Hamilton – Saturday evening, Nov. 2, Anna Vee Brandborg, 88 years along and proud of it, drifted off from the world of sourdough pancake breakfasts, environmental activists, uppity and accomplished children, cookouts on Tin Cup Flat, 14 dogs and company in the living room, pithy observations, good advice, good bourbon, bad jokes, good cooking, outrageous laughter, the smell of ponderosa pines on the back porch, and holding hands at bedtime. All sweetness and light, fire and vinegar.
Pillar for a large bunch of wonderful goofs, her family includes her husband of 64 years, Stewart M. Brandborg; daughter Beki, her partner Gene Leuwer, and a bunch of pugs of Helena; son Dan, his wife Becky Marie and their son Flynt of Hamilton; daughter Betsy, her husband Brent Costain, and their children Tucker and Rosie of Helena; daughter Lisa and husband Tim Orshoski, and their children Clay, Tim and Brandi; daughter Fern, her husband Bryon Schreckendgust and their children Jenni, Cole and Guy of Hamilton; and Anna Vee’s four footed loved ones Abby and Theodore. Also still bumping around is Anna Vee’s sister, Helen Morton Maus, and Helen’s children and their families; along with Anna Vee’s brother Max Morton of Virginia and nephew David Simons, his wife Angelica and their children Brenn and Kael; nephew Dana Simons and nephew Robert Simons, his wife Patti and their children Dylan and Matthew. Special pal Audra Stoker is charged with holding down the fort in her absence.
Anna Vee is the daughter of Glyde Whitney and William Daniel Mather and stepfather Herbert H. Morton.
Anna Vee was born May 23, 1925 in Oklahoma. After her father died from mustard gas poisoning in World War I, her mother Glyde married Herbert H. Morton. Herb was a lease right-of-way man for various oil companies, and he moved their little family to Tulsa, Oklahoma for elementary school, then Kearney, Nebraska for junior high school, then Alice, Texas before moving to Glasgow, Montana for high school. Anna Vee graduated at the top of her class from Glasgow High in 1943.
A sparkling beauty and member of Delta Gamma sorority, she earned the Daisy Mae crown at the University’s Sadie Hawkins dance. Some suggest that what tipped it in her in favor was the piglet that Stewart borrowed for the occasion. Stewart taught her to drive in a 1925 Ford Model T named Henry. He remembers that she stalled it in front of the Florence Hotel, while wearing her Daisy Mae outfit, and had to jump out and crank ‘er up.
Anna Vee spent the summer of 1944 on McCart mountain in the Bitterroot as a lookout with her neighbor’s Airedale, Chief. Chief had to make himself scarce in Glasgow, as he’d bit someone who picked up “his” baby. He was the best kind of company, she said, as she’d made the mistake of watching a vampire movie before she was packed in, and there was a full moon when she got there.
After dating many fine fellows, Anna Vee picked a handsome guy named Stewart to be her beau. Stewart says he was “big dumb lucky that he got her.” She was sitting square behind him in their English class during their freshman year in Missoula.
They married August 8, 1949 in Missoula. After a preliminary tour of Banff and Jasper, the honeymoon was continued with a pack trip into the Selway Bitterroot and what became the Frank Church wilderness areas. Anna Vee has a lake named for her there, “Naked Lady Lake.” A Forest Service ranger spotted the smoke from the campfire at the head of Horse Creek, and investigated. There she was, mid-bath, mid-muddy lake, balancing on a log and nowhere to jump. She only had a washcloth and, as with Lady Godiva, the Ranger chose not to go for an eyeful. But somehow the lake got named.
Anna Vee is a 1947 graduate of the then Montana State University in Missoula, majoring in sociology. She became a teacher, beginning in Three Forks, Montana; she moved to Great Falls, Montana the next year; then in Stevensville, Montana in 1949 after she married. From there she taught in Salmon, Idaho, while her husband worked on his master’s degree in wildlife biology at University of Idaho studying Mountain Goats. After they moved to Maryland in 1954, Anna Vee continued teaching at several private schools. She also taught at Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools once her kids were mid-size. She chose the challenging world of teaching those others considered unteachable, and had great time with those characters.
While Anna Vee was raising her brood on Turkey Foot Road in rural Maryland, Stewart fought for environmental causes and wilderness during the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. One of Anna Vee’s volunteer projects was to raise the wild babies who had been separated from their moms. This brought raccoons, skunks, birds, squirrels, flying squirrels and other wonderful critters into their lives. Sometimes raccoons joined them on their regular trips to Montana, by VW bus or station wagon, from Maryland, which the kids all remember as happy blurs of camping anywhere – wheat fields or woods – sourdough breakfasts and dogs. Always a dog. Sometimes two. Sometimes five.
Anna Vee and Brandy moved home to the Bitterroot in 1986, first to Tin Cup in Darby, then to Hamilton. They continued their life of environmental activism by creating and nurturing the Friends of the Bitterroot and Bitterrooters for Planning.
Anna Vee made her acting debut in 2001 playing the lead Abby Brewster in “Arsenic and Old Lace” for the Hamilton Playhouse. She wrote then, “Never one to be in a hurry, here I am at 76 still trying to figure out what I’ll be doing when I grow up … Our lovely Director has taken our natural proclivity for befuddlement and turned it into an art form. Past theatrical experience includes the construction of costumes for Thanksgiving pageants and Halloween.” The audience gave their standing ovation when Anna Vee came to take her bow.
Most recently Anna Vee put her energy into bringing a community college to Hamilton. She was always the good thinker people wanted to work on ways to improve our community. She testified before Montana’s legislature more than a few times in the last decade, and to their credit, they listened to her.
She found great joy and inspiration in nature, her animals and the wild places.
One time during the early days of their marriage, while Stewart was studying mountain goats in the high Spring water of the Salmon, they bumped into God. Their boat, run by long time Salmon River resident Austin Smuthers, nearly capsized on the crossing to Butts Bar at the end of the Salmon River Road. Stewart had Anna Vee take her boots off, ready for them to go into the drink. Far downstream from their destination, they made it across. They scrambled ashore and made their way to a large rock to put their boots back on. There on the rock, in the middle of wild, uninhabited country, was a pristine calling card that said, “I was here.” And we’re all grateful that God was, because the long love story that followed has filled our hearts. We are grateful for every moment we had her and know that the universe is brighter because she shares it with us.
A celebration of Anna Vee’s well-lived life was held at St. Francis Church Parish Life Center in Hamilton on Saturday, November 9, 2013. Memorials may be sent to Bitterrooters for Planning, P.O. Box 505 Corvallis MT 59840, because she wants us all to keep the Bitterroot as wonderful for others as it was for her. Condolences may be left for the family at www.dalyleachchapel.com.