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Shirley Lenore Mikita

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Shirley Lenore Mikita, 90, passed from this life Aug. 9, 2013, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s’ disease.

Shirley was born Shirley Lenore Butler to professional fisherman and outfitter Elmer E. Butler and Josephine Eleanor McCausland and began life Dec. 11, 1922, near the Illinois River in Bath, Ill.  She lived there with her parents, her half-brother, C.J. Cantrall, and her sister Bonnie Kathleen, until Shirley’s’ mother Josephine died unexpectedly when Shirley was 9.

Shirley and her sister lived with various relatives until they were finally placed in an orphanage, The Larkin Children’s Home, in Elgin, Ill,, where Shirley remained until she was 13. Despite these hardships, she was an excellent and devoted student, landing on the honor roll and earning a trip to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934. Then she went to live with a dear aunt and uncle and cousins in McHenry Ill,, until she graduated from Elgin High School in 1940 at age 17.

Upon graduation, she went to live with her father in Havana, Ill,, and attended business college in Jacksonville, Ill., and also graduated from beauty school.  During this time, Shirley remembers hearing the news about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the radio with her father.  She wanted to do right by her country and to make her father proud, so she enlisted in the United States Navy on her birthday, Dec. 11, 1942.  She reported for boot camp Jan. 1 1943, at Hunter College in New York under the WAVES program, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.  Her aptitude and desire fitted her for work on Navy airplanes, so she finished mechanics school and earned her aviation machinist mate rating Aug. 21 1943.  During this time, members from the Navy publicity department had observed Shirley working on planes on base.  They asked the competent and beautiful machinist mate if she would agree to pose for photos in her Navy dress blues uniform for publicity and recruitment purposes.  The two photographs that Shirley saved from this photo shoot were the pride of her large extended family and were used in recruitment and publicity by the Navy during World War II.

During wartime, she met Thomas Bressmer, a Marine pilot, and they married in February 1944.  Shirley mustered out of service Sept. 14, 1944, when she discovered she was expecting her first child, Bonnie Kathleen Bressmer.   They divorced a few years later and Thomas went on to become Henry Ford’s personal pilot and remained so until he retired.

Shirley landed a job in the registrar’s office of the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and met and fell in love with a young engineering student, Ted E. Mikita, who had also served in the Navy during the war.  They married in October 1951 and moved around with the Lighting Corp. that Ted had been hired by, until they settled back in Illinois, where they raised a large family and remained until 1973.

The Mikitas vacationed extensively in the western U.S. and in 1973, they bought an old ranch homesteaded by Asa Curtiss in Fortine and relocated their large family.  Shirley soon embraced the local community, becoming involved in The Tobacco Valley Improvement Association as well as the Tobacco Valley Historical Society, working on quilts to raffle to benefit the Tobacco Valley Historical Village, as well as the Village’s rummage sales.

Shirley worked at Crystal Lakes, the Queen Bee, and at the Murphy Lake Ranger Station.  The family opened the ranch to the public as a dude ranch, Laughing Water Ranch, in 1987, where Shirley served as owner, host and head cook.  People from all over the world were treated to her first-class home-style ranch cooking.  She retired in 1997.

Shirley’s interests included her large extended family and the many parties and celebrations involving them,  sewing, quilting, crafting, painting, fishing, gardening, cooking, baking, travelling, music, old movies and playing cards and games of many kinds.

She is survived by her sister, Bonnie Kathleen (Kit) Bryant of Seattle, Wash.,  and Shirley’s children Bonnie Kathleen Bressmer of Littleton, Colo.,  Debra (and Frank) Davidow of Spokane, Wash.,  Holly Mikita of Stryker,  Kimberly (and Jesse) Jones of Kalispell,  Ted Jr. (and Lacretia) Mikita of Fortine,  Terry (and Clay) Loving of Mancos , Colo.,  Timothy (and Carla) Mikita of Eureka,  Tony Allan Mikita of Kalispell,  and Richard (and Cassandra) Mikita of Fortine.  Shirley is also survived by grandchildren Kelley and Aimee Blaine of Denver, Colo.,  Steven, Eric and Mark Davidow of Spokane, Wash.,  Cory Mikita of Helena,  Josephine Alvarez of Federal Way, Wash.,  Alexander Finch of Stryker,  Nickolas and Cassandra Vlahou of Kalispell,  Christopher Mikita of Sacramento, Calif.,  Tallulah and Waverly Mikita of Fortine,  Christopher Loving of Denver, Colo.,  Bonnie Loving of Mancos, Colo.,  Andrea Babendererde of Eureka,  Natasha Mikita of Eureka,  Nathan Bell of Arizona, and Ayla Joyce Mikita of Fortine.  Shirley is also survived by nine great grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, at the Fortine Alliance Church at 10 a.m.

Military honors at graveside at Fortine Cemetery will follow the church services, concluding with a luncheon at the Fortine Alliance Church.


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