MISSOULA – Deloryse Conner, 93, died in the loving arms of her family in Hospice at St. Patrick’s Hospital on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017 at 10:30 a.m.
Deloryse was born on Jan. 16, 1924 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the youngest of four children born to Vesta Italy Olin and Russell McCormick. Deloryse was proud of her father, a contractor who participated in the building of the Minneapolis Auditorium and the Foshay Tower. But the Great Depression brought tough times to Deloryse’s family, and when Deloryse was nine, her father abandoned them all, and was never heard from again. Deloryse grew up watching her mother struggle to support her four children on a waitress’s salary, bringing home leftovers to feed the family. Deloryse often wore shoes and clothes that were too small because new ones could not be afforded.
Deloryse completed her 12th-grade education in a vocational high school focused exclusively on business and preparing young women to become secretaries and bookkeepers. Deloryse worked full time beginning at the age of 16 at any job she could find to help support herself and her mother. Upon graduation, Deloryse’s dream was to enlist in the military to assist the WWII war effort, but as the youngest child still at home, she decided instead to stay home to care for her mother.
Deloryse developed into an unusually brilliant secretary and bookkeeper. She won contests for speed and accuracy using a Comptometer, the first key-driven mechanical calculator. She typed at what seemed like “blinding speed,” 160 accurate words per/minute, and she mastered the complex art of taking shorthand. Molded by her impoverished childhood, Deloryse became a fiercely strong survivor and a real “take charge” person. In every business where she was hired, her employers ended up letting several other secretaries go because Deloryse would efficiently, and automatically, accomplish the work of three people.
Deloryse wanted more from life, and she worked very hard for everything she owned. She would save her money for months to buy a special pair of shoes or a coat. Every day Deloryse went to work she was “dressed to the nines”, beautiful and classy, always wearing the most fashionable clothing of her time, adorned with earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and her hair and makeup was always in style.
To balance all of her hard work, every night Deloryse did what she loved best: Dance! When she was 21, it was 1945, the era of the live jazz big bands. Dozens of dance halls in Minneapolis were filled every night with skilled jitter-buggers and swing dancers moving to saucy live jazz and swing music, and Deloryse was one of the best. The male dance instructors would always choose Deloryse as their dance partner because she was such a phenomenal dancer and athlete. Army & Navy men on leave were in no shortage, all looking for a beautiful dance partner to help them forget their duties, and they found just that in young, vivacious, energetic Deloryse.
Like many women of her era, Deloryse was obsessed with Hollywood, the glamorous actors, actresses, dancers and musicians of her time. Deloryse longed to see this glamour for herself. So in 1952 Deloryse took the first vacation of her life, and answered a newspaper ad to drive a Buick across the country from Minneapolis to Colorado. From there Deloryse found a ride to Santa Monica, California. All alone, not knowing anyone, she rented a motel room, got on a bus, and asked to be taken to a beach to see the ocean for the first time.
Deloryse had no idea where she was as the bus dropped her off at the Santa Monica Pier. Wearing a sexy black swimsuit, this 114-pound beauty walked down the long flight of stairs to the sandy beach below, which was none-other than the famous mecca of gymnastics, fitness, and exercise, “Muscle Beach”. My father, Bruce Conner, was one of the original athletes to call this playground his home. That day, Bruce noticed a gorgeous girl walking down the stairs from the pier, and he would forever talk about her slender well-muscled legs that had the whitest skin he’d ever seen! He rushed to this lovely stranger’s aid with some suntan lotion and this is how my parents met. They fell in love at first sight.
Bruce was a self-starter like Deloryse, a visionary, and a pioneer in the new field of physical therapy. He was a graceful gymnast and an accomplished body builder who in 1947, created from scratch, the first combination physical therapy and fitness gym in the United States. Bruce was one of an elite group of athletes who devoted their lives to promoting fitness and health. Bruce was a close friend of Jack La Lane, and he trained and employed Joe Gold, who later opened his franchises of Gold’s Gym’s across the country.
In 1955 Bruce and Deloryse married, and Deloryse became step-mother to Bruce’s three children, Lynn, Judy and Mike Conner. In 1959, Bruce and Deloryse celebrated another addition to their family, and Deloryse gave birth to her only child, Lori Conner.
Deloryse’s “take charge” personality was just what Bruce needed. Deloryse took charge as a homemaker and the care of Bruce’s children, and she took over all of the accounting, bookkeeping, scheduling and payroll in Bruce’s thriving business.
“Bruce Conner’s Physical Services” in West Los Angeles was located within a few miles of Hollywood and UCLA. There was a wide range of clientele who frequented the gym: Injured WWII veterans, polio survivors, at least 100 famous actors such as Kirk Douglass, Loyd, Beau and Jeff Bridges, and Jayne Mansfield, and dozens of famous musicians, movie directors and writers. Bruce would say, “Everyone is equal when they are working out in their shorts”. Deloryse had a dream of meeting maybe one famous actor on her California vacation, but she ended up becoming close friends with many of the most talented and famous people of her generation.
Bruce and Deloryse worked side-by-side as true partners for many years at their gym; Bruce providing encouraging physical therapy and fitness training, Deloryse handling all of the business, shopping and home life. Over the years, thousands of people were transformed and eternally grateful for the physical and emotional benefits my parents provided them.
In 1968 Bruce retired, and the Conner’s bought a little cabin along the East Fork of the Bitterroot River south of Darby. Lori was the only child still at home, and the threesome moved together to begin a new life. Deloryse, always concerned with the business, continued to work for several more years, commuting back and forth from California to Montana, until she was convinced that the gym would survive without her constant presence.
In 1971, Deloryse retired and the couple began their long playful relaxing retirement that lasted for the rest of their lives. Deloryse loved participating with her daughter in every school activity and in every aspect of Lori’s life. When Lori graduated from Darby High School, Bruce and Deloryse traveled the world: China, Tahiti, Guatemala, Honduras, Fiji, and Hawaii. Deloryse loved every wild and domestic animal and wanted to take care of them all. She fed wild birds, squirrels, and deer, even skunks, and she adopted every stray cat and dog that came her way. Deloryse was also always ready to help any person in need. She loved fishing and picnics, and the ever-changing beauty of our gorgeous Bitterroot Valley. Deloryse especially enjoyed the holiday celebrations, when she would cook elaborate meals for her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Our family offers our deepest gratitude and heartfelt appreciation to all of the professionals and the staff at St. Patrick’s hospital for the extraordinary loving care and protection you provided for Deloryse in her last and greatest time of need.
Deloryse is preceded in death by her husband Bruce Conner and her step-daughter Lynn Eshel. Deloryse is survived by her daughter, Lori Conner and husband Paul Buffington, and her step-children Judy Conner, Mike Conner and wife Cheryl Conner.
Deloryse was very proud of her four grandchildren, Brian Stube, Andriana Eastwood, Ariela Eshel and Jonathan Eshel, and her 5 great grandchildren, Brianne, Brook, and Dustin Stube, Blake Eastwood, and Orion Eshel.
A memorial celebrating the lives of Bruce and Deloryse Conner will be announced at a later date.