BOZEMAN — Our remarkable, beloved, friend and patriarch has left us.
Shirley Noel McKinsey, aka Mac, Papa, Papa Mac, Grandpa, PapaLu, Noel, and Daddy departed peacefully May 6, 2019, at the tender age of 98. Mac was born June 1, 1920, in Hampton, Iowa, the first of four sons to Marion Pederson McKinsey and S.N. McKinsey, Sr. of Norwegian and Scottish descent. The family moved often: his father taught agriculture in Iowa and Wyoming and when the Great Depression hit, took them to Marco Island, Florida, in their four-cylinder Buick touring car equipped with side curtains, a chuck wagon box and a tent. Unbeknownst to Mac, this was a harbinger of his future love of the cowboy lifestyle. There they traded fish and handmade seashell necklaces for groceries, rode ostriches and eventually returned to Iowa when "the lilacs bloomed" and then, on to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota where his father became an agent for the U.S. Indian Service.
As an 11-year-old boy, Mac embraced the Sioux culture, the cavalry fort, a land full of prehistoric dinosaur bones, rainbow trout, rattlesnakes and wooden sidewalks. 1935 took the family to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana where his fond memories included the Poplar High School Indian basketball team playing the Harlem Globetrotters, witnessing the Great Northern "Empire Builder" locomotive roaring through the night, and taking his first plane ride at a penny-a-pound ($1.26). This was another harbinger; data became a joy and he charted all mathematical relationships throughout his life.
His family moved to Minneapolis in 1937 where Mac attended the Institute of Art and the University of Minnesota studying biology, organic chemistry and surveying. Mac witnessed Charles Lindberg and The Spirit of St. Louis in St. Cloud and again, his life was inspired by adventurous spirit.
A life-changing summer train trip to Yellowstone National Park landed him a job as bellhop at Old Faithful Inn in 1941, an experience that would remain his all-time favorite: he loved escorting wild bears from the lobby. He later continued studies in biology and wildlife management and graduated from the University of Montana in 1942.
Mac married Betty L. Benson in 1944, an adventurous woman who shared his artist talents. He enjoyed recounting their coffee time with Boris Karloff after his performance at the Wilma Theatre. They lived in a tiny house in Missoula that he proudly bought for $8,000 but in time, they parted ways.
Mac worked for the Bureau of Reclamation mapping proposed irrigation systems along the Powder and Bitterroot rivers and relished finding arrowheads, spearheads, and bird points where Native Americans had hunted for thousands of years. These experiences led him to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon, as lead breeding conservationist of the Trumpeter Swan. Mac joined the U.S. Forest Service in 1946, returning to Montana for a position as surveying engineer (mostly on horseback with his beloved "Socks") and designer of logging roads. Once again, he was back living in a tent, but this time in the company of elk and grizzlies and a campfire that lit his pen and ink as he recorded the day's imagery. He rode beside horse-driven logging operations, working his dream ranch of millions of acres and happily sleeping under pine trees.
True to his unfailing tradition of loving women, Mac fell in love with and married Gladys M. Peterson in Polson in 1954. He adopted her children, Lauren and Maryetta, and the new family resided in Great Falls where daughter, Sheryl was born. He was reassigned to Missoula as a service chief for engineering and firefighting in 1962. He loved being a camp boss with his entertaining crew, the much-admired smokejumpers and protecting historic fire lookout towers. Never being one to miss out on camaraderie, he enjoyed both his bowling and rifle shooting teams.
Upon retirement in 1975, he completed his handmade Philippine mahogany fishing boat (a 36-year project which Maryetta assisted with as "bathtub board warp-er"), fished and hunted to his heart's content, took up golfing, illustrated maps for several Dorothy M. Johnson books, designed logos, studied calligraphy and continued creating his beautiful paper sculptures and pen and inks.
Mac then traded his saddlebags for a duffel and a Samsonite for multiple travels to Los Angeles, Bora Bora, Alaska, Hawaii, and to unfortunate hospital visits for a catalog of life-threatening episodes; he was a warrior conquering them all! He regretted not making it to Scotland to golf and find a few relatives. Travels brought him to love sashimi after a childhood deli of squirrel, pigeon, sage hens, homemade horseradish, and frog legs which confirmed his unending love and appreciation of Mother Earth's gifts. In 1998 he moved to Bozeman to embrace the realities of old age and the joys of a new grandchild, Lilly. He was indispensable working at LillyLu Children's Boutique until blindness robbed him of his mobility and his love of reading. He lived independently near the Bridger Creek golf course until the age of 95.
Mac's boundless curiosity continually inspired all persons who knew and loved him. His granddaughter Kelly quotes him: "There is a specific spot on the Continental Divide whereby you pour out your coffee and it will eventually reach the Hudson Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean." Mac's humor was also his signature and now, George Burns' is apropos; "When I was a boy, the Dead Sea was only sick." Family was preparing to celebrate Mac's 99th birthday. Mac proudly shared his birth date with Marilyn Monroe and we hope she's at the front of the greeting line!
Mac is survived by his daughters, Maryetta Bauer of Polson and Sheryl Sanders (John) of Bozeman; his beloved grandchildren, Kelly MacDonald (Scott) of Bainbridge Island, Kerry Bauer, of Livingston, Lilly Sanders and Gee Sanders (Jeni), of Bozeman; his great-grandchildren, Porter Counts of Santa Monica, Olivia MacDonald of Portland and Bryce MacDonald of Seattle; his ever-present, joyful nieces, Donna McKinsey and Elaine Christiansen, both of Missoula; daughter-in-law, Sandy Courtnage of Great Falls; son-in-law, Webster Counts; myriad friends and admirers far and wide and his special love, Rosalee.
Mac is predeceased by brothers, Robert A. McKinsey, Ames C. McKinsey, George R. McKinsey; wives, Betty L. Benson Dunn and Gladys M. McKinsey; son, Lauren S. McKinsey; grandson, Fletcher L. Courtnage-McKinsey and son-in-law, Blasius J. Bauer.
We send heartfelt appreciation to his devoted, gentle hospice caregivers; Edye, Tim, Jan, Kathy, Joyce and Bridget; to his loving Dr. Meghan Johnston who made unprecedented house calls; and to his best friend at Spring Meadows, Marie, whose presence held him at death's time.
Mac's cremated remains will be scattered at his favorite hunting grounds near Augusta, Montana, per his wishes. He twice experienced the world there "in absolute, unusual silence" and, of course, he drew us a precise map. We will bring ice cream.
A Celebration of Mac’s Life will be held in the meadow at The Woodlands at Cottonwood Canyon, Bozeman in late June; date to be determined. There will be copies of his art as gifts to guests. We hope to publish his beautiful notebook of illustrations and memories by that time for everyone to have a copy of and enjoy. May his rich legacy continue to inspire.