Yvonne Woodrow Aber was born Sept. 2, 1921, in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, the first-born child of Ernest Elmer Hastings and Elsie Mabel Woodrow, while Elsie was on a visit to relatives from their home in Buffalo, N.Y.
Both sides of her family were descended from North American colonists, known as United Empire Loyalists, who had immigrated to what is now New Brunswick aboard the first fleet of 20 ships departing New York City and landing at Saint John May 18, 1783. They had chosen to colonize the Saint John River Valley and make a fresh start rather than pledging allegiance to the new rebel American government which had disenfranchised them of their farms and businesses of over 150-plus years. She delayed U.S. citizenship until Sept. 19, 1963. Yvonne held her Canadian Maritime roots closely her entire life, sharing interesting snippets of Saint John history with her children.
From 1832 to 1873, Yvonne's great-grandfather on the Woodrow family side, Thomas McLeod, had built brigantines, schooners and other large sea-going sailing ships such as the Lady Colebrook, The Empress of India, and the Daniel Clark, a carved working model of which has been mounted above the fireplace of each of the family homes. The ships took lumber such as Kings Pine used for large ship spars to the West Indies, returning with trade goods and rum. She told of how her mother would use shiny yellow shavings from planing planks in the McLeod Shipyard to glue together a blonde hair piece for disguise family playing along.
Her father, Ernest, joined the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in World War I, fighting his way across Europe for five years straight and returning to marry her mother, Elsie, in Saint John after the war. Shortly thereafter, Yvonne was born, followed by sister Caroline, brother Victor, and sister Rhoda. Yvonne had a vivid recollection of the Great Depression when the family vegetable garden was a staple and her father was laid off from DuPont, his employer at the time. The family attended Woodside Methodist Church. Yvonne was responsible for assisting with the care of her younger siblings and helping Elsie around the house.
Across the park from her South Buffalo childhood home at 133 Shenandoah Ave. lived a young man who would play into her life in a wonderful and eternal way. They attended School 64 and South Park High School together and would see each other at the skating rink where he would help her with her figure skate laces and hold her hand or waist to learn to relax and glide. He preferred speed skates when off with his buddies since the numerous lakes and creeks meant one could travel for miles hands joined on their backs once up to speed.
And he loved his duty with the 141st Cavalry New York National Guard Medical and Veterinary Stables, grooming and riding the mounts of the doctors and vets and learning much about anatomy and care. Yvonne was fond of this fellow but he did not seem interested in much more than a friendly relationship. Finally, he asked Yvonne to be his date for the Cavalry Ball. They had a great time that night, but their dating tapered off.
Meanwhile, another fellow began to show great interest in Yvonne. He was a constant suitor and her parents began to worry they were getting in too deep for their ages. Russell Julius was a nice guy from a nice family, and Vonnie got along great with his sister and folks. Russell had a good job into 1943 but was finally drafted into the Army and shortly thereafter proposed to Yvonne and she accepted. After a whirlwind honeymoon in New England and a sad farewell, Russell left for Army training camp to await orders and was assigned to the Texas 36th Division "Blue Arrowhead" for the Italian Campaign. After surviving fierce battles at Anzio, the Rapido River, Monte Cassino, and the Liri Valley, Russell was wounded mortally on a mountainside orchard, passing away a few days later on June 1, 1944. Yvonne became a widow at 19 following only 40 days marriage.
With her sister Caroline in the Royal Canadian Air Force Intelligence, her brother Victor in the Navy Air Corps, and sister Rhoda an Ensign in the Navy Nursing Program, Yvonne joined the Navy receiving training to be a Pharmacist's Mate Third Class and was assigned to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C. While at Bethesda, Yvonne tended to a wide variety of patients but most were young Marines and sailors shipped stateside after severe injuries in the Pacific island campaigns. She recalled the horror of seeing scores and scores of boys being admitted who were "shot to pieces," often escaping to a hallway closet to have a good cry and gather her composure to return to her station.
She had numerous proposals from the boys but reminded them that when they returned home to Kentucky they would surely find their girl waiting. Once, she was surprised to be summoned to assist in a birth only to find out the mother was actress Shirley Temple!
Meanwhile, that shy skater friend who took her to his cavalry ball, now a Navy lieutenant (JG) with Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) No. 6 received an injury in an offshore training accident on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. Yvonne learned from her mother that Bud Aber was being moved to Bethesda Naval Hospital for treatment of his injury. They met and when he was able, they had a couple friendly dates. But the call of the Pacific was too much and Bud returned to Hawaii finally being assigned as Executive Officer of UDT No. 12, seeing action at several island groups including Okinawa, where his destroyer escort was badly damaged by Japanese kamikaze planes, and in the Marianas of the Caroline Island Group.
He finished the war in 1945 and returned to University of Michigan to finish what he started when duty had called, graduating in civil engineering. Soon he was off to thoroughbred horse country, knocking around stables fancy-free in the south working with race horses and running with those in that stable culture.
On a trip home to see his parents, Jesse E. Aber and Elizabeth (Bess) Aber, sister Susan, and brother Richard, who had been in the Pacific war as well, he ran into Yvonne. The spark was still there and they were engaged, marrying Dec. 1, 1951. Dad became the city engineer of West Seneca after a job in the private sector and Mom became the homemaker of the 1950s and 60s for Bud, Gordon, Jesse and Cecily.
Bud was a member of the Masonic Order and Yvonne the Order of the Eastern Star. The family belonged to the Concord Ski Club and the Cuba Lake Yacht Club and skated, sailed and traveled together, visiting Yvonne's parents and siblings in St. Petersburg each Easter break. They took the family through numerous Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields on the way south and many beaches of the Florida gulf of Mexico.
After the boys left home, Yvonne became a realtor, selling a house on her first day at work. Three years later she was awarded the Erie County Distinguished Salesman Award, selling over $1 million in residential homes in 1974.
Hawaii held a spell on Bud ever since the war and soon Yvonne was bewitched with Hawaii as well. They considered moving there as well as Florida, California and Steamboat Springs, Colo. But after daughter Cecily followed her brother Jesse to Montana to attend Montana State University in the fall of 1974, the lure of Montana drew Bud and Yvonne to Bozeman in 1980 and they purchased a condominium on Springhill Road.
Yvonne worked in sales at Gallatin Valley Furniture for two years applying her artistic talents to wishes of clients. Yvonne never did warm up to the Montana winters so they continued to visit Florida each spring and Hawaii each fall.
In 1981 Bud accepted a position with a Boston consulting firm contracting with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Aviation Army Air Defense Command. Yvonne and Bud saw the world as they traveled numerous routes across Europe, Asia and Africa. They made many friends from abroad while on assignment, staying in touch for many years. They embraced Saudi culture with Mom quipping that once you are off the street and into a gathering of only women, the veils come off, cultural barriers melt away and the Saudi women are as engaging, gracious, poised and fun as one could imagine. The Saudis had asked Bud to stay on indefinitely; he and Yvonne were ready to retire, returning to Bozeman in 1986. Yvonne had never complained about the Arabian heat!
After returning home Yvonne dedicated herself to being a docent at the Museum of the Rockies where she delighted at leading groups of schoolchildren through the paleontological and historical exhibits, finally bidding farewell to the Museum after over 1,000 hours of volunteer duty.
Yvonne had beautiful handwriting and spoke good English and like her mother, Elsie, maintained regular correspondence with family and friends all of her life. Dad volunteered for Eagle Mount Ski and Equestrian programs. They finished building their dream timber-frame home dad designed in Bridger Canyon in 1988.
They had many fond memories of socializing with their new neighbors. Dad fly fished with his buddies and skied with his grandson and children. They were members of Saint James Episcopal Church for many years and enjoyed the services and people immensely. Yvonne was a member of the Bridger Canyon Women's Association and the neighborhood book club being the avid reader she was.
In 2006 Bud was diagnosed with a blood disorder that eventually brought his life to an end Nov. 24, 2007, at age 86. Yvonne had lost the love of her life but went on living at the home that they had called Mountain Farm. Later, we were thrilled when we learned that Dad's old U.S. Navy Seal/UDT Team had killed the leader of the World Trade Center bombing.
Yvonne continued living at the farm reporting the movements of the elk, deer, hawks, bunnies, grouse and cranes dad and she had loved to her family. Her son, Jesse, came from Helena to visit regularly, taking her to town to shop and have a bite to eat, and her daughter, Cecily, visited, bringing mail, comfort, and provisions. Son Gordon and his wife, Debra, continued to visit each summer and at other times from their home in Clearwater, Fla.
The holiday family gatherings and traditional dinners went on with big fires crackling and Hawaiian music in the background. Young people from St. James Church and her neighbors checked in on her as well. For that we are grateful.
Yvonne had many interesting stories from her life experiences, inspiring young women guests to see her as a wise woman. She became a regular confidant to her nieces and they came with husbands to visit as well as her sister, Rhoda, in recent years. She continued to bake her famous cookies and was secure at home with her trusty Weimaraner female companion, Gretchen, whom dad had given her a few years before he died. But Yvonne was lonely without Bud.
Her children and grandson were at her side at the end and she was conscious that her wish to die at home had been fulfilled. The evening of Yvonne's passing, we gathered outside to take in a spectacular sunset, taking pictures as the array of colors continued to change. I noted that mom and I had seen the same sunset the evening of dad's death in 2007.
We stayed there as long as we could, just as Yvonne had done for us these past three months. A windstorm had been raging for six straight days as if to pry her away from us but all was finally calm. That evening we went outside with the dogs and looked up. It was a full moon – just as it had been the night of dad's passing. They must be together now.
Yvonne Hastings Aber was preceded in death by her parents, Ernest and Elsie Hastings, and her sister, Caroline Stickney (Hastings) Farris of St. Petersburg, Fla.
She is survived by her brother, Victor Ernest Hastings; sister, Rhoda McLeod (Hastings) Smith; sons, Gordon Hastings Aber and Jesse Earl Aber III of Helena and Bozeman; and daughter, Cecily Yvonne Johnson and grandson, Leo Toulmin Johnson, both of Bozeman.
The family gives thanks to the care providers from Hospice of Bozeman Deaconess, Frontier Home Health and Cottonwood Case Management for their sensitive and personal service, the nursing staffs at Gallatin Rest Home and Bozeman Deaconess Hospital, and Drs. Fairbanks and Hensold.
Donations in Yvonne's memory can be directed to Judy Farrington of Saint James Episcopal Church of Bozeman for real flower arrangements in the Church.
Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service. www.dokkennelson.com.
Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service
113 South Willson Avenue Bozeman, MT 59715
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Jan. 19, 2014