Celebrating the life of Rita Yvonne Esp
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The little family moved to Montana, and Ole and Derward divorced shortly thereafter. Derward maintained contact with Rita for a few years, then they lost touch. It wasn’t until Rita was in her 40s that she regained contact with Derward and his wife Ione, a relationship that lasted until Deward, and later Ione, died.
Ole married Ed Braaten, who owned the Braaten garage, then the Pontiac dealership in Big Timber and later Braaten Trucking. Rita grew up with Ed and Ole, and graduated from Sweet Grass County High School in 1948. Rita helped out at the garage and also had various jobs in Big Timber as a teenager.
A bare few months after graduation, Rita married Paul Raymond “Ray” Esp on October 10, 1948, in the Big Timber Lutheran Church. Rita and Ray moved into the “little house” on the Esp Ranch on Upper Dear Creek, east of Big Timber. At that time, the house was a one-room log cabin and had no running water. They had electricity before indoor plumbing. Water for drinking, cooking and bathing was hauled from the spring 50 yards away and cooking was done on a wood stove. Ray built a kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms onto the little house in the next few years, and they had running water indoors. Rita continued to have some jobs in town, because, as ranchers, ready money was hard to come by.
Not too long before they got running water, they got their daughter, Nancy Lee (Esp) MacCracken, in 1959. They had to go to Spokane to get her, and they were amazed they were approved to adopt with no indoor plumbing in the house. Two and one-half years later, Rita and Ray went to Helena and got their son, Thomas Ray Esp, in 1962. The indoor plumbing and several rooms in the little house were a blessing then, with two little people!
In about 1966, Rita, Ray and the two kids moved into the “big house” on the ranch, as Ray’s brother, Jim, his wife and children, had moved to Laurel. Rita loved the bigger home and the countless hours spent with family and friends in the kitchen, sitting around the table. Rita also loved hosting holidays and dinners in the home. Rita and Ray hosted many outdoor get-togethers, including family reunions at the ranch.
Rita was a “working partner” in the ranch. Rita helped with haying, fencing, branding (mostly feeding crew), lambing, calving, feeding, and whatever needed to be done. Rita had a big garden for many years and canned everything that could be canned. At one time she had 300 laying hens. At about that same time, 30 dairy cows were being milked and that milk had to be separated. Some went to the creamery in town. Rita also had an egg and cream route to deliver eggs and cream to various folks in Big Timber. Rita did all the cooking for the family, Ray’s dad, Leo, and at least one hired hand, in addition to helping on the ranch, raising two kids, and keeping a house. After they got rid of the chickens and the milk cows (events which elated the kids…) Rita started working at the Four Winds Inn to replace the extra money that had been produced from eggs and milk.
Rita, Ray and the kids did some traveling in the late summer, each year, after haying was done and before school started. One trip took them way up the Boulder with the horses which was a little too exciting for Rita! They visited extended family on their travels when they could. One extensive trip took them on the path of Abraham Lincoln, from where he was born, lived, worked and died. Rita was always the navigator. When the family was in Washington, D.C., Ray asked Rita to find them a place to stay and Rita navigated them to the White House!
Rita and Ray celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in 1973 at the Lutheran Church in which they were married. A few years later, in 1981, Ray died unexpectedly, and Rita was left on her own. Tom helped run the ranch for a time, and when he moved to California, Rita leased the ranch. Eventually, she sold the ranch, keeping a life estate in the house.
After Ray died, Rita did some traveling, visiting family, especially her kids and very much enjoyed going on tours. She went to see the fall colors in the northeast, to the deep south, Hawaii and to Branson, MO several times. She went with friends/family on some trips and Rita and Nancy went to Christmas at the Biltmore, in North Carolina! Even with the travel, Rita wasn’t busy enough, probably because she had spent too many years working at the ranch and elsewhere. Rita became involved with the fledgling Crazy Mountain Museum, helping and working, and eventually became the curator. The friends that she made there were among her best and years that she spent at the museum include some of her favorite memories.
When Rita could no longer work at the museum, she began helping at the thrift store and, again, she made many friends and had many fond memories of the people and co-workers at the thrift store.
A little over a year ago, Rita moved into Tom’s home, where she was happy to entertain her friends and family and be taken care of with love. Special thanks go to Brenda Deitmeier and Donna Olmstead for their care of Rita these last few months.
Rita is survived by her daughter, Nancy (Esp) MacCracken and husband Ernie, son Tom Esp and wife Lori, grandchildren Nick Esp (Krystal), Andrea Stroup (Adam), Danielle Colter (Dan) , Brianna MacCracken (Ryan), four great-grandchildren, sister-in-law Shirley Esp, cousin Terry Wiklund, many nieces and nephews, best friend Mabel Halverson, and many other friends. She is pre-deceased by husband Ray, her mother Ole Braaten and husband Ed, her father Derward Webb and wife Ione, step-brother Walt Braaten and wife Victoria, and grandson Joe.
Funeral service will be held at the Big Timber Lutheran Church on Saturday, July 31, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. Burial will follow at Mountain View cemetery, followed by a reception at the Big Timber Lutheran Church.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Crazy Mountain Museum, P.O. Box 83, Big Timber, MT 59011; Big Timber Lutheran Church, P.O. Box 278, Big Timber, MT 59011; Hearts & Hands Hospice, P.O. Box 1337, Big Timber, MT 59011 or the Community Thrift Shoppe, P.O. Box 1475, Big Timber, MT 59011
To plant a tree in memory of Rita Yvonne Esp, visit the Tribute Store.
115 West 4th Avenue
PO Box 278
Big Timber, MT 59011
West of Big Timber
Big Timber, MT 59011
Crazy Mountain Museum
Big Timber, MT 59011