Nov. 22, 1947-May 31, 2019

As the day was dawning on May 31, 2019, Barbara Ann (Wirkman) Sanders went over to the other side at home with close family members by her side.

Barbara was born November 22, 1947 in Red Lodge, Montana to Waekko and Lillian Wirkman. She spent her early years roaming the family farm outside of Roberts, Montana with her daddy.

Waekko died when Barbara was 10 years old and her mother remarried Edwin Jackola when Barb was a teenager in 1963.

When she wasn’t “skipping school,” Barbara attended Roberts Elementary and High School, graduating in 1965. Barb liked to say that she might be the first person to skip half of her senior year and still get fine grades.

After high school, Barb attended the University of Montana in Missoula. She took a brief time off during her third year to live with her friend Diane in Seattle and work at the post office. Diane and Barb remained lifelong friends.

Barb came back to the University in 1969. One afternoon, she showed up on the doorstep of June Sanders looking for a little help with her statistics homework. She was dressed to the nines in a white floppy hat (lovingly named “Winifred”) and a striking pink empire waist dress. When June’s younger brother, Tom answered the door to the stunning lady in pink there was an instant connection. They went out with friends a few times and a couple of concerts and as Tom says, “it just kind of happened.”

Barb graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology in June of 1970 and moved to Seattle. Tom graduated that December and followed Barb to Seattle where they spent a partial winter together. Tom returned to help on the family ranch on Rock Creek during the calving season and Barb returned to Montana later that summer.

According to Tom, “we were real aficionados of Eddie’s Club (in Missoula). That final year of college really was an extended childhood for us.” Those fun times were enough to create a true bond and they were married in Greenough Park on the bridge over Rattlesnake Creek on September 8, 1971. Their wedding was truly unique for the old Justice of the Peace. They “pre-functioned” a bit too long at good old Eddie’s Club and were about 10 minutes late to their own wedding. He married them and they threw their “just for the occasion” cheap copper rings off the bridge as a symbol of their love without the need for material things. As they were doing this, the old JP told Barb’s sister, Elaine and Tom’s best friend, Alan, “I give those two 6 months.”

For their honeymoon, Tom and Barb took off hitchhiking to New York City. They stopped along the way in Washington, D.C. to stay with Tom’s cousin for a bit and check out the Smithsonian Museum. Once they made it to New York City, they attended a James Brown concert in Harlem and enjoyed the city for a bit. From there, they took an Icelandic Air Flight to Luxembourg. They then took a train to Paris and stayed with a friend who lived in a Jewish Ghetto. They checked out many of the sites the city had to offer and enjoyed all the delicious foods. They traveled all over northern Europe, jumping the continent for nearly 3 months. They went through Switzerland, Austria, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London, Munich and came back to Paris where they attended an opera, went to the Louvre and checked out Versailles.

After their honeymoon, they returned to the ranch again for another calving season and then moved to Portland for a winter. They finally settled on the Sanders ranch on Rock Creek in 1973.

Barb was a big part of keeping the ranch together and going strong for the next generation. When she wasn’t out working alongside Tom, she was in cooking one of her excellent meals for the crew. She made a mean loaf of traditional Finn bread. Many a branding or haying crew member remembers eating some of the best Swedish meatballs, lasagna and brownies they’ve ever had and then struggling to stay awake with their bellies painfully full as they attempted to finish the job through the afternoon.

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In May 1984, Barb was blessed with her only son, Carl. She considered having and raising him as the best thing she ever did. One of Carl’s earliest memories is sitting alongside his mom while she was driving the old dump truck, running the beaver slide. He’d sit by his mommy for hours watching the basket pull the hay up and dump it into the haystack as she drove back and forth running the cable. She raised him to be kind to others, always share and never be quick to anger. He turned out to be the man she always dreamt of and she was so very proud to be his mother.

Barb loved to travel. She spoke very fondly of her days in Europe. She and Tom made three trips to Hawaii in the past several years. She loved the Canadian Rockies and Oregon’s northern coast. She truly had a love for adventure.

Every year, Barb looked forward to the return of the hummingbirds. She loved to fill her bird feeder and watch the little birds swarm. Her houseplants were a favorite hobby and she spent hours making sure they were happy and healthy. She loved being outside and really took time to enjoy nature. She wasn’t one to rush through life and miss the important things happening around her.

She made many great friends in her years living in the community. She was always willing to volunteer for those in need or help her neighbors at a moment’s notice. She was a volunteer for the school’s Santa’s Workshop and had a lot of fun decorating a special tree with her “Rock Creek Ladies’” Festival of Trees group each year.

Barb had a very special bond with her two sisters, Elaine and Jeanette. They were like the three musketeers and she was always looking forward to the next time they would be able to get together. Tom and Barb usually spent their anniversaries with Elaine and her husband Dave each year. And often, Barb would make a trip or two over to Red Lodge in the summer to help Jeanette cook for the Geology Camp she works at. Two years ago, the three sisters took a special “man-free” vacation to Glacier. Just to spend some time together.

Thanksgiving was always Barb’s favorite holiday. It was the one holiday that she got the chance to get her whole family together. It was usually spent at her family’s farm near Roberts, Montana in her mother’s home.

Some of the happiest times in Barbara’s life were spent with her grandchildren. Deklan and his grandma spent hours together playing with Tinker Toys and wooden blocks and just exploring the great outdoors together. When Delaney was born, Barb was greatly surprised and overjoyed to have a little granddaughter to love.

Barb is survived by her best friend and life partner of 48 years, Tom; her loving son Carl and wife, Kayla; grandchildren, Deklan and Delaney; sisters, Elaine (Dave) Gates and Jeanette (Tony) Reinhardt; brother, Jerry (Janice) Wirkman; sister-in-law, June Farwell; numerous nieces, nephews and friends.

Tom would like to thank his cousin Ginny Kane and friend Barbara Clark for their time and attention to Barb in her last weeks. They truly were blessings for Tom and family during this difficult time.

In Barb’s true “no frills” fashion, she requested that there not be a service and that her ashes be spread on the ranch. She will always be in our hearts and remembered as a kind and generous soul whom we were all lucky to have in our lives.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Barb’s honor to Compassus Hospice, 19 Discovery Drive, Butte, MT 59701 or a charity of your choice.

Longfellow Finnegan Riddle Funeral & Cremation Service is entrusted with Barb’s funeral arrangements. You may pay your condolences at www.longfellowfinneganriddle.com.

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