MISSOULA - Surrounded by her family and several close friends, Sallie Scott died in her home Thursday evening, June 5, 2008. During the year and a half following her cancer diagnosis, Sallie undertook three surgeries and substantial chemotherapy, which were occasionally interspersed with periods of hope that her amazing zest for life could win out, or at least gain her a few more years.
Sallie Beth Andrizzi was born Sept. 6, 1948, in Stambaugh, Mich., in the Upper Peninsula, the third daughter of Felix and Viola (Wallace) Andrizzi. She grew up and went to school in nearby Crystal Falls and Alpha, but graduated from high school in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1966.
Although her father had to bribe her to "try at least one year of college," she began what turned into a long love affair with education in the fall of 1966 at Northern Michigan University. Following her marriage in 1968 to James Scott, also from Crystal Falls, they moved to Missoula, where Sallie completed her bachelor's degree with honors in English at the University of Montana. Her father's bribe obviously worked, and Sallie later earned a Master of Library Science at the University of Michigan (1972) and an master's in English literature at the University of Montana (1983).
Sallie and Jim Scott had a son, Christian, in 1975. They later divorced, and in 1981, she married Gerald Fetz. He brought a son, Andreas, from a previous marriage into their new family, and together they had a daughter, Gillian, in 1982. All of them, her husband and the three children, were with her at home when she died.
Sallie was many things in her life: wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, neighbor, friend, teacher, citizen, businesswoman - and she excelled at all of these and more.
As a teacher, she was extraordinary. Her passion for literature, ideas and writing, coupled with her love of her teenage students as well as her enthusiastic commitment to their learning and to opening their lives and perspectives, characterized her distinguished career as an English teacher in Missoula, first at Sentinel High School (1972-1980) and then at Big Sky High School from 1980 until she retired from teaching in 2001. It became a kind of joke in the family whenever they ran into Sallie's former students, since they seemed to all say the same thing: "She was absolutely my favorite teacher." As word spread of her health problems during the past months, letters, cards and e-mails poured in from around the country and the world, even, from a large number of those former students who expressed their gratitude to her in many wonderful ways for being "their absolutely best teacher," for inspiring and preparing them to continue successfully their education beyond high school. Many cited her as their inspiration for deciding to become English teachers themselves. Her AP English and humanities classes were known and appreciated for their rigor and for opening up worlds; Sallie was known as a creative, demanding, wildly enthusiastic, dynamic and exemplary teacher who cared greatly about her students' learning and about them as human beings. She remained in close contact with many of them right up to her death.
In 2000, however, after 28 years in the classroom, Sallie decided that she had read and corrected enough essays and papers for a lifetime. In that year, she and her husband purchased the Learning Tree in Southgate Mall, which she ran until her health problems caused her to turn over the reins to the store to her daughter, Gillian, this past fall. In this endeavor as well, Sallie distinguished herself to her many loyal customers and the other businesspeople at the mall with her creativity, enthusiasm, knowledge, and personal warmth.
But Sallie also had a life outside of work. She enjoyed immensely spending time with her family and with many, many friends. Whether she got to know those friends in her work at school or the store, at the Women's Club where she worked out for years, through the activities of her children and husband, through their travels in the U.S. and abroad, or just through random encounters, she was a veritable magnet for friends of all kinds. Their cards, notes, flowers and phone calls make clear that they have already begun to miss her greatly.
Sallie had many favorite places in the world where she had spent significant time: the U.P. in Michigan; the Oregon Coast; Glacier and Yellowstone Parks; cities such as Portland, Ore., Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., and New York; countries like Germany, England and Italy. And she especially loved Flathead Lake, where her family vacationed for many years before she and Jerry purchased, with two other couples, a cabin on Finley Point where they spent time as recently as two weeks ago. Sallie was an avid reader (she was an old-school English teacher, after all), an outstanding poet and writer, a gifted storyteller, and a talented and generous listener to friends, family and complete strangers. And for those who recall Elton John's first visit to Missoula last fall, Sallie was appropriately featured in the Missoulian as the No. 1 Rocket Man fan in western Montana. A loyal E.J. fan to the end (his song "Daniel" was playing when she died), she did, however, love music of many kinds and knew the lyrics of most popular songs from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Although, or perhaps because, she grew impatient with "organized" religion (she described herself as a "recovering Catholic"), Sallie played a central role as one of the founders and leaders of Spirit of Peace Alternative Catholic Community in Missoula that just celebrated its 26th anniversary. Vehemently progressive and liberal in things both spiritual and political, she cast her last ballot via mail, for Barack Obama, a few days before she died.
Sallie is survived by her husband, Jerry Fetz at the family home in Missoula; by son, Christian Scott and his wife Sacha of Portland.; by son, Andreas Fetz and his wife Ariel Stallings of Seattle; by daughter, Gillian Fetz, her partner Brian Edmands and their new son Oliver of Missoula; and by "adopted" daughter, Sarah Fisher of St. Paul, Minn. She is also survived by her two sisters, Donna Busch and Patricia Hughes, both of Columbus, Ohio; and many other relatives who adored and admired her, including brothers- and sisters-in-law, cousins, nieces and nephews. And she is survived by more friends and admirers than one can count.
Sallie was short in height but big of heart, generous, inspiring and loving, and she made the lives of all of us who knew her richer, more colorful, more joyful and much more interesting than we can begin to say. All of us, her "survivors," are both grateful and missing her already.
A memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. Friday, June 20, in the University Center Ballroom, third floor, on the UM campus.
Anyone wishing to make a contribution in Sallie's honor is encouraged to consider doing so to any of the following: the UM creative writing program, the Aerie literary and arts magazine at Big Sky High School, the Five Valleys Land Trust, the Missoula Food Bank, or any charity that helps children and young people.