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Shirley Louise Johnson Sautter passed away surrounded by her family on November 8, 2023, at the age of 95 years old.
Shirley was born on Christmas Eve 1927, in Helena, MT to Hilda (Carlson) and Herman “Hi” Johnson. During her early years in Helena, Shirley spent much time with her mother, grandmother Caroline, and Aunt Emily learning how to cook, bake and sew. After her dad’s job with the Northern Pacific Railway took them to many different places, including Bremerton, WA, Bozeman, and Great Falls, the family came back to their hometown of Helena just before Shirley started high school.
Shirley and her brothers Bob and Gary spent many weekends in the summer with aunts, uncles and cousins at family cabins located in Rimini and Unionville. As a girl, and an adult Shirley loved having her birthday on Christmas Eve, because it was a day that all of her immediate and extended family would be together enjoying their traditional Scandinavian dinner, a tradition carried on with her brothers.
Before starting high school, Shirley described herself as a very shy girl, but became a cheerleader, was cheer queen, and joined just about every club that she found interesting. During these years, Shirley held many jobs including developing film for her Uncle Les at Jorud’s Photo Shop, an usher and ticket taker at the Marlow Theater, along with decorating window displays at JC Penney. Shirley also attended many dances at Carroll College when the Navy V-12 Unit had several potential officers attending school. She spoke that she often felt sorry for her male classmates at Helena High because “most of us girls dated the V-12 Seamen”.
After graduating Helena High in 1946, she began dating one of the projectionists at the Marlow, Benjamin “Bud” Sautter. She and Bud had known each other for a while at the Marlow, but she never really paid much attention to him, and finally said yes when he asked her out for the 4 th or 5 th time. Bud and Shirley were married on September 7, 1947, in Helena.
Bud and Shirley raised their four children, Darla, Sheri, Don, and Debbie in Helena. Shirley was the Domestic CEO of the Sautter household, driving many nights to baseball games across the State as Bud was the manager and a player for the Helena Wranglers, and son Don was the batboy. Summers saw time spent as a family boating and waterskiing at Canyon Ferry Lake or Black Sandy. Weekends in the winter were spent skiing at “Belrock”. Along with Bud and the kids, they operated the sporting goods stores ML Brown, later Sautter Sports Center. In the mid 70’s, Bud, Shirley, and family opened and operated The Peppermill, a popular Helena restaurant and night club. Upon retirement, Shirley and Bud bought their Avion trailer and had several “mis”adventures across the United States.
After Bud passed in 1994 while they were wintering in Las Vegas, Shirley returned to Helena to be with family. She was an avid reader and loved meeting with her book club, and spending time at the library. She also enjoyed sewing, knitting, golf, concerts, picnics at the park, and going for walks. She also loved to go to McDonalds every morning for her favorite coffee. Every Sunday she would meet up with Darla and April at Tony’s for breakfast and live keno before it closed. She spent a winter enjoying time with Don and his family in Idaho. While Sheri was away one summer obtaining additional college credits, grandma stayed at Sheri’s to keep eye over teenage grandsons Brian and Shawn. They aren’t sure whether she actually slept through the parties in the basement after hours, or just pretended not to know about them. She traveled to Sun Valley for the jazz festivals with family, where she enjoyed watching Kelly sing with the bands. She treasured time spent with her lifelong friends Jackie McHugh and Jeannie Daughtery Barker, and other Class of 46’ friends.
Her family remembers her as the most kind, loving, giving woman that they have ever known. She was always doing nice things for others whenever she could. She often gave rides to her friends and neighbors to the grocery store, doctor appointments or to any other place they needed. She especially enjoyed spending time with and caring for her great-grandchildren when they were younger and was the first phone call when there was a day that the kids were sick or school wasn’t in session, she made sure of that.
Shirley was preceded in death by her parents Hilda and Hi, husband Bud, her daughter Debbie Kay, and close friend Jackie McHugh.
She is survived by her children Darla, Sheri, and Don Sautter. Her brothers Bob Johnson(Nell) and Gary Johnson(Karen). Her grandchildren April Fife(Kirk), Paul and Matt Sautter, Brian Helmbrecht(Jen), Shawn Helmbrecht(Kaely), Andrea Webster(Chris) and Kelly Alcock(Shane). Ten great grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren. Nephew Curtis Johnson, niece Melissa Johnson, daughter-in law Rebecca Wallace, and many other numerous nieces and nephews, and close friend Jeannie Barker.
The family would like to thank all the staff at Edgewood for the love and care they provided our mom and grandma the last couple of years, and Enhabit Hospice for their comfort these last months.
Per Shirley’s wishes there will be no formal services. Her ashes will be interred at Sunset Memorial Gardens beside Bud and Debbie. A private family gathering will be held at a later time.
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