(Oct. 7, 2006)
Thelma Churchill died Oct. 7, 2006 at the Powell Valley Care Center just 13 days after her 100th birthday.
She was born Sept. 24, 1906, in Deerfield, Mo., the eldest of six children, to Anna May Lewis and Oscar Monroe Rimbey. After her mother's death in 1919, her father came to Powell. Shortly afterward, when only 12 years old, Thelma boarded a train with three of her siblings in tow and traveled from Missouri to Wyoming to join her father. An aunt packed a picnic basket for them so they would have food on the journey.
Thelma helped raise her siblings, who were joined after a few years by one of the twin baby sisters left behind (a twin died at age two). As her brother once said, "She was the only mother I ever knew."
Thelma graduated from Powell High School in 1927 and, until recently, enjoyed attending the annual alumni banquets.
On June 17, 1927, she married Frederick H. Churchill, and they raised two children on the family farm just west of Powell. Known as "Mom Churchill " to her grandchildren, she is remembered by them as the one who would keep a secret, provide comfort and always be happy to see them. She taught her grandchildren and most of the great-grandchildren how to play Gin Rummy. A deck of cards was never far out of reach, and "Mom C" did more than her share of winning.
Thelma lived independently on the farm until age 98. During the summer, her house was frequently full to the rafters with family and friends. She ran up and down two flights of steep stairs, keeping house, mowing lawns, gardening and preparing dinners for 20 or more people well into her 90's.
For more than 40 years, Thelma was a "summer mother" to dozens of young paleontologists who came to the area to look for fossils. She referred to the fossil hunters as the "Princeton Gang" and eagerly awaited their arrival in the summer. Until her death, she continued to correspond with at least three generations of students and their families. In 1997, she and her family flew to Chicago to the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology where they were given the Morris F. Skinner Award in recognition of their many outstanding and sustained contributions to the field of vertebrate paleontology.
Thelma had a boundless spirit of adventure and love of nature. She journeyed to many foreign countries, including Peru, China, Australia, New Zealand, England, Mexico, Norway and Africa. At a moment's notice she was ready to head for the hills in search of artifacts or fossils. She would marvel at sunrise on the Big Horn Mountains and sunset over Heart Mountain and the Beartooths. She loved flowers and had a green thumb when it came to growing them. She always had a kitty or two and they lived the good life under her care.
Thelma is survived by her daughter Joyce Shelby of Bozeman, Mont.; son Winston (Beryl) Churchill of Powell; five grandsons; two granddaughters; 13 great grandchildren and 7 great-great grandchildren. Her sister Wilma Groen, and sister-in-law Irene Rimbey, both of Powell and several nieces and nephews, also survive her.
Her husband, who died in 1959, three sisters, a brother, a grandson and her son-in-law preceded her in death.
Memorial services are scheduled for October 23rd at 11 a.m. at the Union Presbyterian Church in Powell. A luncheon for family and friends will follow in the church's Ferren Hall. Memorials may be given to the Powell Medical Foundation for the Powell Valley Care Center, the Union Presbyterian Church or charity of choice.
Thompson Funeral Home of Powell is in charge of arrangements.