For Kae Eugenie Kufeld, 83, her work here was done on May 18, and she has been reunited on the other side of Easter with all those who loved her and made the journey before. For the rest of us there was nothing that was left unsaid or undone for those who she loved so deeply.
To plant a memorial tree in honor of Kae Eugenie Kufeld, please visit our Heartfelt Sympathies Store.
Mom was so many things. A survivor of childhood polio. A champion horsewoman. An educator. A staunch defender of the underdog. A life-long learner and traveler. A cancer survivor. And unapologetically progressive her entire adult life. She had an iron will and was usually the smartest person in the room, no matter the audience! If Mom had been born 30 years later or a male, she would have been a CEO or run her own company. But Mom would not have traded that for the things that gave her the most joy in life which was being a mother, then a grandmother, and finally a great-grandmother. She lived the life that she chose and that is truly a wonderful life lived.
Mom was born March 20, 1938 in Miles City, Montana to Russell and Lucille (Vivian) Gingry. Life was not always easy, and with both her parents working long hours, she spent a great deal of time in the company of her grandmothers, Maude (Watson) Gingry and Ida (Calder) Vivian. Both showered her with love and helped make Mom the great cook and gardener she would become. Their dedication was evident when Mom contracted polio and spent her first grade year at Holy Rosary Hospital and her grandmothers walked across town every day to sit with her. From her mother she learned the value of hard work.
Shortly after, her family moved to Livingston, Montana where she said she learned to walk backward as good as she could forward while going to and from school each day in the winter to keep her face out of the infamous wind. With her big sister Zoe, she had many adventures and these experiences were something the sisters would always share no matter the distance. She frequently rode the train by herself back to Miles City to visit her grandmothers. Mom’s stepfather, Don Richards, also bought her a horse who she would become a champion with as both a show horse and barrel racer. Mischief and Mom won many trophies and garnered much publicity for their prowess. In Livingston, Mom had wonderful memories of going to Chico Hot Springs with her friends usually after basketball games on Friday nights, and later in life made sure she took her family there. She also worked as a carhop at Mark’s In and Out and continued to eat there whenever she was in the area and also worked at Martins Diner which was the local beanery for the railroad. After graduating from Park High, Mom attended and graduated from Montana State University. Mom was forever a Bobcat and for many years had season tickets to football games with Dad.
After graduating from MSU, Mom had several jobs. One was a social worker where she traveled to the poorest places in Montana to work and defend the rights of children. Some of her most challenging cases were in isolated rural areas where resources and help were scarce. She was always fighting for the less fortunate. Mom met Conrad Kufeld dancing at the Silver Spur in Helena. At the time, neither would have probably predicted how long that one dance would last, but after getting married in 1961, it continued for the next 57 years. Their marriage was truly a partnership and like true dance partners they both took turns leading and following at different points but never let go and always kept pace when the rhythm sped up and then slowed down over their shared life until Dad passed in 2018. When Dad passed there was a void in her life that she could not fill.
In 1963, Mom and Dad had their first of three sons, Scott. Two years later Daniel was born and finally in 1969 after the family settled in Billings came Burke. While growing up, Mom and Dad followed the kids around the state and country for swim meets, football and baseball games, and wrestling matches. Neither ever never complained about any of this, and the wins and losses never mattered, what was important was that the best effort was given. Mom was very competitive, but her perspective on attitude and the big picture was something many could learn from. Many special times were also spent camping with kids, dogs, friends, and whatever else could be fit in the camper. Mom ran the house like a CEO, but some of her greatest lessons for her sons came from her passionate belief in the equality of all people regardless of ethnicity, nationality, gender, race, or orientation. It wasn’t rare for Mom quote speeches and writings from the Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King, and others. One of her favorite public figures included Mike Mansfield who she thought was instrumental in advancing civil rights in the 1960s. She was also a proponent of critical thinking and taught her children not to accept things, but find out for yourselves. Teachers were tools who taught you how to think and solve problems. She demanded her children develop knowledge for themselves. Education was the greatest equalizer in life.
When the kids were all in school, Mom returned to work in School District 2 first as a teacher’s aide and then as a computer tech. She worked at many schools, but without a doubt, and true to her love of the underdog, her favorites were Riverside and Billings Senior. She spent many hours learning how to use a computer long before they were common in schools and homes. She was able to use her knowledge to help young students succeed. She later spent much time with her grandchildren on the computer.
After Mom and Dad retired they entered the next stage of life—as the coolest grandparents on the block! Mom doted on them both near and far. And even when she wasn’t able to see or talk to some of them as much as she would have liked, they were never far from her thoughts. Adventures with the grandkids included first trips to see the ocean in Oregon, Disneyworld, regular trips to Red Lodge and Chico, and Summerfair. The cycle was also repeated when Mom and Dad started following the grandkids around in volleyball, softball, and basketball.
Mom was a voracious reader and also started traveling and made very memorable visits to NYC to see Broadway shows, San Francisco where she got to attend a U.S. Open, Oklahoma, Houston, New Mexico, and also various other places sometimes to see concerts with her fellow Claymates!
Later in life Mom faced many health struggles including shoulder surgery and hip replacement, but through determination she was able to face them down. But in 2015, came the greatest challenge which was cancer. Mom had both surgery and chemotherapy and was steadfast in her resolve to get through it which she did. Mom was able to return to her life and in her neighborhood became well known for her daily dog walks up and down the block with frequent stops throughout to visit with people that were not only her neighbors, they were her friends.
Mom is survived by her sons, Scott and his wife Beatriz of Houston, Daniel of San Francisco, and Burke and his wife Keri of Billings; five grandchildren, Kylie (Joel), Taylor (Jonathan), Bailey, Chloe, and Eynar; two great-grandchildren, Emersyn and Benton, and a third due any day; her sister Zoe Robb, numerous nieces and cousins of hers and Dad; and many close friends. She is preceded in death by her husband, Conrad; her mother and step-father Lucille and Don Richards, her father Russell Gingry; her sister Peggy Tedesco; and Mischief, Laddie, Bruno, Daisy Mae, Polo, Pichi, Lulu, and Mollie.
Mom was with family when she passed and was grateful for the care she received at Billings Clinic, St. John’s Transitional Care, and the Advanced Care Hospital by the many “sweet girls” and “nice young men” who looked after her.
Memorial donations may be made to the Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter in Billings. In accordance with Mom’s wishes there will not be a memorial service, but instead a celebration will be held later this summer with a backyard bbq.