MURIEL JOYCE CHRISTOPHERSON HIGGINBOTHAM
04/04/1941 – 12/31/2020
She came into this world as Muriel Joyce “Baby Jo” Christopherson on April 4, 1941. She left this world on December 31, 2020 better known as Joyce, Jo, Mom, Gram, Gramma Jo and Gramma Cookie.
Joyce was a native Bitterrooter. She was born in the original Marcus Daly Hospital in Hamilton to Albert and Retta Christopherson, the youngest of nine children. She was raised on the family ranch near Conner and grew up with the love of a large family and the values of hard work. She graduated from Darby High School in 1959—the same school her three children would eventually graduate from.
After high school, Joyce worked as a secretary in Hamilton and then in Long Beach, CA. In 1962, she joined her sisters, June and LaRae, in Las Vegas, NV and went to work for the City of North Las Vegas. It was there she met and fell in love with the young Assistant City Engineer, Larry Higginbotham. They were married in 1963 and shared 47 years together.
After nine years of vacationing in Montana, Larry and Joyce moved their three children, one dog, one cat, and one retired racehorse back to the Bitterroot Valley in 1972. Together they turned an old sawmill shack with sawdust-filled walls and no running water on the East Fork of the Bitterroot River, into a warm and cozy home. Joyce remained Larry’s loyal secretary as they operated WLH Surveying for 17 years. She later worked as a Para-Professional at the Darby School for 11 years where she dearly loved the handicapped children she worked with. To keep busy, she worked part time for The Shining Mountain Ranch in housekeeping until Larry passed away in 2011.
But her work was not her life—her children and her home were. Michele, Debbie, and Eric grew up on 10 acres with at least one of everything. In addition to the racehorse, there was a Shetland pony, two goats, multiplying chickens, bum lambs and calves, a milk cow, a bunny, cats, dogs, and even two pet skunks. It was no coincidence that Joyce headed to the barn each morning in her pink housecoat and black rubber boots carrying the milk pail just as the school bus arrived—much to her children’s dismay! To make up for it, she always had homemade cookies coming out of the oven when they got off the bus in the afternoon. When the kids were young, she taught them how to ice skate and raise a garden. She pulled them on sleds, took them to 4-H activities, on picnics, and swimming at Medicine Hot Springs. As they grew, she was their #1 fan at sporting events and there was never any doubt how proud she was of them. She was prouder yet of her grandchildren, hosting many sleepovers and etching forever memories of morning pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, sledding parties and evening bon-fires in the hearts of her biggest fans.
Joyce was a true believer in “you can sleep when you’re dead”! She was an early riser and NEVER took a nap. She was happy mowing her beautiful lawn, raking the relentless pine needles, harvesting and canning fruit and vegetables from her garden, and caring for her tidy and charming home. But…she was HAPPIEST when she was entertaining! She LOVED a party! Her home was always bursting with family and friends at holidays, and she especially loved the 4th of July where it was not uncommon for the guest list to top 100! She created so many wonderful memories and traditions for her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, and friends.
As strong, active, capable, and alive as Joyce was, she could not outrun the dementia that slowly invaded her mind and body. But even though she lost her battle…she is the winner. Because her legacy will live on in the lives of her family, and in every grateful heart she touched in her 79 years. That is the “Joyce” that will be remembered.
Joyce was preceded in death by her parents, Albert and Retta Christopherson; her husband, Larry Higginbotham; sisters, Dorothy Armstrong, Ruby Bratton, June Holt, and LaRae Schallenberger; and brothers Lynn and Duane Christopherson. She is survived by two daughters, Michele and husband Warren Gillespie of Hamilton, and Debbie and husband Scott Reesman of Hamilton; son, Eric Higginbotham and wife Monique of Clancy; eight grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; two sisters, Cora House of Darby, and Janice Heiland of Hamilton; and numerous cousins, nephews and nieces.
The family would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Mindi Hogan and her amazing staff at The Hamilton Assisted Living and Memory Care where mom resided the last 2 ½ years. They have become like family—lovingly caring for Joyce, while also gently guiding and comforting her family. It’s the next best place to home. We would also like to recognize and thank Frontier Hospice for their compassion and support during mom’s final weeks. We couldn’t have been in better arms.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to The Hamilton Assisted Living, PO Box 43 Hamilton, MT 59840 (406) 363-5683; or Frontier Hospice 2419 Mullan Road, Ste D, Missoula, MT 59808 (406) 540-1512.
For now, we ask that you celebrate Joyce in your hearts. A “Party” in her honor will be held in the Spring of 2021 near her 80th Birthday…in true Joyce fashion! Condolences may be left for the family at www.dalyleachchapel.com.
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