On Dec. 6, 2008, Retha Ellen Howard Cummins Martinson took her last breath in the loving arms of her youngest son, Michael Cummins, at St. Peter's Hospital in Helena. She was gathered into the arms of her Heavenly Father, whom except for at the very end she prayed to on her knees every night of her life. All of her sons and most of their family members were blessed to be by her side and listen to her laugh, tell family stories and offer to get up and cook them chicken one more time.
The Guest Book is expired.
Retha was born Aug. 11, 1923, in Augusta, Kan., the only daughter of James Brunson and Janie Young Howard. Of her four older brothers, Carl, Arvel, Ralph "Shorty," and Jim, and two younger, Phillip and Dean, Retha is survived by Jim in San Antonio, Texas, and Phil in San Jose, Calif.
Retha's earliest memories were of the death of her mother in 1930 and the hard times of the Great Depression that followed, traveling the rails in open boxcars and singing and dancing for pennies and nickels in hobo camps, while her dad and older brothers searched for work. This experience shaped her philosophy as a wife, mother and grandmother who extolled the virtues of hard work and thriftiness all her life.
Retha went to school in Crane, Texas, when her father and older brothers got work in the West Texas oil fields. She left school early to work and take care of her brothers and when World War II began, she moved to California to work as a welder in the Long Beach shipyards, serving the country she loved.
When she returned to Texas at the end of the war, she met and married the love of her life Jake Cummins in Grand Falls, Texas. Jake was a career Air Force veteran serving in World War II and later Korea, and Retha traveled with him to a variety of posts from Texas to Iowa, California and England, finally settling in Fort Worth. In 1966, the family moved to Bakersfield to be near her family. Retha worked in Bakersfield at Wyatts Cafeteria for 23 years, retiring as head cashier, where she was known as the Turkey Lady, befriending thousands of customers over that time. She had a smile and kind word for everyone she met as well as words of tough love when necessary.
Jake passed away in 1978, and a few years later Retha married Harry Martinson, who died in 1987.
In 1990, Retha moved to Wyoming to be near her oldest son, John Thomas "Jake Jr." when he retired from the Marine Corps. Jake soon accepted the position as executive vice-president of the Montana Farm Bureau, and Mom joined him in Bozeman. After a few years she chose to move back to Bakersfield to be near her brothers. Once again the gypsy in Mom made her move to Yakima, Wash., so she could enjoy being with her middle son, Greg and his family for a few years. After some medical problems, Mom joined Mike and his family in Helena, where she resided until her passing.
Retha will be remembered for the stories she told and the laughter she shared with everyone she met. She greeted every day with a song. Like Will Rogers before her, she never met a stranger but she had no patience for weakness but always had well-earned advice and wisdom for anyone in need. She made her sons into men the old-fashioned way, teaching them all that matters in life and love must be earned. Retha's strength, humor and unflagging optimism in the face of a lifetime of adversity became the standard by which three generations of her family have measured their achievements.
Besides her brothers, Jim and Phil, and their wives, Lou and Evelyn, Retha is survived by her three sons, Jake, Greg and Mike Cummins, their wives, Janet, Tricia, and Linette, who she always treated as her own daughters. Her grandchildren are Carrie, Kalani, Micha, Delaney, Travis, Ethan and Dylan, and great-granddaughter, Katy Marie. Also her many beloved nieces and nephews that always knew "Aunt Retha" held a special place for them in her heart.
Our beloved matriarch will be dearly missed by all of us who loved her so. We are comforted in knowing she was peaceful in her passing and has joined her Lord and savior "In the Garden" of heaven. She's surely there "while the dew is still on the roses and the voice I hear, falling on my ear" and the sweet sounds of her favorite hymn plays on as she sings, "The son of God discloses, and he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own, and the joy we share as we tarry there none has ever known. He speaks and the sound of His voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing, and the melody that He gave to me within my heart is ringing."
No services are scheduled at this time.
Local arrangements have been entrusted to Hagler-Anderson Funeral Home in Helena.
650 Logan Street
Helena, MT 59601
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Dec. 16, 2008