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Helen Margaret (Bonde) Struckman

January 15, 2016

Helen Margaret Bonde StruckmanTom Struckman took this photograph of his mother in the early 1970s.

My mother, Helen Margaret Bonde, was born at home October 22, 1912.  Her parents, and her uncle Alfred and his wife, owned a general store in Buffalo, Montana.  Both families lived in an apartment above the store.  My mother was born there.  Her parents, Carl Tosten and Ellen Margaret Bonde, already had a daughter, Corinne Elsinore, born in Fairbault, Minnesota, in 1910.

Carl and Alfred’s wives couldn’t get along, so they sold the store.  Alfred and his wife moved to Minnesota, I think, and Carl took his family to Kalispell where they lived until his death in 1958.  He died of emphysema after years of cigarette smoking.

Helen Bonde went to teacher’s college at Valley City, North Dakota, after graduating from Flathead County High School.  I don’t know a lot about Helen’s high school years, but she had many friends, including plenty of faculty, who signed her annuals.  Helen played the flute in the school orchestra.  She told me that she got very light-headed at first.

Once in grade school my mom told a lie, she said.  I don’t remember what the crime was — petty theft, perhaps — but she told me that the teacher asked each child if they had done it.  My mom had, but she lied and said she hadn’t.  This made such an impression on her that she told me about it.  I thought, eh.  I’ve told plenty of lies like that.

When I was perhaps five years old Helen showed me a photo album with many portraits of her Valley City classmates.  She went through page after page, telling me all of their names.  Several of them were dead, she said.

By then my mother was a widow.  Her husband, who smoked most of his life, died of a brain tumor in 1953.

After graduating from Valley City Teacher’s College, the same college her mother Ellen had graduated from, Helen got her first teaching job at Niarada, Montana, in a one-room school.  In those days many teachers went to summer school in Missoula and she met my father, Robert Powers Struckman, who had decided he would never earn a living writing short stories, and was pursuing a teaching certificate instead.

My Aunt Corinne told me, with obvious relish, that Robert met Helen and told her that first time, that she was going to bear his children.  Corinne loved to shock us.  She’s the one who told us one thanksgiving that she was going to “baste that bastard” of a turkey.

After Robert and Helen married they moved to the castle apartments in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, where they both taught school.  The next year Robert got a job teaching high school in Great Falls.  Helen was a house wife.  They had their first child in February, 1939.  Carol Ellen.  Robert didn’t like teaching, and he got a job as associate editor of the Montana Farmer, published by the Great Falls Tribune.  Mother said marrying Robert was the most important thing in her life.

While writing and editing the monthly Farmer, Robert helped a large group of journalists and printers create a union, the Montana Newspaper Guild.  My sister Carol remembers some of its members, especially Joseph Kinsey Howard and Chick Guthrie, two of the early presidents of the Guild and both prominent Montana authors.  One of the editors of the Tribune, Bob Bosley, was my god-father.

April 6, 1944, Helen’s second child was born, Thomas Tod.  The next year Helen’s husband got a position with the faculty of the School of Journalism in Missoula at the university.  In those days it was Montana State University.  Bozeman had Montana State College.

The four Struckmans lived at first in the strip houses, married student housing in Missoula.  Because of the huge influx of ex-GIs from the end of World War II, and the large number of college faculty newly hired, housing was in short supply.

The Struckmans, the Browders, the Dugans, and the Fiedlers all moved out to the officers’ quarters at Fort Missoula, west of town.  These families became quite close, as did their children, who played in the buildings of the abandoned fort.  Their third child, Daniel Robert was born March 28, 1949.

Ultimately the four families moved back into Missoula.  The Struckmans bought the house at 334 N. Ave. West for $5,000 in 1950.  Robert’s father, Emil, loaned them the money to buy the house.  Their fourth child, Steven Carl, was born in 1951, but had a lethal birth defect, so he lived less than a month.

In September 1953, Helen’s husband Robert died of the brain tumor.  Two weeks later she took a job teaching second grade at Jefferson School in Missoula.  Helen raised her three children by herself.  Carol got married in 1958.  Helen’s mother became a widow that same year, in the fall, and she moved in with her and the two boys on North Avenue.  In 1961 Helen sold the house for $11,200, and bought another at 640 E. Kent for $17,000.  All the while teaching, Helen received a grant to teach French to her second grade students.  She took Daniel and Ellen to Ann Arbor, Michigan to the University of Michigan for the summer to take classes in French.  They drove an Oldsmobile both ways.  Took about a week to cross the country in those days.

Helen also took graduate courses in education, earning a master’s degree from Missoula.  In 1962 she took Daniel and Ellen to Dillon, where she was an assistant professor of education at Western Montana College.

Helen’s mother died in 1967 in Dillon, age 80.  Daniel graduated from high school the same year and moved to Missoula.  Tom had worked on a master’s of English at the University of Oregon, but quit.  Tom moved to Seattle to live with his Aunt Corinne.

Helen lived alone in Dillon from 1967 until 1976.  She spent holidays with her daughter Carol, who lived in nearby Bozeman with husband and six children.  Helen learned to make pottery and was an ardent duplicate bridge player.  Helen also smoked cigarettes most of her life.

In 1976 Helen moved to Lakeside, Montana, on Flathead Lake’s west shore, with her sister Corinne.  Helen became sick with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and died that summer in Salt Lake City, age 64.

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One Comment
  1. Doug M permalink

    Dan: The bio of your mother and family was very interesting and fun to read. I have many fond memories of the times that Tom and I spent in the house on North Avenue, as well as running around Missoula, trying to work our way through adolescence. To this very day I think of Tom often and reading the biography stirred even more memories. Your mother was always very kind to me, and as I find myself at 70+ years old, I think about how generous she really was. I wish I had thanked her more. Thank you for posting this.

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