Laura Mildred (Janich) Harris, 93, passed away peacefully on November 17, 2020, in the presence of her family. Born on March 29, 1927, she was the youngest of 10 children born to her parents Peter and Helen Janich, immigrants from Serbia who had settled in the Bull Mountains north of Billings in 1906. She was the first of her direct family to be born in a hospital, the other children born at the family’s home. To hear told the stories of her youth was to relive a life contrived of frontier adventures, coal mining, surviving the Great Depression and influenza and trips into town.
To plant a memorial tree in honor of Laura Mildred Harris (Janich), please visit our Heartfelt Sympathies Store.
It was on such a trip to Billings to see her sister Amelia that she met Gerald “Jerry” Van Harris, a handsome young cowboy from Billings. After a courtship and considerable wooing and following her graduation from Klein High School as valedictorian, they wed on April 10, 1944 prior to Jerry leaving for the Pacific Theater.
Laura lived with Jerry’s mother in Billings while he was overseas. After Jerry returned from his WWII service in the US Army, they welcomed their daughter Paula and sons Peter and David. The early years were tough as they lived with family in Billings and even spent a stint in a boxcar on State Avenue. They spent time in a home on Broadwater before finally settling down in Lockwood in 1958 in the home she resided in for the rest of her days.
She worked for the Civil Defense Corps and for the Yellowstone County Fairgrounds. Her husband Jerry worked for the Fairgrounds as well, and would check-in with her on their CB radios by her CB handle “Hunky Dory”. Both she and Jerry worked the state rodeo circuit for two decades for the Dale Small Rodeo Company out of Pompey’s Pillar.
Laura was a wife and a mother, and to her seven grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren, she was “Grandma Dottie,” or simply, “Grandma.” She enjoyed family visits, playing dice and card games with her grand kids, attending her children’s and grand children’s football and baseball game, dance recitals, and rodeo events across the state. An avid rodeo fan, she firmly believed that Dan Mortensen was a frequent victim of cheating by the judges if he didn’t beat Billy Etbauer, and she enjoyed watching her favorite Montana cowboy Jess Lockwood on the PBR circuit. Laura loved pinochle, dice games and crossword puzzles.
Laura was preceded in death by her husband Jerry; parents Peter and Helen; brothers Peter, George, Steve, Mike, Emil and Nick, and her sisters Mary, Helen, Amelia and Annie.
She is survived by her children Paula, Peter (Sharon) and David (Kathleen); grandchildren Les, Lisa, Court (Salvia), Tyler (Gina), Travis (Heather), David, and Jesse; great grandchildren Eric (Anna), Ashley (Tyler), Tara (D.J.), Kyle (Alicia), Troy, Zack, Nathaniel, Autumn, Mason, Haley, Payton, Keaton, Kameron, Kendrick and Myrick; and great-great grandchildren Kaydence, Cooper, Kinzlee, Paisley, Raelynne and Jaxtyn.
The family is planning a remembrance and internment of the urn for Spring of 2021. Condolences for the family may be shared at smithfuneralchapels.com. In lieu of flowers, please consider a charity of choice.