Vera Ellen Smith "Bea" Johnson

WOLF POINT - Vera Ellen "Bea" Smith Johnson was born on Oct. 16, 1909, and died at Faith Lutheran Home on the night of June 30, 2007, at 9:55 p.m., due to complications of a stroke. She was 97 years old!
Vera grew up on a ranch in the country along Wolf Creek, west of the town of Wolf Point. Her parents were William Henry Smith and Nellie Trexler Smith. Nellie was half Assiniboine so the children inherited a rich Native American heritage, of which Vera was always very proud. As was the custom at the time, William and Nellie not only raised their own, but they also raised the children of Nellie's two sisters following their deaths, so the William Smith family actually became a family with 14 children! Life at the Smiths was busy, to say the least! The children grew up loving life, loving one another and especially loving their Wolf Creek! Throughout her life, Vera lived in and traveled to many different cities, but it was to her beloved Wolf Point and Wolf Creek to which she always returned.
Because Vera was a difficult name for Vera's sisters and brothers to pronounce when they were small, they call her "Bea." The name stuck and she was "Bea" and "Auntie Bea" forever. Vera was a star center on her basketball team while in high school, and the girls on her team were always special to her through her life. Her winning team was well-known along the Hi-line.
Following high school, Vera began nurses training in Minot, N.D. Unfortunately, she became very ill and had to return home to recuperate. She never did return. Instead, Vera went to the Butte Business College in Butte. Following her training, she began working at the State Legislature. (Her dear sister, Doll, was a member of the State Legislature at that time.)
Because Vera had won a contest selling the most tickets in 1930, she was chosen to dedicate the first Lewis and Clark Bridge over the Missouri River. She performed the dedication ceremony dressed in full Indian attire. Sixty years later, she was called upon for a second time to dedicate a new bridge, again dressed in the same beautiful clothing. Vera, in both ceremonies, was the embodiment of a beautiful and vibrant woman with a heritage in two cultures.
In the 1940s, Vera and her first husband owned and operated the "Bridge Nite Club," near the site of the Lewis and Clark Bridge, south of Wolf Point. In 1952, Vera married the "love of her life," Swede Johnson. They had 34 years of happiness together. Swede built her "the only home she ever had" out of Wolf Creek and Vera made herself indispensable to Swede! They truly had a very special relationship, and their love for one another spread to all those who happened to be around them. They owned and operated the White Star Laundry in Wolf Point for 30 years, and they were there for all the family if and when they were needed. Vera baked bread and cookies, sending loaves of bread and tins of cookies to friends and family on a regular basis. A meal of fresh-baked bread smothered with homemade strawberry jelly is a memory many folks have shared while sitting at the kitchen table in Vera and Swede's place. No one ever came to their home without leaving with much more than they brought. Star quilts and beaded treasures were a stunning reminder of a visit to Vera and Swede's. They had the family gathering place in their finished basement and many memorable parties were held there. It was fun just being around Vera and Swede, and Vera's laugh was very much a memory to all who knew her.
Vera's three sisters were her special treasures - Onie was an "angel," Toodles and she had a once-a-year "Girl's Get-Away" of wild abandon, and Doll was her partner for all grand adventures! Their stories were great entertainment for everyone!
Vera was the person that we all wanted to "grow up and be like"! She loved life. She knew how to be not just a Native American, but how to be an All-American. She was generous, loving, thoughtful and energetic. She was loved and we will all miss her. She is the end of an era; an entire generation passes with her. She was one of the last "Matriarchs of Wolf Point."
The family will hold a memorial service at a later date.
Condolences may be sent to the family at csmc@nemontel.net or www.stevensonandsons.com. Clayton Stevenson Memorial Chapel of Wolf Point has been entrusted with the arrangements.

Published in the Billings Gazette on 7/4/2007.