July 22, 2010
Jan Donaldson and Mary Anne Guggenheim
Jan and Mary Anne at home in Helena.
Jan and Mary Anne live in Helena and have been together as a couple for 27 years. Jan, who is 66, and Mary Anne, who is 74, each have two children from previous marriages and when they moved to Montana together in 1983, they lived with all of the children, raising them and making parenting decisions together. Mary Anne’s son’s affectionate nickname for Jan was “Dep Mo” – short for “Deputy Mom.” Today Jan and Mary Anne have four grandchildren living nearby in Bozeman and one granddaughter who died in infancy. “I can’t imagine anything else in life except being with her as long as she’ll have me,” Mary Anne says of Jan.
The couple met in Colorado, where they both worked in public health. Mary Anne is a retired pediatric neurologist. Jan is a retired registered nurse and recently started a job as an outreach coordinator for a nonprofit organization that provides family support and education services for developmentally disabled children. When the couple moved to Montana, they opened a statewide child neurology practice, which served children and families for 12 years. In 1998, Mary Anne was elected to Montana’s House of Representatives and served one term. Mary Anne was the first woman president of the Child Neurology Society, a national professional organization, and recently was honored with CNS’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Both Jan and Mary Anne have devoted their retirement to continued work on public health and other community causes, volunteering with a variety of nonprofit and service organizations.
Jan and Mary Anne are committed to taking care of one another in sickness and in health, but they worry that they may not be able to do so in an emergency. This concern was borne out recently following Mary Anne’s hip replacement surgery, when a doctor’s assistant refused to even speak with Jan because he didn’t have Mary Anne’s medical release in hand.
Kellie Gibson and Denise Boettcher
Denise (left) and Kellie (right) with daughter Jordan and son Morrgan.
Kellie and Denise live in Laurel and have been together for 11 years. Denise, 45, is a middle school science teacher and a basketball coach. Kellie, 46, worked for many years at a juvenile detention center, but is on disability because she suffers from a rare brain condition. Kellie has had 56 brain surgeries and over 300 spinal taps over the past ten years. Kellie will probably never be able to work full time again, but she substitutes for the local school district sometimes.
Last November Kellie and Denise jointly adopted Kellie’s 5-year-old great-nephew Morrgan. Morrgan had been living with Kellie and Denise for a year and a half before the adoption took place. Kellie and Denise were already old hands at raising a child, though – before Morrgan came to live with them, the couple had already been raising for over a decade Kellie’s two daughters from a previous marriage: Jordan, now 16, and Charlee, now 20.
While state employees like Denise automatically receive 10 days of bereavement leave when a family member or in-law dies, Denise was denied bereavement leave by her employer when Kellie’s father died in April of this year.
The couple had a private commitment ceremony in 2001 with about 30 friends and family members present, are very active in their church, and love to travel, camp, and fish. Kellie credits Denise standing by her for being able to make it through her health problems: “She never left me when I was so sick. I endure her relentless love of sports and she endures my need for dogs. I love her to infinity and beyond!”
Gary Stallings and Rick Wagner
Gary and Rick: “We’re pretty much joined at the hip.”
Rick and Gary have been together for 21 years. They met in Texas and moved to Butte in 1994 for Rick to take a new job. Unfortunately, he was then laid off after only three months, but by then the couple was already in love with life in Montana and decided to stay. Rick, 54, has now been working as a crisis response therapist at a mental health center for 13 years, responding to mental health emergencies in six counties. Gary, 59, is retired from the insurance business.
Gary was in the Army for a year and a half in the early 1970’s. His brother was killed in Vietnam, so Gary was given a waiver and allowed to serve stateside. He gets most of his medical care through the Veteran’s Administration
Gary has been living with HIV for many years. While he is doing well now, at one point in 1995 he was so sick that he was told he had six weeks to live. Rick hadn’t been acknowledged as part of the family until he had to call them with the news that Gary was dying. Gary’s mother later called the doctor and the doctor told her that Rick was the best caregiver a person can have. Rick and Gary both volunteer with Butte AIDS Support Services. They also volunteered for 10 years for a statewide community planning group for HIV prevention, for which they both received governor’s awards for their work.
“We’re pretty much joined at the hip,” Gary says of their relationship. “We’re just always there for each other, we have been since 1989, and we always will be.”
Nancy Owens and M.J. Williams
M.J. and Nancy at home in Basin.
Nancy and M.J., both 65, live in Basin and have been together as a couple for almost 18 years. They are proud grandparents to Nancy’s son’s four children, who all call them both “grandma.” Nancy, who has Ph.D. in anthropology, teaches college part time. M.J. is a professional jazz vocalist and trombone player, as well as a partner in a faux-finishing painting company. M.J. and Nancy were among the founders of the Montana Artists Refuge, a residency program for artists in operation now for 17 years that also sponsors art exhibitions, live performances and workshops.
Nancy and M.J. own their home together and have health care directives, but they still worry that the paperwork they have filled out won’t protect them in an emergency. In 2001, Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer. While she was undergoing treatment, Nancy was concerned the hospital might not share Nancy's information with MJ, even though they had been in a stable, committed relationship for over ten years at the time.
Although Nancy was able to convince the hospital to share her information with MJ, the couple worries that another hospital could easily take a different approach.
Nancy and M.J. both love arts, travel, and taking care of their home. “We have been on wonderful journeys together, in our minds and in the world,” says M.J.
Mike Long and Rich Parker
Mike (left) and Rich (right) proudly support Mike’s son Kevin in all his athletic events.
Mike, 56, was born and raised in Montana, the son of a ranch hand. He and Rich, 40, have been together for eight years and live in Bozeman with Kevin, Mike’s 17-year-old son from a previous relationship.
Their home life is centered around Kevin – helping him with his homework, attending his football games and weightlifting competitions to cheer him on, and taking him to visit college campuses. “Rich is the one who nags about homework and watches his grades,” says Mike. “Maintaining a good family space for Kevin is the important thing to us.” All three love skiing, floating the Yellowstone River, and skeet shooting together.
Rich, a Navy veteran, is a mechanical engineer and Mike is a hospital laboratory supervisor. “We fight over who wrote what check without recording it, we take turns waiting up for the kid on weekends, we nitpick over who squeezed the toothpaste, and we work on fixing up our house,” says Rich. “We just do what it takes to take care of each other.”
Mary Leslie and Stacey Haugland
Mary and Stacey, together 12 years.
Stacey, who is 44 and a certified professional midwife, and Mary, who is 47 and a manager at the Community Food Co-op, have been together as a couple for 12 years. In 2003, the couple held a commitment ceremony at Emerson Hall in Bozeman to celebrate their relationship with over 200 friends and family members.
Stacey and Mary know from experience that not having legal protections for their relationship could leave them unprotected in times of greatest need. Long before Stacey and Mary met, Mary’s previous partner of eight years was killed in a tragic workplace accident. Although Mary and her previous partner had taken steps to try to protect their relationship, Mary found herself powerless in a number of essential ways following her previous partner’s death.
Grief-stricken after the accident, Mary was denied access to her former partner’s remains, as the coroner explained that she had no legal relationship to her partner. Although she and her partner both worked for a company that offers paid bereavement leave to its married heterosexual employees, Mary was not given bereavement leave after her partner’s death. Several of her coworkers stepped forward to cover her work shifts and assist her financially. Mary’s partner’s family also received the partner’s worker’s compensation death benefits and filed a wrongful death suit for damages – both things legal spouses can do, but not Mary, even though she had been in a committed relationship with her partner for eight years. Eventually Mary was forced to sell the home she and her partner had bought together just to stay afloat financially.
Mary struggled to put her life back together after her devastating loss, and credits family and friends for helping her through. A few years later, she and Stacey met through a mutual friend. Later on Mary suggested they walk their dogs together and struck up a friendship. Eventually they went on their first date to go see Godzilla and then, Stacey says, “That was that. We’ve been together ever since.”
Stacey and Mary feel very lucky to have found one another and to be together. “We know better than anyone that you can lose everything in a moment,” says Mary. “So why not cherish what you have and live every moment you can to the fullest?"