Menga Huffman was born May 14, 1920, in Miles City to Swiss immigrants John and Elsa (Eichenberger) Herzog, owners of the Miles City Dairy. She died Oct. 24, 2015, in Bozeman.
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The eldest of eight, Menga learned the value and satisfaction of hard work from age six when her father had her drive a team of horses and operate the mechanism that lifted hay into the loft of the big red barn. A few years later, she and a younger brother, with a horse and wagon, scoured the nearby prairie for buffalo bones which they sold to a fertilizer manufacturer. She grew up with a strong independent streak, a love for animals, and the belief that you could create almost anything you wanted "from scratch."
Menga and her siblings attended a two-room school a few miles from the farm, commuting via mule cart, horse drawn sled, or stubborn Shetland pony. When she was 13, in the depths of the drought, she and her father drove west in search of hay for the dairy herd. Coming over Bozeman Pass she saw Bozeman and the green Gallatin Valley and decided that was where she wanted to live. And so she did for at least 70 of her 95 years.
Menga graduated from Custer County High School in 1937 and won a scholarship to attend Montana State College. During her freshman year she became engaged to a senior, Roy E. Huffman of Highwood. She dropped out of school and returned home to cook for her father's farmhands while Roy earned his master's degree at the University of Maryland. Roy and Menga were married on July 2, 1939, in Baltimore, Maryland. They spent the first years living in hotel rooms in the Dakotas and Nebraska while Roy worked for the USDA. They were in Williston, North Dakota. when their first child, Marjorie, was born.
Roy was hired to teach economics at MSC and Menga returned to her beloved Bozeman, but with World War II underway, Roy enlisted in the Navy. Their second daughter, Betsy, was born in Seattle when Roy was in training there. When he shipped out to the Pacific, Menga and the girls moved to Fort Benton where son, Jim, was born.
After the war, Roy returned to the MSC faculty and Menga embraced the life of mother and homemaker – which to her included raising a huge garden, canning and freezing the produce, and making most of the family's clothing. When the kids were all in school, she took a job with Milam's Greenhouse to learn more about raising plants, and then re-enrolled at MSU, studying everything from landscape design to jewelry and ceramics-making to literature, graduating in 1964 with a degree in German.
She had a brief career as a substitute German teacher at Bozeman High School but decided random high school kids were not nearly as much fun as her children's friends for whom she had been Girl Scout leader, Cub Scout den mother, 4-H leader and the mother always available to drive a carload of kids to science fairs and music festivals.
Menga was an avid catch-and-eat fisherperson, frequently strolling across Sourdough Road and returning from the creek with that evening's dinner in her creel. Her children have wonderful memories of camping and fishing trips up Hyalite, Swan Creek, the Madison or Harrison reservoir while their father worked his way through the academic and administrative ranks at Montana State.
After her children married, Menga kept busy exploring new creative horizons. She was a founding member of the Bozeman Weavers Guild, an early member of the B-Wags, and designed, planted and tended the landscapes for the house on Sourdough Road and the new home she and Roy built on the hill above it.
Menga and Roy loved to travel and together explored western Europe, England and Scotland, Australia, and the Soviet Union as well as traveling to visit their daughter and granddaughter in Thailand and Japan and their son and his family in New Zealand.
After Roy passed away in 1994, Menga set out to see the rest of the world, traveling with one or another of her children or grandchildren and sometimes alone with tour groups to Kenya, Scotland, Switzerland, France, Greece, Spain and Morocco, Peru, China and Tibet, Croatia, the Panama Canal, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, Egypt, Bali, Thailand, Holland, Argentina and Antarctica.
At home in Bozeman, she continued her gardening, weaving and entertaining friends and family. She and Roy provided lodging and meals for generations of nieces and nephews during their college careers at MSU. She was an outstanding cook, always ready to adopt new and exotic dishes. She retained her ability to pronounce food "delicious," "very good" or "ordinary" up to her last days.
Menga adopted generations of cats and a few fortunate dogs. An avid downhill skier until her 70s, she took up canoeing at 75 and cherished expeditions to Cliff Lake and the scenic Upper Missouri. She followed and supported her children and grandchildren's lives with great enthusiasm. She had many younger friends, contemporaries of her own children, as well as friends and neighbors she had known for decades.
Menga was preceded in death by her parents, husband Roy, siblings John C. (and Ruth) Herzog, Laurence Herzog, and Ruth (and Hank) Forsting; sisters-in-law Leona Herzog, Virginia (and George) Carrell, Marjorie (and Dave) Davidson; and brothers-in-law Ben Cleveland, Russell Huffman and Donald (and Doris) Huffman.
She is survived by daughters Marjorie Smith of Bozeman and Menga "Betsy" (Loyde) Miller of Libby and son James (Leslie Spencer) Huffman of Portland, Oregon; by grandchildren Kimiko S. (Sammy) Unberhagen of Austin, Texas; Kurt (Heather Melonis) Huffman of Portland; Erica (Makis Kontos) Huffman of Nashua, New Hampshire; Spencer Huffman, a student in Gambier, Ohio; Claire Menga Huffman, currently studying in Greece; and Margaret "Meg" Huffman of Portland; and by great-grandchildren George and Theodora Kontos of Nashua, New Hampshire, and Tommy McLaughlin of Portland. She is also survived by sisters Irma Cleveland of Spokane, Washington, and Sharon (Warren) Doman of Tucson, Arizona; brothers Ben Herzog of Knowlton, Montana, and Paul (Myrtle) Herzog of Miles City, sisters-in-law Alexandra Herzog of Norman, Oklahoma, and Bette Brunson of Missoula; and by brother-in-law Howard (Jan) Huffman of Salem, Oregon, as well as dozens of beloved nieces and nephews scattered across the country, cousins in the U.S. and Switzerland and by members of the "over-extended family" including Carol Fairchild Smith and Russell, Terri, River and Brooks Smith of Livingston. She is already greatly missed by her feline survivors Dulci, Brandi and Lilli.
The family expresses deep gratitude to the friends and neighbors who have been so supportive, to Darcy Saunders and the helpers at Cottonwood Case Management, to the staff of Birchwood Assisted Living, the nurses at the local dialysis clinic and to all the staff of Bozeman Deaconess Hospice. If desired, memorials may be made to Heart of the Valley animal shelter or to the Roy and Menga Huffman Sophomore Scholarship Fund at MSU.
A celebration of Menga's life will be announced at a later date.
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Oct. 27, 2015