Mildred “Irene” Stoddard completed her journey on this earth on May 9, 2020 at the Pondera Medical Center Extended Care in Conrad. She was 90 years old and died of natural causes.
Irene was born in Cornell, Illinois on February 20, 1930 to Tault and Nona Howard. She was the fourth born out of eight children and was brought up a simple country girl. When she was young she attended a one-room school and graduated from high school in Pontiac, Illinois.
Irene took an interest in nursing and was able to attend a nursing program in Council Bluffs, Iowa at Mercy Hospital School of Nursing. She was very proud of that accomplishment and always shared her experiences of working in obstetric wards and with polio patients.
Irene took her first nursing job in Denver, Colorado, where she met the love of her life, Gardner Stoddard, a Korean War vet and student at Colorado A & M. They married on June 17,1956 and moved to Alliance, Nebraska where she and Gardner teamed up as managers, superintendent and golf professional at the Box Butte Golf Course. This was just the beginning of a wonderful life together surrounded by the golf course industry.
While in Nebraska, daughters Melinda and Jane were born, and by 1962, Gardner and Irene were ready to set down roots in sunny Orange County, California. Irene found work at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach while Gardner took a job as superintendent at Irvine Coast Country Club.
When daughters Sherri and Eileen joined the family, Irene became a full-time homemaker. With her strong work ethic, Irene kept herself busy in the garden and kitchen. She loved to bake her specialities of pumpkin pie, sugar cookies and divinity during the holidays. Her backyard was always planted with fresh tomatoes and citrus trees, all growing between her beautiful rose bushes.
Irene’s family loved joining best friend, Lydia Sharp and family, in taking their children to the beach in the summer and mountain cabin in the winter. There was always a backyard birthday party to host or attend. Irene and Gardner loved to host bridge parties and other types of costumed events.
Irene loved to have fun, always had a smile on her face and a kind word for everyone. Irene and Gardner were famous for their funny Halloween costumes as well as their annual appearances as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. Irene would bake dozens of her famous gingerbread boys and go home-to-home delivering them.
When Irene and Gardner had the chance to move just out of town to a small horse property in Orange County, they jumped at the chance. The girls got horses and Irene got herself some laying hens and even a milk goat. To her, it was the best of both worlds.
Irene loved meeting celebrities, and through Gardner’s work in the golfing industry she got to meet and party with several famous folks. Among them were, Charles Schulz, Andy Devine and Roy Rogers. After Gardner designed a private golf course for President Nixon, Irene and he were invited as guests to their Western White House for a reception. Being shown around their home by Patricia Nixon was one of the biggest thrills of Irene’s life.
Irene and Gardner bought their first motorhome in 1970, and enjoyed camping and traveling with the family up and down the west coast. After retirement, they spent each winter in Chandler, Arizona, meeting up with friends.
Irene and Gardner eventually moved to Escondido, California and when her children started off to college she went back to work for the Escondido Union High School District and put in 20 years filling various roles.
Irene enjoyed being a part of her children and grandchildren’s lives. She made sure they all watched her bake, decorate and eat her cookies and candies. She participated in graduations and other important events.
Irene lost Gardner to a stroke in 2004 after 48 years of marriage, and in 2009 she moved to Conrad to join daughter Jane (David) Arends’ family. Daughter Melinda (John) Burns moved to Conrad to assist in Irene’s care, as well. She was frequently visited and pampered by daughter Sherri (Alan) Ingles. She enjoyed several years living at the Horizon Lodge in Conrad, until she fell and broke her hip in 2018. The Pondera Medical Center then became her place of residence until her passing. She received the best of care by the nursing staff and, with the direction of social director, JoAnne Cobb, Irene was involved in all the various activities from Bingo to baking and watching musical concerts from school kids. She was a big fan of Conrad’s local trio, The Group, and always loved hearing them play Good Night, Irene. It was difficult with the Covid-19 pandemic keeping her family away from their daily visits, but with a caring staff and regular video chats the family knew she was well looked after.
Irene was preceded in death by both parents; three sisters; two brothers; and husband, Gardner. She is survived by a brother, Jack Howard of Salem, Oregon and a sister, Louise Howard of San Marcos, California. She also leaves daughters, Melinda (John) Burns of Conrad, Jane (David) Arends of Conrad, Sherri (Alan) Ingles of Dupont, Washington, and Eileen Santero of Escondido, California. She had six grandchildren, Chris Burns, Hannah (Colter) Chatriand, Elizabeth (Nate) Thiessen, Jessica Santero, Michael Santero, and Matthew Arends. She also enjoyed her three great-grandsons, Kenny, Kaden and Erik Thiessen.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic there is no memorial service planned at this time. Irene’s ashes will be placed beside her beloved husband in Escondido as soon as travel is possible. In lieu of flowers, monetary gifts can be made to Irene’s home church, the First Presbyterian Church, 123 4th Ave SW, Conrad, MT 59425.
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