EAST MISSOULA — Kay Sylvester was a strong and creative woman who enjoyed the journey as much as the destination in all that she did. There was fun to be had the whole way! Her life was rich with experiences and friendships until she passed in the loving care of her family on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017.
Kay was born to Ira Ritenour and Mary Ethel Cleek Ritenour in Conrad on March 28, 1928, and was raised on their family farm in Pendroy with her younger sister, Rosemary. Their mother passed in 1932.
Kay grew up as the child of a single father. She spent much of her time in the fields, helping her father, which was the beginning of a lifelong joy of working the soil and an appreciation for the earth and all that it provided.
During her elementary years, Kay attended a two-room school at Pendroy and graduated high school from Teton County High School in Choteau in 1945. Her father, being a proponent of higher education for all, sent her to Colorado Women’s College (A.A.) in Denver. She graduated college from Montana State University in Missoula in 1949 with a bachelor's in social work.
Her lifelong love affair with Vern Sylvester began on the slopes of Diamond Mountain Ski Area near Potomac. They were married on Aug. 20, 1950, in Pendroy. Their marriage of 60 years was one of mutual cooperation, equality, inclusiveness and shared strengths.
With marriage came the life of a Forest Service wife, establishing many lifelong friendships and raising their four children. She and Vern lived in Sheridan and Wise River; Grangeville, Idaho; and Elko and Reno, Nevada.
As a mother, she always said she had four kids, before she realized she did not like kids, yet her love for them was beyond measure. She allowed them to spread their wings and take responsibility for their actions. She taught them the values of responsible stewardship for themselves, others and their environment.
Kay worked for the Nevada State Welfare Department for 12 years before retiring in 1980. Vern and Kay then moved to Stevensville embracing their new community. During retirement, Kay and Vern enjoyed traveling to many foreign countries through the People-to-People Exchange Program and their involvement with the Episcopal Church. They particularly appreciated the international understanding and friendship they gained through the sharing of ideas and experiences directly with people of different countries and diverse cultures.
Kay lived her faith, feeding the poor, welcoming the stranger and helping the unfortunate. Tenacious by nature, she was unrelenting in all that she believed in, working for social justice and environmental causes at all levels. Kay often spoke her mind in written commentary in local papers and took pride in being a liberal democrat. She was an ardent supporter of family planning and Planned Parenthood because of her real world experience.
She was dedicated and actively contributed to many organizations including St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Stevensville, AAUW, Genesis House, Pantry Partners, Daughters of the American Revolution, Stevensville Civic Club, and the Stevensville Garden Club.
Until recent years, Kay was a passionate vegetable and flower gardener. She shared the fruits of her labors freely and loved cooking and hosting large gatherings of family, friends and strangers. Kay appreciated art and often supported others’ creative ventures. Her own creative outlet flowed freely in making unusual botanical arrangements that were entered in garden shows and graced her home.
Left to celebrate her memory is her sister Rosemary Snodgrass and her family in the Great Falls area; her children and their spouses Jim Sylvester and Suzanne Sterrett, Sue and Rick Neff (Missoula); Ginger and Joel Petty (Walla Walla, Washington); Bill Sylvester and Sandra Garcia (Nederland, Colorado); her grandchildren, Matt Sylvester (Kaylie), Erika Sylvester (Matt McMcConaughey), Jesse and Jason Petty and Ella Sylvester; one great-grandchild, Lucy Sylvester; and several nieces and nephews.
Although a stroke in October 2013 took her ability to articulate her ideas and thoughts, she continued to live with love, humor, gratitude and tenacity. When her words were lost, she became a drama queen to get her point across and, until her last breath, entertained us with her antics.
A memorial service will be held at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 3 p.m. The family suggests memorials in her name to the National Museum of Forest Service History or the Montana Food Bank Network.
Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at whitesittfuneralhome.com.