Eunice Terry, a woman of deep faith and wide friendship in this community and many other others, died Sunday at her home in central Billings. She was 87.
Her nephew, Jeffery Booth, described her as a “God-given woman who touched a lot of minds and hearts.”
Longtime friend Christine Pierce said Terry was “like a cross between Rocky and Mother Teresa.”
Another old friend, Ron Walker, said Terry was a “kind and generous soul” who was one of the “spiritual strengths” of Billings.
Twelve years ago, Miss Terry, as most people knew her, founded the All Nations Christian Fellowship Church, where her son, the Rev. Melvin Terry, is still the pastor. As she said in an interview not long ago, “I’m not lookin’ for no big crowd. I’m lookin’ to save souls.”
Terry was one of 19 children, born on Oct. 3, 1926, in Wilcox County, Ala., to Elijah and Fanny Kimbro. In two interviews conducted in 2012 for MasterLube’s “Master Your Smile” series of video profiles, Terry told of going to work at 5 years old, working in the house and fields for her family, which had little money but always enough to eat.
Her father was a minister and her mother a missionary, described by Pierce as “extremely well-thought-of, powerful people.” In her MasterLube interview, Terry said her father talked so often of sin — and even drinking Coke was a sin — that she once said to her brother, “I sure be glad when we get old enough where we can go and see what this sin is all about.”
She got her chance in 1945, when she and a brother and cousin all caught a bus for Chicago. There, and in Billings after she moved here with her husband, William, in about 1950, she said, she was under the sway of the devil.
“Whatever he told me to do, I did go do it,” she said. She used to drink and curse and carried an ice pick, a switchblade and a .32 pistol. Then, one night in the Maple Leaf Bar in downtown Billings, she was saved; she crossed over to what she called “the hallelujah side.”
For the rest of her life she was a woman of God who used her friendship, her cooking, her kindness and her powerful voice to bring others into the fold. Her husband died early in their marriage and she never remarried.
Pierce had known Terry most of her life. She was 3 when Terry began housekeeping twice a week for her mother, Tillie Pierce, and Tillie and Eunice became lifelong friends. Ron Walker, who met Terry when he began managing a Pierce Automotive store on Broadwater Avenue decades ago, said Tillie would take the morning off to tidy up the house before Terry came to clean it, then would go home at noon to make her lunch.
Two years ago, Christine Pierce had the pleasure of driving Terry and her sister, a niece and grand-niece all over Alabama and Mississippi to visit Terry’s relatives. Pierce said she has a hundred pages of notes full of Terry’s stories.
Terry told of feeding sugar cane into a grinding mill, chopping cotton, working bean fields, helping her father butcher hogs, putting up crates of sauerkraut for the winter, milking cows and working with Old Sam, the family’s ox. In Wilcox County, a couple of hours “upcountry” from Mobile, Ala., Pierce said, she met relatives of Terry who had never been outside the county.
Christine’s brother Jim has known Terry all his life. His mother was sick the day he was brought home from the hospital, he said, so his father handed him to Terry and she placed him in his crib for the first time. Jim Pierce, now 58, said “she’s been a blessing ever since.”
When she used to come to clean their house, he said, she’d come in singing.
“I can remember being in bed, awake, but lying there waiting for Miss Terry to come in singing.”
Much later in life, when Jim moved to Great Falls to take over one of the family stores there, Terry would drive up once a year, every spring, and feed everyone in the store — all 35 employees and any customers lucky enough to be on hand. Pierce said she would start preparing food two weeks in advance and would show up with fried green tomatoes, collard greens, peach cobbler, at least 10 salads, cornbread, ribs and “the best macaroni and cheese you’ll ever have.”
Eight years ago, Jim moved to Polson to run another store and she started making the same trip there every year. Her last one was in 2013.
Booth, her nephew, said Terry had relatives in California, New York, Texas, Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi and Tennessee, among other places. “She touched folks from Day One” and stayed in touch the rest of their lives, he said.
Michael Yakawich, a Billings City Council member and longtime friend of Terry’s, remembers her always sitting in the front row of the All Nations Church, “smiling, supporting her son the pastor and all the church.”
When she sang, Yakawich said, “she would ignite and fill the room with the Holy Spirit.”
She was active in Church Women United and in countless community events, gatherings and rallies.
Terry was hospitalized in mid-February with kidney failure and returned home a bit less than two months ago, cared for by family and friends. Christine Pierce estimated that 1,000 to 1,500 people stopped by to pay their respects during those final months.
Booth said that although her health declined after her hospitalization, “she remembered whoever walked in that door.”
Her faith was strong to the end.
“A lot of people have religion,” Jim Pierce said, “but Miss Terry, she had the whole picture.”
Not long ago, Pierce said, she told him, three times, “Don’t you shed a tear for me. You rejoice. … It’s hard not to shed a tear, but that’s what she said.”
She is survived by her children, Melvin, Mary and Lashelle. Services are pending.
Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 11:54
The “Off the Path: An 21st Century Anthology of Montana American Indian Writers, Vol. 1” book all began with a phone call to fellow Northern Cheyenne and recent Dartmouth grad Cinnamon Spear of Lame Deer.
I was set to set to do a story on her documentary about reservation basketball called “Pride and Basketball,” which showcased some of the best of our unity as a tribe as we Cheyenne proudly supported one of our local teams, the Lame Deer High School Morning Stars.
Prior to our conversation, I’d noticed Spear’s masters degree was in creative writing. As a journalist and fiction writer myself, I was naturally interested in viewing her work as I’d long contemplated starting my own book publishing company, and she obliged.
As other readers of her stories can attest via the “Off the Path” book, the fearless, raw power of Spear’s words and stories about growing up amid abuse and alcoholism, among other personal topics, overwhelmed me with emotion, and I immediately knew this was something that needed to be published for the rest of the world and other young aspiring writers to see.
But, I thought, if she did get these published, how many Montanans would actually have easy access to reading her stories in a timely fashion? They might end up in a literary journal after a lengthy process, but even then it’d be difficult for the average reader in Montana to even come across them.
I’d already completed a novel, and theorized that between the two of us we could create a book of short stories, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure if I’d start my own publishing company just yet (which would eventually become Off the Pass Press LLC).
That is, until after I’d attended a Billings meeting where Sherman Alexie’s controversial book, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” was being debated to see if it would be kept on the School District 2 high school curriculum.
Some 150 or so Native American and non-Native supporters showed up to the public hearing, but what struck me most was how passionate people of all colors were in defense of the book. Natives that other Montanans had lived next to for all of their lives but eyed leerily were suddenly introduced as genuinely relatable people who lived, loved and cried just like them through Alexie’s literature — thereby bringing them closer together.
“This book clears up and gets rid of a lot of prejudices and misconceptions people have,” noted a white Senior High student named Bryce Curry. “It’s not in the past, it’s in the present, and will remain in the future unless we openly discuss it in classrooms and show why it is wrong.”
I warn readers that “Off the Path” is rated “R” for language and probably shouldn’t be required for younger high school students – although I believe, with bias, that tribal colleges and universities should carry it! – Curry’s and others’ commitment to the book made a point to me: more accessible Native literature is much needed not only in Montana, but throughout North America.
People of all colors would crave our unique stories, but we still needed a consistent platform to tell them from. However, we couldn’t merely rely upon some back east publisher to endorse our words for us if the publisher didn’t understand where we were coming from in the first place, or if work was sought only from established elder writers. We’d have to do it on our own.
I had contacts and knew people who knew other potential writers, and along with the support of Ms. Spear and fellow writers that I featured in the book like Apsaalooke (Crow) writers Luella Brien and Eric Leland Bigman Brien, as well as Browning writer Sterling HolyWhiteMountain, we’d make and promote the book and bring it to the readers who’d appreciate it the most: you reading this.
Most of these writers are southeast Montana-based as you may notice, but HolyWhiteMountain came highly recommended by several up north contacts —including a major nod from a “Winter in the Blood” film co-screenwriter named Ken White.
When I heard that HolyWhiteMountain had graduated from the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop, highlighted by The Atlantic magazine in a 2007 article titled “Where Great Writers are Made,” I immediately sought out whatever work I could find of his.
Just like Spear’s work, I was in awe of HolyWhiteMountain’s skills as he so brilliantly captured the hardships and essence of Browning/Blackfeet reservation life from a young man’s point of view - as he did in “Off the Path’s” “The Education of Little Man False Star Boy.”
Luella Brien – a beautiful woman whom I have a daughter with – I met seven years ago when she worked as a Billings Gazette reporter, but our relationship goes back further as I’d been in contact with her since about 2002 when the University of Montana started up reznetnews.org and I’d emailed her articles when she was the student editor.
She was hesitant to run her story called “Green-eyed Regret” because it centered around a cynical, half-white, half-Native young woman who looked white and grew up on the Crow reservation among prejudices with a meth- and drink-addled mother. I, of course, said that story needed to be read as someone would undoubtedly relate to it.
I’d come across Eric Leland Bigman Brien writings by observing how he’d often espouse insightfully honest musings that read wonderfully poetic on Facebook. He was just so honest about his feelings, and noted he’d written most of a lengthy short story. I gladly used an excerpt from it.
Since Bigman Brien started writing fiction recently, he was what one could call a raw talent. Still, he was exactly what I was hoping to discover: someone perhaps not as educated in the writing field as professional and published writers, but nonetheless just as passionate about the craft with a story that needed to be let out, as is the ultimate goal of the “Off the Path” book and future volumes.
Vol. 2 will feature writers not only from Montana, but the Southwest and other U.S. regions as well. Vol. 3 aims to publish writers not only from North America but places like Australia and New Zealand, where indigenous populations there have had experiences with colonization mirroring ours in the U.S. and Canada. I also must note that all of the writers in the book are under 35 years old, and that pertains to the “21st century” part of the subtitle.
Until the 1960s, people primarily thought of Native Americans as caricatures of the past. That perception would begin to change with N. Scott Mommaday’s 1969 Pulitzer Prize-winning book about a contemporary Native, “House Made of Dawn.”
This marked the beginning of the so-called Native American Renaissance, as throughout the 1970s authors like Blackfeet/Gros Ventre Montana writer James Welch gained literary eminence. Setting up a second wave of the Renaissance were writers like Joy Harjo, Simon Ortiz and Louise Erdrich in the 1980s.
Although Erdrich and Sherman Alexie have won recent major book awards and have paved a continual inspirational path, some may ask, will there ever be a Third Renaissance of American Indian writers?
Perhaps, but I believe the spark igniting a 21st century third wave Renaissance prairie fire for the younger generation of Native writers to gain literary prominence must come from Natives themselves — and why shouldn’t it start in Montana?
The “Off the Path” anthology is available exclusively at Barjon’s Books downtown and via the www.offthepasspressllc.com website. The first public reading of the book at the Billings Public Library at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 15.
Last Updated on Friday, 11 April 2014 11:22
Billings Bridge Club master player Bob Carter gives tiny north-south head nods, agreeing with the sugary comments about a fellow club member, 90-year-old Jean Steedman. The lower lip protrudes a bit.
For sure. Jean is certainly a classy woman, always regally dressed to play in clothes she even sews herself.
Yep, true. There’s Jean’s sweet, gentle demeanor. Her humble nature comes up.
“But don’t let all that fool you,” said Carter, one of only three top diamond-level bridge masters in Montana. “She’ll cut your throat.”
It’s keen competition and an almost obsessive need to card concentrate that brings about 125 Billings Bridge Club members to a tidy cellar belonging to the Knights of Columbus folks out on 2216 Grand Ave. next door to the U-Haul. There, two-person teams mentally pound one another four times a week, Tuesdays (afternoon and evening) and during days on Thursdays and Fridays.
And they play this most complex of card games, get this, for up to four hours each session.
Lon Doll and his wife, Ramona, have operated the Billings Bridge Club for six years. Lon says the game is growing, attracting the retiring Baby Boomers, men and women, now with time, who like the mental stimulation and opportunities to compete. Ones with flexible jobs schedules, like real estate agents, seem attracted to daytime play.
“It’s competition within a social activity, Doll said during a recent Thursday afternoon session.
“If you play the game, put in more time, the better you will get and there’s unlimited places then to play all around the country, all around the world. You can always find duplicate (the most popular form of bridge) clubs, on cruise ships, with more challenges, until the game becomes an addiction, the competition.
“I don’t know anybody who is not a Type A person who plays bridge competitively.”
Social interaction yes, before and perhaps after sessions. Once games commence nobody is talking about the ugly past winter, the president’s healthcare plan or whether Detroit Tiger Miguel Cabrera is really worth $292 million while playing. In fact, it’s eerily quiet at the four-person table as players try to count and recall 52 cards. There is game dialogue, but it’s minimal.
Club members pay $6 to compete each session, $5 for newcomers. The fees pay for the rental of the building, table setup and refreshments for players. In addition, Doll tallies and sends player results to the American Contract Bridge League, the national governing body of the game based in Horn Lake, Miss., who in turn provide “masterpoints” back to the players. The number of points built up over a lifetime determines the level of player one becomes. Tournaments (the club hosts three during the year) match players with similar levels, where more masterpoints can be earned. The bigger the tournament, the higher the points.
And that’s the achievement or recognition bridge players seek. Not trophies or money payouts, but rather, to say you’ve earned so many masterpoints to garner one day that silver, gold or perhaps diamond master level status. Unlike poker, there’s little gambling in the game.
“It’s an intellectual exercise and I’m an egghead,” explained 70-year-old Karen Peterson, who graduated from Stanford University and taught computer science for IBM. The game stimulates her mind and Ramona Doll is a very good cookie maker, she says.
While experienced club members do take the game seriously, it’s nothing like the bridge community in Denver, says Donna Yeargain. She belonged to some of that city’s largest bridge clubs for 40 years, before moving to Billings to be near her family about 18 months ago. Most big-city bridge players behave, but there were some “bad actors,” she says.
“(The Billings Bridge Club) were such a welcoming club when I came here,” Yeargain said. “I’ve seen bad behavior where partners bickered with each other at the tables, where teams are not nice to their opponents, telling them how dumb they are.”
She’s yet to see such childish play with Doll’s club and doubts she will.
It’s not an easy card game to learn, says master teacher Ann Zorn. But for those wanting to win, who like to count and memorize, with perhaps a chess-playing background, who want to begin, Zorn, with her endearing English accent, can help.
She charges $100 for 10 two-hour sessions. Originally from Buckinghamshire, England, Zorn holds evening and day classes for newcomers.
Putting in some work is the key to learning the game, she says. That, and having other four-person tables to learn with, which her classes provide. Reading books or on-line tutorials only go so far.
Club members call novices “Ninety-niners.” Seeking to surpass 99 masterpoints and become regular bridge players. Doll says some eagerly start, but later drop out. Too hard, too long, or perhaps too intense. It’s not for all.
But certainly for Jean Steedman.
“Oh, God, I couldn’t live without bridge,” said Steedman, who began playing duplicate bridge in 1970 when she joined the club and competes three times weekly.
She loves the competition and says the afternoons just “fly by” when she playing, she hardly notices the time. Afterwards, she goes home and has a couple of bourbon and waters with her 92-year-old husband, John, before dinner.
She’ll reflect about her day’s play. Sometimes good, sometimes not so.
Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 11:19