Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service

Karen Smalley

June 26, 1941 ~ January 23, 2018

Beloved servant of God, Karen Amanda Smalley passed away on January 23, 2018. Her death was caused by complications of a rare blood disorder.

Karen was born in 1941 in Livingston, Montana to Martin and Ruth Hillard. Her father worked as a ranch hand and her mother as a school teacher in Pine Creek, south of Livingston. The family moved to Wilsall while Karen was young, where her father managed the co-op gas station and her mother continued to teach. Karen graduated from Wilsall High School and moved to Billings where she briefly attended Billings Business College. Continuing her education, she attended Montana State College in the spring of 1959.

Karen enrolled in rifle marksmanship at MSC where she met her future husband, Air Force Cadet Vern Smalley, who was teaching the class his senior year. After one date on a day trip through Yellowstone Park, she knew this was the man she was going to marry. Vern proposed, and seven weeks after their first date the two were married in the Pine Creek Methodist Church. She used to tell everyone that it was Vern who proposed, but Vern always said it was just a proposition that she move with him to his first duty station in Ohio.

Vern entered the Air Force as a second lieutenant, with a new wife in July 1959. Karen worked briefly as a secretary for a small company in Yellow Springs, Ohio, until they discovered that the company was a front for a local communist organization. She promptly quit because Vern’s background was being scrutinized so that he could obtain a security clearance in the USAF.

The couple was reassigned to Ann Arbor, Michigan while Vern attended the University of Michigan. Their daughter, Kristine, conveniently arrived during spring break in 1962. In February of 1963 the young family headed to Massachusetts. Karen loved being a stay-at-home mom.

Not wanting to raise an only child, Karen and Vern adopted a baby boy, Douglas, in 1967. It was a lively household after that. Six months later, the family headed to a new Air Force assignment at McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, California.

The McClellan assignment lasted five years, with Vern wanting to get into the space business. Unfortunately that involved moving to Los Angeles, something that both found repulsive. But Karen followed her adventurous husband with the two kids, and made their home in Torrance, California. When Vern retired from the Air Force in 1979, she decided to go back to school full time for a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Psychology. The family stayed in Torrance for another year then “escaped from L.A.” to Colorado Springs, Colorado.

After finishing her undergraduate work, Karen commuted to the University of Colorado, Denver where she completed her Master’s Degree in Social Work. With her MSW, she went to work for Pike’s Peak Hospice and eventually opened her own counseling practice. That was when she took over as breadwinner, and Vern honed his skills as housekeeper, cook and general do-it-all guy.

After 17 years in Colorado, Karen and Vern decided to move home to Montana in 1998. They thoroughly enjoyed the mountain air and wonderful people. Karen became the funeral coordinator for St. James Episcopal Church and a spiritual director. She was an Associate of the Community of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal religious order, and a member of the Order of St. Luke, a healing ministry.

Karen is survived by her husband of more than 58 years, Vern; her children, Kris (Rick) and Doug (Carolyn); grandchildren Cutter, Chandra, Christian and Mateo; and many extended family members including godchildren Emily and Carlyle.

A Memorial Service will be held at 1:00 P.M. on Saturday, February 17 at St. James Episcopal Church.  Interment will be held at a later date at Mountain View Cemetery in Livingston.

Her family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Community of the Transfiguration (www.ctsisters.org); St. James Episcopal Church in Bozeman (http://stjamesbozeman.org); or the St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana (www.stlabre.org).