“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials are heavy and suddenly fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.” ~ Washington Irving
It is with great sadness to announce that 91 year-old Patricia R. Curtis passed away from pancreatic cancer in her home of 50 years in Twin Falls, Idaho. Pat is lovingly remembered by her children, Michael, Molly (Brent), and Kerry (Scott), as well as one grandson, Joe (Stefanie), and one great-grandson, Henry, who has a little sister on the way. Pat was preceded in death by her husband, H. Gay Curtis.
Pat was born in the doctor’s house in the small farming community of Manzanola, Colorado, where her grandfather, uncle and father were produce farmers, growing G. W. Swink “Rocky Ford” cantaloupes. Pat’s pioneering family made nine moves yielding seven grade school changes that Pat shyly endured, and in 1935, the family moved from Colorado to the west side of Phoenix, Arizona, where they eventually settled upon a historical property, which originally was the first municipal airport in Phoenix, the first Sky Harbor Airport that opened in 1925, where those such as Charles Lindbergh landed to refuel, and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater took flying lessons. Pat’s parents, Leo C. Smith and Ruth S. Smith, tenaciously worked together to transform the airport’s land, clearing tree stumps and weeds, and over the years, changed the small airport’s terminal (that held the pilot’s sleeping quarters) into a southern-style home for their children, Patricia, the eldest, Stanley L. Smith and Mary Ann (Hunt). The family worked the rich soil into beautiful fields of lettuce, carrots, cantaloupes, cotton, wheat, and more, helping to feed many during The Great Depression and feed American soldiers during World War II. Pat’s parents were noted in the agricultural community as gracious, humorous, generous and kind, who instilled in their children a hard work ethic and responsibility, a foundation that led to the life of discipline, generosity and charity of which Pat is remembered. Her parents stressed the importance of higher education, and Pat was the first in the family to earn a university degree, as did her siblings to follow.
Due to the remote nature of the farm, in order to go to high school, Pat took wartime buses from the Goodyear Aircraft Company’s restoration factory. Then, from these factory buses, she transferred to city buses to downtown Phoenix city bus depots, then from the depot, walked a long way to Phoenix Union High School. With no freeways built in the valley, she made the long journey every day, along with factory workers who were going to and from Luke Field and Goodyear factories during World War II.
There was no air conditioning or relief from the 100 degree-plus desert sun while living on the farm (or attended an imposing Phoenix Union High School), until her dad built a greenhouse-type cooler in the back of the house. Hours spent on the bus, she had no time for after-school activities and only remembers the long bus rides, recollecting hardly anything about high school, or even grade school, due to the number of times they moved, and being the “new kid” in school.
However, Pat remembers her first grade teacher in Colorado, who taught Pat how to read, and voracious reading and learning was Pat’s passion that lasted until she lost her eyesight due to glaucoma and macular degeneration. She is grateful to the Idaho Talking Book Service for providing digital books and specialized players for the blind that supplied her hours of joy to continue her zest for reading and learning.
After high school graduation, Pat attended the University of Arizona in Tucson, and was a member and also President of an Alpha Chi Omega Sorority Chapter, where she made many life-long friendships, was selected as the U of A’s Miss Aggie Queen, and graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor’s degree in Education, enabling her to teach grades K-12.
Her very poor coordination for sports activities caused her to become prey for children’s taunting, never wanting her or picking her for their team. But one day, a very handsome, sports award-winning and honors-winning athlete would pick Pat for his team. While attending summer school at Arizona State University in Tempe, Pat met Mr. H. Gay Curtis, farmer, from Thatcher, Arizona, who had returned from fighting in the Pacific Theater during World War II. On the GI Bill, Mr. Curtis attended Arizona State University and The University of Arizona, where he chose Patricia to be on his team, and they married in 1950.
While Pat’s new husband finished his degree in Agriculture at The U of A, Pat taught 2nd grade in Marana, Arizona, near Tucson. After graduation, she and her husband moved to Glendale, Arizona, and her husband worked on his father-in-law’s farm, also working with The Bracero Program, as he spoke fluent Spanish. (The Bracero Program grew out of a series of bi-lateral agreements between Mexico and the United States that allowed millions of Mexican men to come to the United States to work on a short-term basis, primarily agricultural labor contracts.) Pat and her husband eventually farmed on their own and rented 320 acres, where Pat enjoyed raising German Shepherd puppies, and where she supported her husband, did double-entry bookkeeping and managed the employee payroll. Pat’s children have fond memories growing up on the farm and especially camping in the White Mountains of Arizona and fishing in the West Fork of the Black River, as it was one of the few times they could all be together, since farming is a year-round occupation in Arizona, and their parents worked very hard and made many sacrifices for their family.
Pat enjoyed creating mixed media paintings, and she was also a gifted and spontaneous poet, even writing and illustrating her own book that she used to tutor and teach reading and English. She also shared her creative gifts being a Girl Scout troop leader, sang in her youth at church, and was involved in many aspects of teaching Sunday school while substitute teaching in the Cartwright and Fowler School Communities, south of Phoenix.
While her children were young, Pat was a stay-at-home mother, ensuring she was always there to help them. During Arizona’s population boom, land was sold that the Curtis family rented, so Pat and her family “pioneered” to Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1970, where she continued substitute teaching, was a secretary, and with a protective mother’s instincts and dedication, became a social worker for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, working for 16 years in child protection, family counseling, licensing daycare centers and foster homes, and her favorite area, placing children for adoption. Sensitive to knowing her own roots, she made each child a photo book to know where they had come from and where they were going. Through the years, sometimes the adoptive parents would contact Pat with updates of the children as they grew to adulthood, such a relief for Pat to know. She continued to think about the children throughout her lifetime, and just a few days before her death, she worriedly said, “I wonder what happened to them all?” She had the greatest admiration for, and were grateful to, foster and adoptive parents and police officers who help at-risk children.
Her respite from a stressful job was her kind, humorous, caring, animated and listening husband, who also created a retreat, a refuge and park-like mountain feel to their yard for them to enjoy, with large trees, flowers, fruit trees and gardens, of which he immaculately tended until he could no longer, after developing Alzheimer’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a cruel illness causing paralysis from the outside, inward. After 52 years of being married, Pat lost her husband, her best friend, and she taught us by example, the faithfulness, dedication and meaning of “in sickness and in health” in taking care of him, searching for the best medical care, until he could be diagnosed and treated for chemical brain injury due to exposures and consequential harm from agricultural and gardening chemicals.
Pat’s unwavering and boundless generosity helped many people get medical treatments who could not otherwise afford help. Pat’s final lesson to her family was probably her most admired, how she bravely faced life when she lost her vision and was confronted with the news that her life was coming to an end, and inspired those around her with grace and humor.
We are thankful for Pat’s long, well-lived life, and that her heroine, her mother, Ruth, had a motto which was “keep the family together,” as her mother’s and Pat’s influence lives on in all of us, the gracious hostess, gathering family for special occasions and her ever-strong support during struggles. She kept our secrets, was a wonderful confidant, and honored her children by encouraging their own individual talents, interests, and skills. Her poetic, creative and artistic eye, seeing the details in nature and life, was an influence on her family to appreciate God’s gifts in our beautiful world, especially the mountains. Her joys were traveling with her husband and siblings, and sitting next to the clear, running creek with her daughter in Custer County, Idaho. She said of her life, “That was quite a bit for just a country girl.” She believed in God and Jesus Christ, conservatism, John Deere, old-fashioned roses, German shepherds, The Heard Museum, integrated medicine, antiques, handmade quilts, organic heirloom vegetables, Ted Kautsky, Bev Doolittle, R. Brownell McGrew, Northwest and Southwest American Indian history and art; Rumer Godden, Elmer Kelton, Louis L’ Amour, Mitchell F. Jayne, Tony Hillerman, Maeve Binchy; Lawrence Welk, Glenn Miller, The Sons of the Pioneers with Ken Curtis; plus The Nelson Brothers’ “The Clear Out West” Radio Show.
Pat will always be grateful to her church family in Idaho and the long-lasting friendships made through The First United Methodist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho. Also, she was touched by the kindness of new friends and helpful neighbors in Custer County, Idaho.
In lieu of flowers, please donate to a charity of your choice or The First United Methodist Church, 360 Shoshone Street East, Twin Falls, ID 83301 http://www.twin.church (208) 733-5872, or Hospice Visions, Inc. 455 Park View Loop, Twin Falls, ID 83301 (208) 735-0121 https://www.hospicevisions.org//donate.php#tab2 Or, just help out someone when you can; that’s what Pat did.
For their guidance, expertise and care, thank you to Victorija Laucius, DO, Craig Manning, DC, Michael Taylor, MD, Jason Halverson, MD, William J Rea, MD, Oswaldo Bisbal, MD, St. Luke’s pre and post-operative care nurses, Hospice Visions employees and special thanks to Natalie Schmechel, RN.
Private family graveside services will be conducted by Chaplin Dick Goetsch at Sunset Memorial Park in Twin Falls, Idaho. A celebration of life will be held at another date.
“I loved you every day. And now, I will miss you every day.” ~ Mitch Albom
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