Elmira Susannah Sauberan Smyrl, known to her friends and family as Myra, passed away at the age of 90 on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009, at her residence in Bozeman.
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Myra was born in Detroit, Mich., on May 16, 1919, to Isaac Sauberan and Susannah Cooper Sauberan. Susannah’s family migrated from Great Britain to Canada to Michigan, where she met and married Isaac, a French immigrant, who came to the United States through Ellis Island as a young boy.
Myra was a pioneer among women in the field of architecture, earning her Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering at the University of Texas in 1941. She continued graduate studies at the University of Texas from 1943 to 1945.
As one of the very few licensed female architects and professional engineers, she partnered with her college sweetheart and architect husband, John Linn Scott, in a small architectural firm in Austin, Texas, for ten years. The firm specialized in commercial, governmental and public school buildings. Plaques commemorating their work on several Austin public buildings remain today. While practicing architecture, Myra discovered her love for teaching when she began her teaching career as a part-time architecture instructor at the University of Texas.
In her leisure time, Myra enjoyed square dancing and enthusiastically participated in club dances and events.
Myra continued her education at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla., where she obtained her Master's Degree in Agricultural Engineering in 1955. Her thesis project was the design of a farm-based living and educational facility for economically disadvantaged at-risk children, known as the School for Family Living. This pet project was the germination of her lifelong interest in the essential and thoughtful integration of geographical, environmental and human-purpose design elements.
Myra moved to Bozeman in 1955 to begin teaching at MSU. As a tenured professor in the MSU architecture department, she taught until her retirement in 1986. Early in her MSU career, Myra practiced architecture part-time with Fred Willson's firm and was directly involved in the design and drafting of the MSU Fieldhouse. A lifelong academic, she continued her studies while teaching and obtained a second Master's Degree in Applied Sciences at MSU.
In the 1960s, she was also the director of the Department of Defense’s Civil Defense Professional Development Center at MSU, conducting seminars for architects and engineers throughout the Northwest on nuclear fallout shelter design requirements. She was also active as a consultant to the National Academy of Sciences’ Advisory Committee on Civil Defense.
During her tenure at MSU, she was among the female professors who prevailed in a 1970s federal court case proving institutional gender discrimination. Myra continued her education in the 1970s, commuting to Georgetown University between teaching semesters to complete her course work toward a doctorate of philosophy with a dissertation related to Kant’s Model of The Mind.
In addition to Myra’s educational career, she and her family raised and trained collies and Shetland sheepdogs and she kept Shelties as pets until shortly before her death. She and her husband, Sam Smyrl, were among the founders of the Gallatin Dog Club. Initially intended as an obedience-oriented club, it evolved to sponsoring conformation and obedience shows sanctioned by the American Kennel Club at the MSU Fieldhouse. In addition to teaching obedience classes and participating with her personal dogs in regional dog shows, Myra organized a children's drill team, where children and their dogs performed complicated marching routines to Sousa marches. The drill team performed at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds and was broadcast on Butte television.
Over her years in her beloved Bozeman, Myra’s enjoyed daily meals at The Bungalow and 4-B’s, where she was a well-known regular. For leisure, she enjoyed her annual vacations to Canada and frequented Glacier and Yellowstone national parks. Never having owned a television, Myra was an avid reader of murder mysteries and historical fiction. She was a lifetime member of the National Geographic Society, The Smithsonian Institute and the Gallatin Historical Society and was a passionate, lifelong student of American Indian history.
Myra is survived by her daughter, Donna Linn Crossland of St. Simons Island, Ga.; her two grandchildren, Teresa Linn Inscoe of Bozeman and James Scott Williss of Arab, Ala.; and four great-grandchildren, Bradley, Lindsey, Jackson and Nicholas.
At Myra’s request, the family will not hold a public memorial service.
The family has set up a memorial Web site at www.ilasting.com/RememberingMyra.php. Family, friends, former students and colleagues are invited to remember Myra and to share reflections and personal stories.
Anyone interested in making a contribution on Myra’s behalf may direct donations to the American Indian Studies Program at MSU, or to Heart of the Valley animal shelter.
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Sept. 15, 2009