Zita Marie O’Loughlin died of natural causes on May 25, 2014, with her children at her side.
Zita was born in Red Lodge, Montana, to Tomas and Maria Mus. Before and during the two World Wars, Red Lodge was a melting pot of European immigrants, including people from the Balkans, Austria, Finland, Ireland, and Italy. Both of Zita’s parents were Italian immigrants, and she was always proud to be a first-generation American of Italian descent.
Despite the hardships of the Great Depression, Zita spent a happy childhood in Red Lodge, playing along Rock Creek, helping friends herd cows on the plateau above town, and accompanying her mother on walks to help decorate family graves at the cemetery. Zita had many colorful tales from her childhood, including the then-common practice in Red Lodge of referring to ethnic neighborhoods as the “low-bug” areas, while wealthier families lived in what were called “high-bug” neighborhoods.
At 10 years old, Zita was given an unexpected opportunity to visit Italy when her mother traveled there to settle a family estate. Because Zita could speak both Italian and English, her father entrusted her with the train and ship tickets, and she guided her mother and younger brother through the Chicago and New York City train stations onto the Italy-bound ship. She spent two years in the Piedmont area of northern Italy, where she began lifelong friendships with her many cousins from the Brachetto family.
After returning to the United States, Zita continued her education in Red Lodge and graduated from Red Lodge High School. Although she loved and excelled in high school math and chemistry, financial realities made it impossible to fulfill her dream of becoming a pharmacist. Luckily, federal money available during World War Two allowed her to attend St. Vincent Hospital’s nursing school in Billings. After becoming a registered nurse, Zita worked for several years on the St. Vincent’s surgical floor and in the operating room. She maintained close relationships with both her nursing and high school classmates, who held many reunions over the next 60 years.
Zita met her future husband, Howard O’Loughlin, at a St. Patrick’s Church Catholic youth club. They were married at St. Agnes Church in Red Lodge in 1949. While working as a full-time mother to their five children, Zita also volunteered at Fratt Elementary School, the Sacred Heart renewal center, and the Billings Public Library. After her children were grown, Zita returned to work as an RN at the Deaconess Hospital (now The Billings Clinic). She loved both the challenges and rewards of nursing.
Zita and Howard traveled extensively after they retired, visiting their children, other relatives, and friends throughout the U.S. They made many trips across Montana with the Billings Goggles and Dusters and the Billings Model A car clubs. They also enjoyed gardening, although they were somewhat conflicted about how to deal with certain garden pests, particularly deer, turkeys and, on one memorable occasion, a bobcat. Generally, the garden hose was their main weapon of deterrence.
Zita was preceded in death by her husband, son Kevin, her parents, and her siblings Rosetta and Adolph. She is survived by her son Tom (Arissa), Anchorage, AK; daughters Jennifer (Ken High), Helena; Maureen, Billings; Allyson (Tim) Chase, Brookfield, VT; six grandchildren (Anna, Jacob, Karly, Katie, Kevin and Shannon); and her nephew and friend Joseph Whitmore.
The family would like to thank Dr. Neal Sorensen, the St. Vincent Healthcare Nursing staff, and Rocky Mountain Hospice for their care and compassion.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to: Habitat for Humanity (1617 1st Avenue N Billings 59101); The Nature Conservancy (32 S. Ewing, Suite 215, Helena, MT 59601); or a charity of the donor’s choice.
Funeral Services will be held at 1:00 p.m., Thursday, June 5, at Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary. Burial will follow at Holy Cross Cemetery. The casket will be closed.
Yes, in joy you shall depart, in peace you shall be brought back; mountains and hills shall break out in song before you, and all the trees of the countryside shall clap their hands. – Isaiah 55:12