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RED LODGE — ‘Ma’ Sheller espoused three keys to longevity: avoid doctors (even though her son is an M.D.), eat cheese, and drink martinis. She proved her theory by living a full 98 years. Ruth Heebner Sheller died in Red Lodge Jan. 1, 2020, at the Willows, with her loving daughter Paula at her side. ‘Ma’, as she was known to friends and family, was destined to a singular and eccentric life, foreshadowed by her birth in a train depot in Rapelje on Sept. 7, 1921 to James Robert Heebner and Emily Webb Heebner. She attended high school in Laurel and was graduated from Montana State College where she managed to not only matriculate with an honors degree in Chemistry, but also to set fire to the department lab. At the start of World War II, a B-17 pilot named Lt. James W. Sheller (‘Pa’) won her affection after pushing her off a pier into Lake Washington. They married ten days later. After the war, Pa worked as a petroleum geologist in California where their three children were born. The family moved to Louisiana where Ruth taught Chemistry at Southwestern Louisiana Institute in Lafayette. Although she liked to make her own fireworks for the Fourth of July, she never set fire to another lab. She was a demanding teacher who managed to be adored by many of her students, several of whom remained as part of her family the rest of her life. Ma’s door was always open to students, friends and strangers. She spent her last thirty-five years in Red Lodge where she was active in the Calvary Episcopal Church and belonged to many clubs and organizations. Ma will be remembered for her independent spirit, irreverent wit, and unmatched combative warmth. A lover of people and nature, she enjoyed travel and visited Suriname, Timbuktu, Botswana, the Amazon, and other exotic locales. She was an avid tennis player with a relentless backhand, a Master Gardener with a bottomless animosity toward deer, and an enthusiastic backpacker with an unbending loyalty to 151 Rum. She celebrated her 80th birthday with a five day hiking trip on the Beaten Path in the Beartooth Mountains. She relished hosting summer gatherings and outrageous costume parties with family and friends, who unwaveringly returned to see her every year. Even when there wasn’t a party, locals would note the lady with all the wild hats. Ma is survived by two of her children, James Sheller and Paula Priest. Her other daughter, Emily Williams predeceased her. Her four grandchildren and five great grandchildren were a perpetual source of delight. She accomplished much in her life, yet seemed most proud of dancing on the tables of her alma mater lunch room. Her strength, humor, and fiery spirit will be missed.

Ma’s family is immensely grateful to the Community of Red Lodge and her circle of friends for all of the love, support and kindness they have shown her over the years. If anybody feels that they would like to make a further gesture in her name, her family humbly suggests Calvary Episcopal Church, Beartooth Recreational Trails, or any cause they may personally deem apropos of their time with Ma.

Services will be held on Jan. 17 at 11 a.m. at Calvary Episcopal Church.

For those who cannot attend, there will also be a festive memorial in late July.

To plant a tree in memory of Virginia Sheller as a living tribute, please visit Tribute Store.

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