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Ruth K. (Collings) JohnsonMay 7, 1919 ~ August 5, 2014 (age 95)
Ruth Kathryn (Collings) Johnson passed away from natural causes on August 5th, 2014 in Cut Bank MT at the Glacier Care Center. Ruth was the first of three children born to George Stout Collings and Bessie (Shannon) Collings on May 7th, 1919 in Harlowton, MT.
Ruth grew up in the Sun River area with her brother Jack and her sister Dale. From a young age she was active and self-sufficient. By the time she was 12 years old Ruth had a cigar box full of rattlesnake rattles from snakes she had killed. Her maternal Grandfather George Shannon and maternal Uncles Roy and Clarence Shannon were very important to her home life when her mother went back to school upon the death of her father. She attended school in Simms, Fort Shaw and Sun River.
In 1935 Ruth married the love of her life, Lester Reinold Johnson, at the Red Butte Church south of Great Falls. They were married for 73 years. Ruth and Lester lived many places in Montana where Lester found work. Shortly after their marriage they moved to Fort Peck then on to Butte. Lester worked in the mines in Butte and Ruth took care of the home and family.
In 1942, with two small children, a load of hay and a goat they moved by sleigh to Logging Creek. They lived all winter in a two room log cabin where Lester ran a one man saw mill. In the spring they were not able to come out by sleigh so Ruth and both children rode on one work horse while Lester and the goat road on the other. They rode 22 miles to the home of Lester’s aunt and uncle, Fred and Opal Johnson.
During the war Lester worked in Alaska, Ruth lived in Great Falls raising the family. She enjoyed spending time with Lester’s large family the Howard’s, attending many picnics and family gatherings held in the Eden area.
After the war in 1946 Ruth and Lester moved to the Browning area where they were ranchers. In the early 1950s Ruth started a restaurant in St. Mary. Ruth began restaurant operations with no running water, no electricity, no experience, ten pounds of hamburger and a loaf of bread. The family lived in a tent behind the restaurant during summer operations for five years. Ruth worked a 6 am to 10 pm shift seven days a week. Initially land was leased but when land became available, on the hill, Ruth and Lester purchased 160 acres. This 160 acres is the site where Ruth and Lester established Johnson’s of St. Mary. Ruth and Lester worked side by side creating a cafe, adding a campground and then adding cabins. Ruth and Lester loved the St. Mary area and were happy to make it their permanent home.
Family was the most important part of Ruth and Lester’s life together. They had five children. In order, Hugo George, Elizabeth Dee (Dee Dee), Lester Reinold Jr. (Randy), Margy Kay and Ruth Kristin. Additionally, after the death of Lester’s sister Margaret, Ruth and Lester became surrogate parents to her children Clark (Sonny) and Leonard Fontaine. With their children Ruth and Lester were very active in school and church. Ruth and Lester helped to establish and maintain the Babb United Methodist Church; Ruth was a lifelong Methodist.
During slow winter months Ruth was able to indulge in her passion for genealogy. Before the advent of computers Ruth was able to find an amazing amount of information on her various ancestors. Ruth obtained the information the old fashioned way by writing an untold number of letters and patiently waiting for answers. Ruth was very proud when she joined the Mayflower Society. She was proud of the fact that she could trace one branch of her family to England in the 1600’s.
Numerous Glacier park rangers and young seasonal help found a summer home with Ruth and Lester. She fed countless young people at the “family” table showing her care and interest in their life. Many have come back over the years to say “hi” and acknowledge how important she was in their life. No one was a stranger at her restaurant. Ruth loved to visit with her customers often starting the conversation with the question, “Where are you folks from?” Ruth made them feel welcome and part of her family.
Ruth was preceded in death by her beloved husband Lester, her daughter Dee Dee Ray (Jack), her son Randy (Mary) and her nephew Clark (Carol). Ruth is survived by her son Hugo Johnson (Melvina), her daughters, Margy Johnson, and Kristin Johnson St.Goddard, her nephew Leonard Fontaine (Kathleen). Grandchildren are: Roxanne Johnson, Ronald Johnson, Gary Johnson, Hugo Johnson Jr. Jackie Conway, Tammi Ray, Sandy Jo Wilcox, John Wesley Ray, Lester Reinold Johnson III, Matthew Johnson, Wade Pitts, Nathan Johnson St. Goddard and Kyle Johnson St.Goddard. She had numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.
A celebration of Ruth’s life will be held at Johnson’s of St. Mary Campground Pavilion on August, 17th at 1:00 pm. Memorials can be made to the Babb United Methodist Church. The address is: Blackfeet United Methodist Church, 3212 HWY 464, Browning, MT 59417, Attn: Lucy Walters. Please visit Ruth’s online memorial and leave a message of condolence for the family at www.whittedfuneralchapel.com