Claris Kelly Peterson Welch passed away Thursday, April 12, 2012, at her home. Born in 1932 and raised in Billings she was the daughter of Claire and Minnie Kelly. She passed away after battling lung cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and, finally, congestive heart failure.

Claris grew up in downtown Billings and attended North Park Elementary, Lincoln Junior High School and Billings Senior High. She had several stories about growing up during the Depression years, such as remembering her mother feeding the homeless from her kitchen door. Her dad Claire worked at Great Northern Railroad, and she spent many Saturdays down at the depot with her father and brother. She was a cheerleader and very active at Billings Senior High, and graduated in the class of 1950. Many of her classmates she met while in grade school. One of Mom’s most cherished memories is that she continued to lunch regularly with many of the same classmates all these years later. She attended college at UC Boulder and Montana State University Bozeman and then returned to Billings to work at the Billings Clinic under Dr. Joe Allard. She married Wendell “Pete” Peterson in 1954 and spent the next decade living in Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado while Pete worked with seismologist crews. They moved to New Brighton, Minn., in 1965, and she enjoyed the Twin Cities, especially traveling hockey, the Minnesota Vikings and shopping on Nicollet Mall. Even with all of the moves she and Pete made, her heart was always in Montana and they returned to Billings in 1976.

Her fondest memories were spent at East Rosebud Lake, where Claris’ father built a family cabin in 1928, rolling logs across the Lake after a forest fire. Pete and Claris honeymooned at the Lake in 1954, and many weekends, holidays and vacations were spent enjoying the East Rosebud Lake area with family and friends. Claris loved to pick raspberries, identify wildflowers, play solitaire and bird watch. Claris married Tom Welch in 1994 and they continued to spend weeks at a time at the lake, watching the wildlife from the kitchen window and enjoying Internet access. Every spring, she would anticipate a trip to the lake.

After raising her family, Mom was active in the Montana Association of Churches, American Cancer Society and the reading program for the visually challenged at MSUB. She had a passion for traveling, and Claris and Tom enjoyed traveling the world together, including visiting the Far East and the British Isles. She was also a member of the Global Grannies. Her last trip with the Grannies was to Italy right after September 2011, and her last big voyage was a boat trip down the Rhine River in Europe with her college roommate Donna.

Our mom loved animals and was always interested in attending zoos in any city she would visit. In recent years, she was especially attracted to little children and seeing them smile and wave. She loved to sew, cross stitch, read and do word puzzles.

She was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Billings. She asked Jesus into her heart on Easter Sunday 2012, at the age of 79.

Preceding her in death are her parents; brother John; her children’s father, Wendell “Pete” Peterson; and her husband Thomas Welch. She is survived by her children: daughter Wendy Reinholz (John) of Molt, son Carl (Kristi Wagner) of Whitefish, daughter Carrie Chestnut (Scott) of Bozeman and daughter Jan Hendricks (Frank) of Plymouth, Minn. Also surviving her are her five grandsons: Paul (Rachel), Pete and Oz Reinholz, and Caleb and Wyatt Chestnut.

The family is especially grateful for the loving care provided by the staff at Vintage Suites, where she was living at the time of her death. We knew she was well cared for and loved by each one of the staff. We would also like to express our sincere gratitude to Mom’s physician, Dr. Brenda Kirkland, for her wonderful, kind and compassionate care of our mom. Dr. Kirkland truly blessed us by providing care to Mom that was above and beyond what we ever expected.

A celebration of Claris’ life will be Saturday, May 12, at 12:30 p.m., at the Hilands Golf Club.

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