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Wherefore Art thou Class of 1970? 'The 9 Debbies'


November 2, 2015

For the past three months I’ve been in search of the nine Debbies that I graduated with in the Havre High School Class of 1970. They were Conroy, Duty, Dykstra, Engdahl, Greytak, Grodahl, Kuhr, Koefod and Jones. In July, I wrote about Debbie Kuhr Walters, Debbie Dystra Ralston and Debbie Koefod Healy. That was followed in August by Debbie Engdahl Bricker, Debbie Grodahl Baker and Debbie Greytak Lee.

What an exciting and blessed journey it has been. Some of the Debbies I knew better than others and through the past 45 years I have crossed paths with a few. The others I made contact with through mutual friends and the White Pages. All of them have been so interesting and gracious to visit with.

My biggest regret is that I was not able to make contact with Debbie Jones. A classmate in Texas, Theresa Geldard Stearns, searched diligently and came up with some phone numbers. I called and they were either disconnected, or the wrong number. I did have a great visit with a guy who lives in Bozeman and knew some folks in Havre … but he didn’t know our Debbie Jones. In high school Debbie was a member of the National Honor Society and the Future Teachers of America so I surmised that she might have gone into the teaching profession. She also belonged to French Club, Girls Athletic League and Library Club. If anyone knows of Debbie Jones, please contact me. It’s a mystery that remains to be solved.

Debbie Conroy Breding and her husband, Ed, own the Lonesome Prairie Ranch near Shawmut. Debbie was born in Billings. Early childhood days were spent in Winnett and Roy, where her largest classroom included two grades combined of 15 students. In the fall of 1966, Debbie’s father, Pat Conroy, took a job with the Havre School district. Debbie arrived two weeks late and moved from having a very small class size to the Havre Havre High School Class of 1970 that would graduate 280. But Debbie adjusted well, participating mainly in musical endeavors (choir, Hi-Liters, concert choral). She also was a Key Club member.

Following graduation, Debbie attended Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington, to pursue a vocal career.

“Things don’t always turn out the way we planned,” Debbie reminisced, “but they turn out the way they should. I planned a career in musi, but when I got to Cheney, that career fell apart. I floundered … but then I found the Lord. Later I was listening to evangelist Billy Graham on television. He said the Lord needs Christian teachers, doctors and nurses. When I heard “nurses” I literally felt a tug on my heart because before music, that had been my heart’s desire.”

Debbie moved back to Havre, enrolled at Northern Montana College and graduated in 1976 with a degree in nursing.

Debbie had many family members in the Harlowton area and with their suggestion she accepted a position at the Harlowton hospital. Ten days after she started, a young man came into the emergency room, and Debbie would soon be Mrs. Ed Breding.

Ed was a mechanical engineer working for an area rancher when he met Debbie. He had two bachelor uncles that he started working wit, and ended up eventually taking over the ranch. Before coming to Montana, Ed played for the Texas A & M Aggies, the NFL Washington Redskins, and the Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. He played under the direction of Vince Lombardi at one time.

Debbie and Ed are the parents to three boys and one daughter. One son died at age 17 months. Asked if she still grieved, Debbie answered, “Absolutely. But I know where he is at, and I know that I will see him again. That means everything.”

Debbie worked as a nurse for 25 years. When the kids were in high school, Debbie and Ed bought a house in Harlowton. Debbie explains, “It was a ‘piece of work’ HUD house. We returned it to the way it was in 1915, stripping years of wallpaper and taking down dropped ceilings. After the kids graduated, I moved back to the ranch, but my daughter and her family still live in that house.”

Debbie concluded, “I love to garden and have a flower and a vegetable garden. My grandkids are growing like weeds. They (her nine grandchildren) have such a wonderful place in my heart and my life. I can’t imagine life without them.”

Debbie Duty Deery is my last Debbie. Our paths crossed right after I moved back to the North Country. She was the principal at Devlin School and she hired me as a paraprofessional. Although this was just for one year, my respect and admiration for her expanded immensely.

Debbie moved to Havre when she was in sixth grade. She remembers that she and Larry Scharfe were the co-presidents of the Student Council at Sunnyside School.

Debbie and her husband, Bob, recently bought a home in Helena that they enjoy during the summers. They winter in Green Valley, Arizona.

Throughout high school Debbie was very involved in activities; mainly music and choir, but also Student Council, Pep Club and Rainbow Club.

Debbie is known as an excellent teacher. In 1992 she was recognized as the Montana Teacher of the Year and in 2003 she was named the Principal of the Year as the recipient of the National Title School for Nevada. In 1998 she left Montana but took with her the strong educational background that she was a part of in Havre, sharing those principles of learning with others that eventually reached Honolulu, Cleveland  and St. Louis.

From 2007 to 2014, Debbie consulted with struggling schools, specializing in school academic turnaround.

Along the way, Debbie had a near-death experience when her liver and kidneys shut down. Debbie recalled, “Looking death in the face changes your life perspective. I know it did for me. I value my family and friends much more.”

Today Debbie enjoys golfing as well as  singing at weddings, funerals  and in church. She and husband Bob enjoy traveling including a trip to Europe.

Debbie’s son is Frank Leeds, and Debbie is very proud of him and his business “Frank Leeds Construction” of Havre. Together Debbie and Bob have 17 grandchildren.

On a sad note, Debbie’s sister Carlene Scharfe passed away but her sister Darlene Bricker recently bought a house in Green Valley across the street. They are thoroughly enjoying each other’s company.

Well there you have it – eight of the nine Debbies. (Three in July, three in August and two today. I’ll keep searching for Debbie Jones.) What a blessing it has been to reconnect with each of them.

Deborah ranks among one of the most famous women of the Bible. Not only for her wisdom, but also for her courage. She is the only woman in the Old Testament who gained renown on her own merit, not because of her relationship to a man. Read about her in Judges, chapters 4 and 5.

(Ila McClenahan is the pastoral care and activity director for Northern Montana Health Care.)


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