Marcella "Marcy" J. Johnson (1920 - 2011)

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Marcella "Marcy" Jane Johnson died Jan. 28, 2011, just days after turning 91 and following many years of suffering from dementia.

Marcella was born in Orange, Texas, in 1920 to Hy and Sarah Collmorgen. She worked in her German father's bakery in what is now historic Houston. It was there she met her husband, Harry Burton Johnson. He worked in the gas station across the street and would come over to buy pineapple rolls from her. He stole her heart.

Harry was the only man she would ever love. They would marry on July 4, 1937, beginning a tumultuous life filled with sorrow and joy that would bring them to Montana in 1954.

During World War II, Marcella worked as a clerk/typist for the Navy war department in Balboa making $1,800 a year. She could type 80 words a minute on an old manual Royal. The two ended up in Panama together, Harry as a ship's carpenter. It was some of the best times of their lives.

Soon after, Marcella would lose her first child, Harry Burton Johnson Jr., who died at the age of 2 weeks after catching pneumonia. She never fully recovered from that loss. Their daughter, Barbara Burton Johnson, was born in Houston ten years later, followed by another son, Charles Allen Johnson, six years after that.

Marcella retained her Texas accent for many years, and when asked where she was from she would say, Southern Montana. When she became pregnant with son, Charles, she insisted on Harry driving her back to Houston so all her children could be born in Texas.

For many years Marcella was a homemaker, while Harry followed in his father's footsteps, first working for his father's best friend, for whom he got his middle name Burton, as a boat builder before becoming a bricklayer and masonry contractor. He built many things in the years they were together, including a lot of houses.

Unfortunately, he loved to build the houses and sell them so he could build another one. Marcella would just get settled into a house and it would be time to move again. His building took them from a home in Houston to a cabin in the Gallatin Canyon, to a home outside of Bozeman to a house on Hebgen Lake north of West Yellowstone.

In the winters, they took the flight of the snowbirds, first going to the Palm Springs, Calif., area, and then Harry building a small place on the Colorado River north of Parker, Ariz. He loved water and boats, and unfortunately Marcella, who couldn't swim, didn't share that enthusiasm.

For most of her life, she suffered from depression, having never gotten over the loss of her first son or a life that always seemed to leave her a little breathless. Depression ran in her family, so it was always an uphill battle. After a bout with alcohol, she joined AA and loved her meetings. She used to tell a wonderful story about a time she drank too much, ran off the road into a really deep ditch and was saved by a giant Native American and a little person, neither of whom were ever seen again.

Marcella retained her sense of humor most of the time, even after her divorce from Harry after more than 35 years. And while she never got over him, she made a life for herself. The only work skill she had was cooking so she began cooking at dude ranches like the 320, Flathead Lake Lodge, White Sun Guest Ranch in Rancho Mirage, Calif., the Diamond J by Ennis and a dove ranch in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico, where she learned some Spanish, before private chef work with families took her to the Kempers in Palm Springs and finally Carolyn Granger in New York City on Park Avenue.

Many of the "kids" she worked with at dude ranches would quote her because of all her sayings like, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall," "Dynamite comes in small packages," and "I'd rather eat a bug."

She loved to play Yahtzee, never passed up a chance to take pictures of any parade she came across, and became friends with anyone she met. She collected recipes, which the family still enjoys.

After she retired, she settled in Bozeman, going to the Senior Center until dementia took its toll and she became a resident of the Gallatin County Rest Home.

She was known for her cheerful greetings and loved to announce, "Here comes Marcy!" and "Mercy, it's Marcy!"

She is survived by her daughter, Barb Heinlein (Parker) of Malta; son, Charles of Helena; and one granddaughter, Danielle Smith Ness (Travis) of Seattle.

Condolences or memories of Marcy may be sent to B. Heinlein, P.O. Box 1173, Malta, MT 59538; and shared with the family at www.dahlcares.com.
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Dahl Funeral Chapel
300 Highland Boulevard
Bozeman, MT 59715
(406) 586-5298
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Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Feb. 2, 2011
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