Nedra Sterry, author of the acclaimed memoir “When The Meadowlark Sings, ” died at a Great Falls care center on Friday, Jan. 25. She was 95.
Born Oct. 13, 1918, in Fort Benton, Nedra lived a rich and full life. As the young daughter of an itinerant school teacher, she traveled widely in Montana and lived in many small communities where her mother taught in one-room school houses. Her graduation from high school in Hingham in 1935 marked the end of her formal education. It was there she met and married Alton Sterry, a local teacher. Alton and Nedra eventually took over the family farm and together they raised five children.
Nedra was a person of many gifts; despite the demands of being a farm wife and mother, she became an accomplished artist, writer and musician. Although she experienced many hardships during her life she was unfailingly cheerful and positive, making the best of all challenges and misfortunes. For the first few years of her married life, she did without running water or electricity. Through many years of hard work she was unflaggingly energetic. In addition to rearing her rambunctious children, she raised and butchered chickens and turkeys, canned the produce from a large garden, baked bread and sewed her children’s clothing.
In the days before television, Nedra read aloud to her children, instilling in them a great love of books. Her vivid imagination gifted her family and friends with many fond and hilarious memories.
During the '60s, when her family was grown, Nedra signed up for correspondence courses in creative writing. During this time she wrote feature articles for the Parade section of the Great Falls Tribune. She gained a wide reputation for her poetry and was much in demand for the commemoration of special events. “A Bit of Topaz from the Sun, ” a collection of her poems, was published by her family in 1998.
In 1973, Nedra and Alton bought a home on Flathead Lake and lived for the next 24 years in that beautiful place, spending their winters in Arizona. During her years in Polson, Nedra made many loyal friends. She took up painting and sculpting in the '80s and sold and exhibited her art at a local gallery. It was during this fertile period that Nedra began attending writer’s workshops. When Alton passed in 1997, Nedra sold their cherished lakefront home and moved to Polson.
In 1999, Nedra moved to Eugene, Ore., to be closer to her son Rick and daughter Sandra. She joined a writers' group there and began work on her memoir.
“When The Meadowlark Sings” was published in 2003 by Riverbend Press in Helena when Nedra was 84, and soon after that her life became a whirlwind of interviews and readings. She came back to Montana in 2004 and embarked on a statewide book tour, during which time the NPR affiliate in Billings broadcast an hour-long interview. Her widely popular book sold thousands of copies and, to date, has gone through six printings. In 2006 the memoir was recorded for the Montana State Library. In addition to being available as an ebook, “When The Meadowlark Sings” was chosen for dozens of book clubs, and has been used in classes at the University of Montana, in Missoula. Nedra received hundreds of fan letters, some from as far away as Europe and Australia. She was always in awe of her good fortune and rightfully proud of her achievement.
In 2005, she used her book royalties as seed money to establish a creative writing contest at Montana State University-Northern in Havre. In 2011, the contest was expanded statewide to include all 21 institutions of higher learning. The competition, with an annual prize of $1,000, is funded through 2030.
In the fall of 2007, Nedra returned to Montana, spending her remaining years at the Rainbow Retirement Center, and the Park Place HealthCare facility in Great Falls.
She is survived by four children, Richard (Carole) Sterry, Sandra Sterry (John Dixon) of Eugene, Ore., Jill (Jerry) Kordonowy of Livingston, and Craig, Hingham. There are six grandchildren and a single great-grandchild. Nedra was preceded in death by her husband, Alton, in 1997, and her son, Alan, in 2007.
The last five years of Nedra’s life were enriched beyond measure by the dedicated and loving friendship of Michael Buesseler of Great Falls.
At Nedra’s request, no services will be held.
Condolences may be posted online at www.gftribune.com/obituaries.