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Marilyn Wessel

January 4, 1942 ~ December 04, 2017

Service: December 18, 2017 2:00 P.M.
   Location: Pilgrim Congregational Church

Bozeman is a less interesting town today.  After a long, difficult battle with cancer, Marilyn Freeman Wessel passed from this life early on the morning of December 4, 2017.  With her husband nearby, she slipped peacefully to a better place. 

Marilyn was born to John and Janet Freeman in the small town of Percival near the Missouri River in rural southwest Iowa on January 4, 1942.  She enjoyed a typical childhood in the small town rural Midwest.  She remembered long summer days at an artificial lake some farmers had constructed for the town's young people, selling tickets at the local movie theater, water skiing on the Missouri River and joining her two sisters working in her father's soybean fields.  It was a life that cultivated her concern for other people, nourished graciousness and the source of her ready smile that defined her throughout her life.  In her early teens Marilyn's family moved across the river to Nebraska City, Nebraska where her father thought his daughters would have access to a more comprehensive education.

After graduation from Nebraska City High School, Marilyn attended Iowa State University graduating with a degree in journalism.  In her junior year Marilyn met her future husband, Tom.  Following a June wedding shortly after graduation in 1964, the couple moved to Los Angeles where Marilyn began a career as a reporter for a suburban newspaper.  An offer to Tom from his former academic advisor to work at the Smithsonian Institution prompted a move to Washington, D.C. and the beginning of a new career for Marilyn in public relations.  She took a position in the information office of the National 4-H Foundation.  She was soon promoted to Director of Information for the Foundation.  In that job she took on the additional responsibility of escorting visiting 4-H’ers to the White House to meet Presidents and First Ladies during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. 

In 1971 Marilyn gave birth to her daughter, Chelsea, and the next year Tom accepted an appointment in the History and Philosophy Department at Montana State University.  The move to Bozeman initiated Marilyn's third career.  Over the next few years she worked as a writer/editor for the University Extension Service, as a reporter for a local radio station, as an assistant to the University's President, a lobbyist for MSU at the state legislature in Helena, and finally as Director and Dean of the Museum of the Rockies.  The Marilyn Freeman Wessel Grove was planted as a memorial to her work at the Museum. Along the way she acquired a Master's Degree in Public Administration.

Marilyn always had a strong sense of public service. She devoted hours to local boards and committees. She served on the Board of the Burton K. Wheeler Center, an organization devoted to public discussion of issues critical to Montana. Marilyn played a major role in bringing public television to the state. Along with Professor Jerry Wheeler she hosted one of the first educational television series produced by Montana PBS. She also served on the disciplinary committee of the State Bar Association, and as a member of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank's Montana Branch, and served on the editorial board of the Bozeman Chronicle among other organizations. Nevertheless, she remained an avid gardener and user of the many trails in and around Bozeman.

Marilyn and Tom's life together was a genuine love affair for whom nothing was more important than their daughter's and each other's company.  Together they traveled throughout the United States visiting every state except Alaska. They lived in London for six months during a sabbatical year, celebrated their 25th anniversary in Turkey and sailed the Aegean; walked on the Great Wall of China, waltzed in the streets of Vienna on New Year's Eve, attended operas in Milan and spent quiet Autumn weeks in the renaissance village of Cortona, Italy. 

Marilyn found a spiritual home at Pilgrim Congregational Church, sang in the women's choir, served on numerous church boards and was a frequent participant in the church's Family Promise program.  She is remembered by many friends as the gracious hostess of memorable lunches and dinners in the Wessel backyard.

Marilyn is survived by her daughter, Chelsea Sloan of Bozeman; and sisters, Carolyn Freeman of Scottsdale, AZ and Jacquelyn Pont of Mesa, AZ. She will especially be missed by her husband of over 53 years who will be eternally grateful that she chose him to accompany her through life's journey.

A memorial service to celebrate Marilyn's life will be held at 2:00 P.M. on Monday, December 18 at Pilgrim Congregational Church. She asked in lieu of flowers to consider a contribution to the Bozeman Food Bank, Family Promise or the Museum of the Rockies.

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