Born to a family with deep homestead roots in Montana (MT), Virginia was a capable hand, with touches of a perfectionist, at sewing, baking, cooking, canning, gardening, hunting and fishing. Her husband of 55 years, Russell, always said she was the better flyer fisherman and her children will attest she was a much better cook than he. She was adventuresome. The couple spared her folks the expense of a wedding and eloped in 1941. The first months of married life they lived on the plains in eastern Montana in a tent and cooking on a camp stove. Russell worked in the field as a botanist with the Soil Conservation Service before volunteering for WWII. While he served in the Marine Corps in the South Pacific, she spent the wars years in Missoula, MT, working for the Northern Pacific Railway. She was fond of relating that she was the first woman ticket agent for the railroad and worked without a day off for three years.
After the war, Russell joined the U.S. Forest Service as a forester serving in various posts in Montana. Virginia was kept very busy with three children born within four years. The family enjoyed camping and fishing trips, visiting with relatives and the new passion of the 1950's – the car trip. She loved to go on drives and was game to explore the remote nooks and crannies of the Montana landscape. When the car would get stuck in the mud or break down on a logging road, she did not sit demurely in the car but hopped out and offered her advice and effort for a solution. Her innate sense of physics regularly came in handy and Russell appreciated her help.
In 1960 the family made their longest drive over the Alcan Highway when they moved to Juneau where Russell was posted with the U.S. Forest Service. Virginia was a devout Christian and became an active member of the Chapel by the Lake. As a Chapel Lady, she assisted at many wedding receptions where her creativity and artistic eye in flower arranging and decorating were well appreciated. Life- long friendships were made through the Chapel. She was an avid sports fan. Having played basketball in high school, she was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic fan and occasionally an officiating critic.
Virginia was close to her parents and siblings in Montana and kept up close correspondence with them and her in-laws. The bonds were refreshed with home leave trips back to Montana every two years.
Once the children began leaving home, Rusty to the Vietnam War and Darcy and Bill to college, Virginia applied her secretarial skills and love of history to her position as secretary to the Alaska State Museum from 1968-74. She enjoyed learning about Alaska and its people and especially loved her work mates with whom she kept in contact through her retirement.
The couple retired in 1974 and created their own "homestead" in the Mission Valley near St. Ignatius, MT. While Russell enjoyed hours on his beloved tractor, she gardened, canned and served her church community. When the five grandchildren began arriving, she spent a month at a time with the new family to give them a more relaxed start and to share her considerable knowledge of child rearing. "Grammie" could always be counted on to drop household chores to play games with the grandchildren. Virginia loved family gatherings and made sure she knew each of her eleven great-grandchildren by helping the young families as she could in her elder years.
She was born to William and Charlotte Cunniff on February 13, 1920 in Augusta, MT. She passed away on December 7, 2016 at the home of Ann and Bill Lockhart. She is preceded in death by her parents, her husband, her brothers, Rodney and Dale Cunniff, and sister Tillie Nichols. She is survived by her sister, Georgie Sokoloski of Great Falls, MT, her son Russell (Barbara) of Polson, MT, daughter Darcy and son Bill (Ann) of Juneau and grandchildren Tiya (Brett) Karaus, Toby (Kacy) Lockhart, Laef (Anna) Eggan, Anje (Logan) Lockhart-Schneider, and Josh (Kara) Lockhart and great grandchildren: Wylie and Everett Karaus, Samuel, Cambry, Sadie, Blythe, Bridger and Elias Lockhart, Cole Schneider and Liam and Asher Eggan.
The memorial service to celebrate Virginia's 96 years of life will be held at the Chapel by the Lake on December 30, 2016 at 4 pm. In lieu of flowers, donations to The Bridge or Hospice and Homecare of Juneau or
Published in The Juneau Empire from Dec. 25, 2016 to Jan. 24, 2017