Heaven needed a teacher so Mary Lou Wempner was called home on Aug. 5, 2019, at the age of 92. She passed away peacefully on her own terms at her beloved Eagle Cliff Ranch.
From the start, Mary was a strong-willed fighter. She was born prematurely at home in Wabasha, Minnesota, the smallest of twin girls weighing in under 3 lbs. Rather than risk transport to the hospital, Mary’s mother placed the twins in a shoe box with a light bulb. Though physically small and slight of frame, Mary was a headstrong, hardworking, intelligent young woman. She had a deep sense of compassion and devotion for her family and friends.
In their teens during the war, Mary and her twin sister worked at a beanery for the railroad, where the atmosphere was at times disruptive and occasionally dangerous. But she had a job to do and would face any problems head on, dissipating the danger to her and others in the establishment. Mary supported her twin sister in all her various endeavors through college, until Mary met and married her husband, Jim Wempner. Thereafter, she focused her attention on her growing family and welcomed their relocation to Montana for Jim’s work, where they eventually purchased and moved to a ranch on the east end of Billings. It was here she made a new home for the young family and fell in love with Eagle Cliff Ranch.
Ranch life agreed with Mary; she enjoyed working with the animals, pets, goats, chickens and ducks that her girls insisted on having, and she loved gardening and canning the produce from her labors. She also had a real knack for winemaking, with her favorites being chokecherry, rosehip and dandelion wines. She also participated with her husband in their various horse activities and horse shows. Another testament to her courage and strength occurred on the ranch when two appaloosa studs that Mary and Jim raised got out of their respective corrals and began fighting each other. Though physically small and no match for the two studs, she managed to break up the fight before either were critically injured. This unwavering action on her part was a cornerstone of her personal ethic and strength. She accepted any challenge with gusto and always strove to give her utmost best.
In addition to her ranch life and while raising her three daughters, Mary went back to school and received her master’s degree in counseling. She taught second grade at Lockwood School for 25 years, retiring at the age of 65. She was admired and respected by her peers and liked by her students. Many of her students would stay in touch through their adult lives which reflected the positive influence she had on them and they had on her.
Mary is preceded in death by her husband, Jim Wempner; her parents, Helen and John McDonald; her twin sister, Shirley Ringold; her sisters Jean McDonald and Honey Manz; and her brother John McDonald. She is survived by her daughters, Barbara (Steve) Hopkins, Mary Kay (Wayne) Rottrup and Shirle (Tom) English; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A family memorial service will be held at a later date. Donations, in lieu of flowers, may be given to Eagle Rock Sanctuary, PO Box 20416, Billings, MT 59104.