Cornelius B. Brooke ("C.B.") died Nov. 18, 2012 after a long goodbye as a result of Alzheimer's disease. He was born Jan. 1, 1922 in Pony, Mont. to E.M. and Rachel Brooke. C.B. grew up on the family ranch in Pony a place he deeply loved but occasionally was separated from during his life. He attended grammar school in Butte during the Great Depression where the family struggled to survive. C.B. returned to Pony and the family ranch in time to graduate salutatorian from Harrison High School in 1939 as one of five graduates. His mother, Rachel demanded he attend Carroll College where he dreamed of Pony and the ranch rather than a college degree.
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C.B. escaped to Seattle to drive rivets at the rapidly growing Boeing aircraft factory that was ramping up to meet the demands of the impending war. When the gathering dark clouds of war turned into a full blown storm, C.B. like many of the greatest generation enlisted in 1942 with the newly formed Army-Air Corps at Geiger Field, Spokane, Wash.
The Air Corps saw in C.B. a farm boy with 20/20 vision who should fly war planes; when he ground looped a Kaydet Stearman, a tail dragging training plane, he announced, "that's enough of that;" his commanders had other ideas and threatened him with a military career of potato peeling. C.B. found that to be just a fine job and recalled he always liked potatoes and anyway someone needed to peel them. C.B.'s kitchen duties were short lived when the Air Corp trained him to deal with airfield crashes.
After the invasion of Normandy, the Air-Corp assigned C.B. to the Air Transport Command, 1425th Base Unit at Orly Airfield, south of Paris, France. Charged with commanding an all black crew of fire fighters, C.B. and his crew extinguished fires and saved airmen and their planes that landed in trouble. He ended the war as part of the allied occupation forces in Germany, a place he would return some 40 years later when he would visit his oldest son, Dr. Paul Brooke, an army medical doctor who ironically provided medical care to Nazis war criminal Rudolph Hess.
C.B. finally returned to Pony to ranch with his dad, E.M., and brother, Eddy in 1946; life was good again and got even better when his brother, Basil of Whitehall introduced him to the striking Alyce O'Connor, a 100 percent Irish Catholic nurse. While she was only 4'11" her children would later comment she seemed much bigger when the Irish temper occasionally boiled over. They married June 1, 1949 and honeymooned in Lake Louise, Canada before starting a family.
C.B. and Alyce raised their six active children, Mary Margaret, Paul, Dan, Larry, Will, and Shawn at Wagon Wrench Ranch. Dinner time was filled with raucous and loud debates about everything and nothing usually involving his brothers, sister, and nieces or nephews who were either working, visiting or staying at the ranch.
As he grew his family and Wagon Wrench, C.B. worked long and hard, getting the hay up in the summer with a legendary haying crew that operated buck-rakes at breakneck speed only to repeat the process in reverse during the winter feeding cattle one pitchfork of hay at a time. He was usually in a hurry during these hectic times and could walk faster between the house, shop, and barn than any man around as he dealt with broken down hay swathers or a busted buck rake tooth that some over eager nephew or son had slammed into the ground to capture the last blade of hay. He worked closely with his brother, Eddy who cut the hay during the summer and kept C.B. somewhat interested in Notre Dame football after the hay and crops were harvested and the fall calves had been shipped to market. His brothers, Dr. Murray and Dr. Charlie delivered all the children, removed their tonsils and appendixes, and otherwise watched over their medical care if something was too much for country nurse Alyce to handle. Brother, Basil advised on the latest cattle prices while sister, Mary called often from Peoria, Ill. to see how things were going and to give advice only a sister can give. They all helped raise C.B. and Alyce's children and they theirs.
Although C.B. never owned a cowboy hat or boots, he could tell which heifer was going to deliver her first calf and which older cow might need his expert help that night.
He loved and was devoted to his wife of 55 years, Alyce, his six children, his various cow dogs, pushing dirt or snow with his TD-14 Dozer, Great Falls Select, Early Times, a big thick T-Bone steak, corn on the cob, hot water at Potosi, the Glenn Miller band, and Lawrence Welk, just about in that order. He disliked pretentious people, overcooked steak, most modern day presidents (except Harry Truman whose motto "The Buck Stops Here" was a tenet of family lessons learned early and repeated often) pepper shakers with little holes, and anyone who talked during the weather or farm reports heard on the small radio strategically located next to the family dinner table.
He was chairman of the school board for nearly as many years as his children attended Harrison school and that was a long time. C.B. was a life-long member of the Montana Stockgrowers, President of the Cataract Water Users Association and a member of the Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks. He belonged to St. Theresa's Parish of Whitehall where he and Alyce filled the church pews with their children every Sunday.
C.B. was proud of the fact that he was a rancher and the accomplishments of each his children, grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. His final return to Pony has long been anticipated by him and all of his family who wondered often how such a hard working, fine and decent man could be trapped for so long by such a random and debilitating disease.
He is preceded in death by his wife, Alyce; his mother and father, E.M. and Rachel; brothers, Dr. J.M., Dr. C.P., B.T., E.J.; sister, Mary; and son-in-law, Monte Ballou. He is survived by all of his children, Margo of Helena, Dr. Paul of Idaho Falls, Dr. Dan (Theresa) of Miles City, Larry (Joan) of Pony, Will (Susan) of Bozeman, Shawn of Pony and his many grandchildren and nieces and nephews.
A Rosary will be conducted at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Whitehall, Mont. The Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 at the Church with burial to follow at the Valley View Cemetery in Pony, Mont. Full military honors will be provided by The VFW Post of Pony #3831. A reception will follow at the Pony Hollowtop Senior Center/ Masonic Building.
Memorial donations can be made in C.B.'s name to the Pony Park he made possible by clearing the land with his TD-14 Dozer. Please send such donations to: Pony Park Memorial c/o Pony Homecoming Committee Pony, MT 59747 or to a
Services are under the direction of K&L Mortuaries of Whitehall/Harrison and Brooke Funeral Service of Pony.
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Dec. 2, 2012
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