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Geraldine Nussbaum Barrett spent 63 adventurous years with the great love of her life, husband John. At age 95, Gerry re-joined John this past Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, 2015, surrounded by family in her home in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Zelma Geraldine Nussbaum was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on Oct. 27, 1919, to Joseph Nussbaum and Esther Goldstein Nussbaum. She and her three siblings, Jay, Joy and Bob, were surrounded by music created by both her parents. Joseph was an accomplished pianist, and a composer and arranger for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, singers such as Maurice Chevalier and Broadway productions in NYC such as Billy Rose's "Jumbo." His wife Esther took pleasure in entertaining their friends with her beautiful soprano voice.
Eventually, Joe's work took the family to Hollywood, California, where he worked in the movie business composing, scoring and arranging everything from "Gone With the Wind" to "The Three Stooges". Gerry, a teenager by that time, accompanied her father to the studio and listened to the big band music played by greats like Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey. A talented musician in her own right, one of her songs, "When Love Comes Again," was recorded by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and sung by none other than Frank Sinatra.
But Gerry's life was about to change. She met a visiting cowboy from Montana, John Barrett and they were married April 17, 1942, in Los Angeles, a tumultuous time for everyone as World War II had just broken out. In addition, there was much resistance in Gerry's family to a marriage outside of her Jewish faith. John joined the Navy at the start of World War II, but soon after fell seriously ill with asthma, receiving a medical discharge from the Navy and doctor's orders that they return to Montana for the clean dry air. John, Gerry and first son Steve lived in Red Lodge and Roundup until 1943 when they moved to Bozeman, where John was a photographic assistant at Schlechten Photography. That winter they moved to Piney Dell – now the location of the Rock Creek Resort – near Red Lodge. In a rude awakening for a Jewish girl raised in New York and Hollywood, they lived in a log cabin with an outdoor toilet and water pump and with lighting provided by lantern. John poached elk and deer that winter to feed his family. Gas was rationed, so to save gas they would push their old car to the top of the hill and let it coast into Red Lodge, only using gas for the uphill return trip.
Their Piney Dell neighbors were the Greenough's – old Pack Saddle Ben and his wife. Over that winter a life-long family friendship began with that great rodeo family, including World Champions Alice, Marge and Turk Greenough. Several months later seeking better work the family moved back to Roundup where in July of 1944, their second son, John S., was born. After they moved back to Red Lodge in 1945, their third son, Evan, was born in June.
Gerry's life then became even more adventurous. John got a job in the "oil fields" where he was a derrick hand, working the top of the drilling rigs. Following the oil jobs the family moved often, living in Bridger, Montana, and Edgerton, Wyoming, and finally back in Roundup, where they were in 1950 when their fourth son, Bruce, was born. John continued in the oil fields until 1951 when he and Gerry took over management of the American Theater in Roundup.
In those pre-television days the local movie theater was the center of entertainment in the community. It not only featured regular evening movies, but virtually all the children in town attended the Saturday matinees where kids' tickets cost just 12 cents. Gerry was in her element and undertook many promotions to boost business at the theater. All the kids in town were members of the Roy Rogers Riders Club, run by John and Gerry. She even wrote the Club's theme song which got the attention of national icon, Roy Rogers, himself. They introduced live local and national touring entertainment on the theater stage. As a team, they proved to be excellent promoters, hosting local, regional and higher talent shows, as well as running events like Bingo Nights at the theater. In 1955 Gerry took time out from her duties at the movie theatre to produce her fifth son, Mark.
The family moved back to Red Lodge in 1958 where she and John opened the Chuck Wagon Café, serving delicious home-style meals to locals and tourists alike. Their welcoming sign promised "Best Coffee West Of The Mississippi." Gerry worked side-by-side with John while Steve, Evan, young John and Bruce were all pitching in as cooks, busboys and dishwashers. As if five boys weren't enough, they hit a "double-trifecta" when a sixth son Joe, their youngest, was born in Red Lodge in 1960.
In 1963 John and Gerry moved to Cody, Wyoming, opening the Sportsman Café and the Wyoming Trout Ranch. Her older sons were growing up and going off to college while her three youngest, Bruce, Mark and Joe, were involved in music lessons and playing in bands. Gerry relished seeing her musical background reflected in her children. She loved watching them perform and encouraged them to continue to make music their careers.
In 1973 they moved to Billings, Montana, and opened the Treasure State Luncheonette. In a pleasant change from the traditional long restaurant hours, the luncheonette was only open for breakfast and lunch. In 1975 they retired and moved to Helena to be near their sons John, Evan and Bruce, with Joe still at home.
Though immersed in a Christian world once she came to Montana and Wyoming, over this entire time Gerry proudly held to her Jewish faith and identity, transmitting much of that heritage to her children.
The sons all encouraged John and Gerry to move to Las Vegas in 1994, which had become the home of sons John and Mark. There Gerry enjoyed music of all types, often attending events with son Mark who both performed and booked talent. With her sons and their extended families Gerry spent much time hosting visitors, and was always up for an adventure. Her greatest source of pride was raising six sons and seeing them all college-educated, successful and happy in their lives. After her beloved John passed in 2003, Gerry spent the last 12 years of her life surrounded by love and warmth from her ever-growing multi-generational and diverse family.
Wherever they lived, Gerry and John were active in their communities, especially politically. They never missed an election, always helping candidates and voting their philosophy. They were unabashed progressive Democrats who strongly supported workers and Unions and believed that the people's government should be supportive of all citizens, especially those in need.
In addition to John, Gerry was preceded in death by her father Joseph, her mother Esther and stepmother Clara and siblings Jay, Joy and Bob. She leaves behind many people who loved her and cherish her memory, including sons and spouse/partners: Steve and Janis Barrett of Bozeman, John and Teresa Barrett of Las Vegas, Evan and Gail Barrett of Butte, Bruce Barrett and Adair Kanter of Missoula, Mark Barrett and Maria Battaglia of Las Vegas, and Joe Barrett and Francisco Sanchez of Oakland.
Gerry's grandchildren and spouses include Kirsten Barrett and Jon Hypes of Las Vegas, Erika Barrett Thompson of Bozeman, Juan Rafael Barrett and Rachele Sharpe-Barrett, Genoa Barrett and Namyd Lyoubi, and Eve Barrett Drew and Robert Drew, all of Las Vegas; Joshua and Kristy Barrett and Megan Barrett and Erika Warhus, of Portland, Oregon; Brendan Barrett and Siobhan Barrett of Butte; Ariel Barrett of Missoula; Jeff Barrett of Omaha, Nebraska, and Tracy Taylor of Bullhead City, Arizona.
Gerry's great-grandchildren include Ivory and Jacen of Bozeman; Ashton and Brynn of Butte; Lina, Asher, Arabella and Austin of Las Vegas; Jack and Ainsley of Portland; Rubii of Oakland; Sapphire and Sage of Manchester, Michigan; and Nellie and Kaziah of Ashland, Oregon and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins, and beloved niece Laura Nussbaum of Perth, Australia.
A memorial in celebration of Gerry's life will take place at 1 p.m. on July 5, 2015, in Red Lodge at St. Agnes Catholic Church with a reception following in the Community Room. Interment will follow at the Rockvale Cemetery. In lieu of flowers or gifts our Mom would like you to love your family, hug someone you care about, say a kind word, smile at a child and continually try to make the world a more kind and gentle place.
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on June 26, 2015