MISSOULA – Missoula lost a woman known for her elegance, tenacity and generosity Friday, April 25, 2014, when Elizabeth Sprague Wackernagel died, just shy of her 99th birthday.
Beth was a third-generation Montanan, born May 11, 1915, in Great Falls. She was very proud of the fact that her grandfather, Robert Vaughn, came to Alder Gulch via wagon train in 1864 to pan for gold, and moved to the Sun River Valley in 1870, where he helped establish the city of Great Falls. The city of Vaughn was named after him. Her father, Hugh Max Sprague served as the city engineer for Great Falls, where she grew up.
After graduating from Great Falls High School, Beth moved to Walla Walla, Washington, and received her bachelor’s degree in history from Whitman College in 1937. While at Whitman, she was an active member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, and loved telling stories about her sorority sisters and the pranks that they pulled on other students. After completing her undergraduate studies, Beth returned to Great Falls to work in the public library under the tutelage of Josephine Trigg, and two years later she moved to Riverside, California, where she earned a master’s degree in library science at UC-Riverside.
Beth returned to Great Falls and for three years worked as the high school librarian, but resigned to begin the library at the new Air Force base. She established the library at Malmstrom and was very proud of the fact that she started the library from scratch. Unfortunately, she was let go after a year of work as Special Services forgot to include funding for the library in the annual budget.
Soon after her release from Malmstrom, Beth was hired by Northwest Airlines in Spokane and worked there for four years. It was at Felts and Geiger fields where she met her husband of 50 years, Ed Wackernagel, as he was employed by Northwest as a radio tower maintenance man. They were married in 1949 and moved to St. Paul for Ed’s work at KSTP radio.
Their stay in St. Paul was a short one, and in 1950 they moved to Maywood, New Jersey, so that Ed could begin working in a new medium – television. He began work at NBC-TV in New York and Beth settled in as a housewife and volunteer at the Maywood Public Library and local Women’s Club.
In 1952, their only child, Betsy, was born, and Beth devoted her life to raising and caring for her. She was known for having some of the best after-school snacks in town, so kids frequently accompanied Betsy home after school to eat Twinkies and Hostess CupCakes. Much to Beth’s chagrin, when asked what her mother did for a living, her daughter always replied that she was a “professional shopper.”
Beth and Ed left Maywood in 1979 to retire in Beaumont, California, and then moved to Missoula in 1997 to be closer to her daughter and grandson, Benjamin. Upon Ed’s death, she moved to Grizzly Peak and was a resident there for 15 years.
Beth will be sorely missed by her family and friends, and will be particularly missed for her kind spirit and critique of local cuisine. We hope that all her future meals are gourmet in nature, and that all of her shopping endeavors are not limited to QVC.