Celebrating the life of Patricia Witt Hope Torgerson
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Patricia Hope Witt Torgerson was born to Ethel and Peter Witt on July 8, 1938 in Minot, North Dakota. She was the youngest of the three Witt sisters. Her father Peter was a local radio celebrity who ran the Fairmont Creamery Radio Talent Show. Once Peter became the Sheriff of Ward County, for three years the family lived in the building connected to the county jail, with Ethel supervising the cooking for the inmates and with Pat and her sisters overhearing some interesting life stories. Peter died when Pat was nine years old, and the family moved to 110 Sixth Street and later to 122 Fourth Street. At Minot High School, Pat played the violin in the school orchestra and was involved in the school’s theater program, performing and designing sets. During her senior year, Pat developed Rheumatic Fever and spent the year in bed, doing homework, being the editor of the school yearbook, embroidering a beautiful rose quilt (which she will be buried with), and recuperating. She graduated in 1956 and attended Minot State College, receiving her teaching certificate after her two-year program and moving to Sidney, Montana, for her first teaching job, where she met, fell in love with, and married Ken Torgerson of Lambert, Montana. After the state required a four-year teaching degree, she returned to Minot State College, with her two young children in tow, to finish up her degree for a second time. Pat taught in both the Sidney and Lambert School Districts for a total of 40 years. She retired from Lambert in 2002 after having taught three different grade levels: first, second, and sixth. She loved teaching her younger students to read, and she had her own large library of children’s books in her classroom. Pat always engaged her students with fun educational projects, such as hatching butterflies, hatching and caring for chicks and ducklings (which then went home to the families who agreed to take them), taking her students on dinosaur digs in the Missouri River Bluffs, raising money for UNICEF, creating care packages for students in a refugee school in Eritrea, and connecting with local people on various classroom projects.
Pat was active in the local Lambert community, in her church community, and in farm politics through her activities in Women Involved in Farm Economics (WIFE). For community projects, she was involved in Lambert’s Fox Lake Community Center, the Lambert Historical Society that runs both the Museum and its store, the Lambert Park, the annual Farmers Union Harvest Dinners, various school events, and events for Lambert’s 4th of July celebrations. For years, Pat belonged to the group of local women who would create a large “seed picture,” using local grains, to take to the Richland County Fair to represent Lambert and its farming community. She was a member of the First Lutheran Church, where, in addition to regular church activities, such as being a Sunday School teacher or organizing and leading Vacation Bible School in the summers, she made over a hundred quilts (often with her sister-in-law Ardys Torgerson) to be given to World Vision or to other mission groups. When she wasn’t quilting, Pat also made several hundred dresses for “Dresses for Africa.” (The quilting and the dress projects continued beyond Lambert, both in Arizona and Washington with local churches in each state.)
Pat was an active member of WIFE for over 40 years, roughly from 1977 to 2018. In addition to being involved at the local level, she was the President for the Montana State WIFE organization from 2004-2006 and the WIFE lobbyist in Helena, Montana for two years. She also wrote the column “Transportation Report” for the National WIFE newsletter WIFEline from 2012 to 2015. In October 1977, in an effort to promote ethanol usage, she spearheaded a WIFE Ethanol Convoy from Lewistown, Montana, to Washington, D.C., with farmers and their families from Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska and other farming states joining the convoy in route. The convoy participants met with and lobbied the various Senators and Representatives on Capitol Hill from the 50 states. To make this vision happen, Pat and Ken built a still on the farm to distill the ethanol, which required them to “bond” the family farm as insurance that they were not making alcohol for illegal distribution. A large tank on the back of their Dodge pickup truck helped fuel the twenty-odd vehicles in the convoy, with the exception of the bus that held 70 more convoy participants by the time it arrived in D.C. Ken would typically be the driver while Pat talked to people over the C.B. radio as the convoy moved from state to state, educating them about farm parity costs, ethanol, and other farming issues. For a dozen years, she organized the WIFE fundraiser that involved creating a calendar with selected artwork on agricultural-related themes from children throughout the state. In addition to the monthly full-page artwork selected, she always included many smaller artworks that had received Honorable Mentions to honor these young artists and their home farming communities. Thanks to this particular WIFE project, she worked with hundreds of teachers, children, families, and businesses throughout Montana.
Early in retirement, she got involved with the National Park Service’s Trails & Rails Amtrak project. For three summers, she made multiple round trips on the Amtrak “Empire Builder” train from Williston, North Dakota to Shelby, Montana. Dressed up as Julia, the first Mrs. William Clark, Pat would regale the train passengers with stories of “her husband” and his partner Meriwether Lewis on their famous 8000-mile expedition west. She would include historical facts about Sacagawea, York, and Seaman the Newfoundland dog. She loved the research involved in making these historical stories as compelling as possible, but she loved the interaction with the train passengers, especially the children, even more. Later in retirement, she convinced Ken they needed “an adventure” in the sunshine of Arizona. They wintered in the Springfield Community in Chandler, Arizona, for ten winters, where they joined old high school and college friends while making new “snowbird” friends.
Pat had many hobbies. She loved her horses. As a teen, she barrel raced in local rodeos around Minot. In Montana, she often participated on trail rides, such as the local annual Memorial Weekend Trail Ride on Blankenship land, the 1989 Montana Centennial Trail Ride (which lasted several weeks, crossing a large part of the state), and the 1990 Nez Perce Trail Ride near Chinook, Montana. She loved camping, boating, waterskiing. She loved books, puzzles, movies, and theater. She loved antiques, especially family antiques. She loved going to farm auctions, garage sales, and estate sales. She loved cats and kittens. She loved playing cards and Rummikub. She loved hearing and telling jokes, including Norwegian jokes at Ken’s expense or North Dakota jokes at her own expense. She loved to connect with all people from whatever background and hosted people regularly, including foreign exchange students from Japan and France. She loved to laugh. She loved her grandkids.
Pat Torgerson died on Friday, April 1, 2022, in their Spokane condo, with seven members of her loving family present. Several friends were also there to help her make this transition. She was at peace with her decision to move to in-home hospice care.
Pat Hope Witt Torgerson is preceded in death by her father and mother, Peter and Ethel Witt, and by her sister Joyce Hendrickson (LaVerne, i.e., “Vern”). Family members who survive her include her sister Shirley Witt, her husband Ken, her daughter Beth (Bob Steinauer), her son Lewis (Teresa), and four grandchildren: Grant (Emily), Randi, Kendra, and Nicole.
An informal memorial gathering will be held in Spokane, WA on Saturday, April 30th, 2022, from 4:30 to 7:30 at the Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church (4102 S. Crestline).
The funeral service will be held this summer on Saturday, August 20, 2022, at Pella Lutheran Church (418 W. Main) in Sidney, Montana, with a short graveside service to follow at the Lambert Community Cemetery. The reception at Lambert’s Fox Lake Community Center (200 W. Main) will start at noon.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating in Pat’s honor to Lambert’s Fox Lake Community Center or to the Lambert Historical Society (addresses for both: 200 W. Main, Lambert, MT 59243), or to UNICEF (online at https://www.unicef.usa.org or 125 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038).
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