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Love. Light. Effervescent. Sunshine. These are a few words friends and family use to describe Connie Saunders, who passed away peacefully on March 15, 2014, after a long struggle with cancer.

Connie Kirkness Saunders was born on March 31, 1950, in Billings. She was the first child of Neal and Norma Kirkness. She and her brothers grew up in a loving and generous family. Connie graduated from Billings West High School in 1968.

In March of 1969, Connie married her high school sweetheart, David Pierce. They were later divorced, but remained good friends. Dave and Connie’s children are Terra, Tony and Trena.

In July of 1991, Connie married Lane Saunders, who remained her devoted and loving husband for the rest of her life. Lane and Connie spent 23 years together — working, traveling, nurturing each other as well as each other’s families. Lane was honored to spend the last several months caring for Connie and meeting her day-to-day needs.

Connie loved to bowl with friends and play cards with family. Connie was a wonderful cook and brought delicious food to all gatherings. Children especially loved Connie’s cooking — perhaps because it was made with love, and usually whipped cream.

Family and friends admired her optimistic outlook and desire to support and participate in family events. She spearheaded a family road trip tradition to attend her granddaughter’s dance recitals in Lewistown, loved attending any event of the little people in her life, and was always the first to call on birthdays. You could count on Connie unconditionally.

Christmas was Connie’s favorite holiday, and she loved to lavishly entertain family and friends. In fact, we still think she believes in Santa. Knowing last year would be her last Christmas, the family wanted to make the occasion extra special for Connie. She was overjoyed when Santa paid her a visit the day before Christmas Eve in her home. He presented her with a special Healing Bell of Hope, and the children of the family serenaded her with Christmas carols. It was a beautiful evening.

Connie’s career took several paths throughout her life. In 1981, she and Dave bought the Lion’s Den. She continued working at The Den with her daughter Terra until August 2013, but her true passion was her career in health care.

Connie worked as a patient representative at Billings Clinic until 2001, when, along with several colleagues, she left the Clinic to pursue an opportunity with a startup company, Revenue Cycle Partners, now known as Avadyne Heath.

Connie loved her work at Avadyne. She was known for her compassion and dedication to helping patients, and was well-respected among her coworkers. When Connie required additional time off for hospital stays, her fellow workers donated PTO days so Connie needn’t worry about absences. She was an asset to the organization, and her kind-hearted disposition has been missed.

Connie was preceded in death by her parents, Neal Kirkness and Norma Cox; and her brother, Rick Kirkness.

She is survived by her loving husband, Lane; daughter Terra Pierce (Rich Wrobel), of Billings; son Tony (Lisa) Pierce, of Lewistown and grandchildren Truman and Morgan; and daughter Trena (Joel) Bohnke, of Belgrade, and granddaughters Tessa and Tiffany, and great-grandchildren Ava and Cash. Connie’s stepsons are Bryce (Angie) Saunders, of Billings, and children Steven, Jarrad and Trent; and Sam (Stephanie) Saunders, of Bozeman.

She is also survived by her loving brother, R.D. Kirkness, of Red Lodge and his children, Brandelyn, Britney, BreAnna and Jayde. She also leaves her nephew Richard (Sabine) Kirkness, who was so kind to her during her illness.

Connie leaves her dear aunt, Polly Kirkness; cousin Mary (Tim) Bomersbach, of North Dakota, with whom she talked every day and Mary’s brother Greg (Patsy) Anderson, from Wisconsin. Mary made numerous trips to Billings during Connie’s illness.

She leaves best friends, Bob and Susie Balko and Marv and Janet Brown, and Rich and Carol Miller, who have shared so many good times.

Connie wishes to thank the Pierce family for their love and support, especially Robin Pierce Richter and husband Klaus Richter, who accompanied Connie on every appointment and procedure in the last six months.

She is survived by numerous nieces and nephews, and was especially close to Ursula (Michael Ormsby) Richter and Kate (Zach) Richter Green, who have, since they were young, called Connie “Auntie Angel,” because she looked like the angel on a Christmas tree.

Services will be held at noon on Saturday, March 22, at the Lincoln Center Auditorium, with a celebration of life reception immediately following at Hilands Golf Club.

Connie and the family wish to extend special thanks to the doctors, nurses and staff at St. Vincent Frontier Cancer Center for their compassionate care through this difficult journey, including Dr. Marty Lucas and her favorite nurse, Cassie McBride.

Our beautiful Angel has flown from this earth and will be in our hearts for eternity.

Michelotti-Sawyers is assisting the family with arrangements. Condolences may be made online at www.michelottisawyers.com.

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