family. She was born on April 28, 1916, the first of five children born of Ed and Anna Ronning in their homestead cabin in Rock Springs, MT. She began riding horses about the same time she learned to walk, and could still remember the names of all the horses she had known.
After graduating from Custer County High School in 1933 she obtained a provisional teaching certificate and began her 40-year teaching career in a one-room schoolhouse on Crow Rock Sheep Ranch in 1934, where some of her students were nearly as old as and many even bigger than she. A favorite story was about a boy who had a rather spirited horse and asked Gladys if she would like to ride him. She said she would love to, and as she was changing into her riding outfit, she looked out the window and saw the boy and friends slip a bur under the saddle blanket. As she checked her stirrups she unobtrusively removed the bur and had a very enjoyable ride. The disappointed boys never did figure out why the horse behaved so well.
She met Amos Clark through her best friend Bonnie in Miles City in the summer of 1934 when they were both 18, and they were married in Lewistown on October 16, 1937. It was a happy union that lasted 67 years. Soon after marrying they loaded what possessions they had into a ‘37 Oldsmobile and headed for the sunny climate of southern California and the fledgling aircraft industry that attracted Amos. They purchased their first home on Fay Ave in Culver City, which soon became a miniature USO for all the people who were en route during the war, and their son John was born in 1944.
During their California years, Gladys and Amos became charter members of Grace Lutheran Church which still has a stained glass window dedicated to them. Gladys was selected to teach at an exclusive private school in Beverly Hills and remembers trying to put on a Christmas pageant with Art Linkleter and Red Skelton ad-libbing in the audience before the curtain went up for their children’s performance.
While California was good to them, they felt that they were missing that small-town community feel so they moved back to Montana, relocating to Red Lodge. At first, Gladys taught multiple grade levels in a two-room school house in Fox until the school closed, and later in Red Lodge she taught numerous grades and subjects; but her favorite were her 4th grade classes in Mountain View school. Many of her students stayed in touch over the years and she enjoyed watching their successes.
Gladys became very involved in Messiah Lutheran Church, teaching Sunday school and serving on the church council, and was a figurehead in the Red Lodge Festival of Nations as a founding member and chair of the Scandinavian group. She continued making Lefse until she moved from her log cabin on Rock Creek.
Gladys lived her life with generosity and compassion and was happy to help people in need. She and Amos took several temporarily-adopted kids and family members into their home and under their wings to love and care for throughout their years in Red Lodge. Gladys also took great pride in operating the Clark Guest House and adjacent coffee shop, where she would delight in conversing with tourists and locals alike during the busy summer months. She was a master story teller who in her 90s began writing a memoir in which she recounted her early years on the family homestead.
While living in Montana, Gladys and Amos would spend their winters in California, where neighbors referred to her as “the walker” because of her daily strolls using tall walking poles to get mail and visit friends. She continued the practice in Red Lodge by walking at least a mile a day well into her 90s.
Gladys’s “15 Minutes of Fame” occurred at the age of 91 when a wayward 600-pound black bear walked into her kitchen through an open patio door. Although quite startled when she realized what all the commotion was, her school teacher demeanor and disciplinary voice and kicked in and she emphatically ordered the bear out of her house. The poor bear had no choice but to leave. The story made the local, regional and international press and she was interviewed by radio talk shows as far away as Australia. The most telling comment came from a former student who remarked, “Dumb bear, we knew in the 4th grade that nobody messes with Mrs. Clark.”
Gladys returned to Miles City to be among her siblings, nieces and nephews in 2013 and celebrated her 98th birthday at Friendship Villa surrounded by family and friends.
She is survived by her son John (Nani) Clark; her grandchildren Jeff, Will, Shinta (Rob) Daniels, and Angie; her great-grandchildren Isis Clark and Kaleb and Lily Daniels; her brother Warren (Elizabeth) Ronning, sister Dorothy Bakken and sister-in-law Kate Ronning; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins on both the Clark and Ronning sides of her family.
There will be a service celebrating her life held in the Sun Room at Friendship Villa in Miles City at 2PM on the 24th of June and at Messiah Lutheran Church in Red Lodge at 2PM on the 27th of June. Cremation has taken place. In lieu of flowers please make a donation in her name to your favored charity. Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting www.stevensonandsons.com.
RIP Gladys: Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, Sister, Aunt, Mentor, Teacher and dear Friend.