Claudette Jessie Wolff

Thursday, July 23, 2020
Claudette Jessie Wolff

July 5, 1946 - May 17, 2020

Claudette Jessie Wolff was born in Deer Lodge Montana on July 5, 1946, joining two brothers and a sister. The family would add another brother and two sisters. Our parents were Frank and Medora Wolff.

Dad worked for the railroad and Mom was the city librarian and a cosmetologist, often working from home, and some times employed at a shop downtown. Claudette attended Deer Lodge public schools, graduating from Powell County High School in 1964.

In 1957, Claudette saw a movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman. The movie so inspired her, that she felt a lifelong call to go to China, as a missionary, a teacher, or at the very least, a visitor. Because our parents wanted her to stay close to home and go to a school in state, she was determined, as always, to prove her own independence. She decided to attend Marian College in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. She was able to convince them further by reminding them that our older sister lived there.

It was easy to go back and forth on the Milwaukee Railroad, since our Dad was an engineer and we had a family pass. Later, she transferred to Minot, North Dakota, attending Minot State University, and completed her bachelor degree in secondary education at Western Montana College in Dillon. (Later U of M affiliated.) She earned her master’s degree by attending schools in several other locations.

She taught English and French. She had teaching jobs in West Yellowstone, Montana, Port Angeles, Washington and Bloomfield, New Mexico. She often had a summer job. She worked in various locations in Yellowstone Park, on a sheep ranch in Dillon, Montana and on an elk ranch in Hardin.

In 1985 she was accepted to a program to teach English as a second language in China and her lifelong hope became a reality. She lived in China for two years, forming enduring friendships with many of her students. She came back in 1987 and continued to teach in New Mexico. In 1999 she applied to

In 1999 she applied to adopt a child, returned again to China and came home with a daughter. Beautiful four year old FuChai joined our family just in time to be a flower girl in her new cousin’s wedding. You never saw such bewilderment in any child’s face as hers on that day! She was experiencing this strange new Mom, huge new family, new language, new home, new customs and a wedding celebration! She had no idea what she was in for.

Our family has always been one of diversity. From religion to politics to talent to heritage, we cover the spectrum. Through it all, so far at least, we have learned to build bridges instead of walls. Thanks in part to Claudette and her insistent opinions and her habit of making the least predictable or popular, of choices.

She moved to Big Timber to be near to her two sisters in December 2019. She was diagnosed with stage four bone cancer one month later. She said at the time, and this is the hallmark of her faith, “I am in God’s hands.” She had many friends and would have given any of them, or a stranger in need, her last cent. She was very strong and her decision to fight the disease that claimed her was typically unselfish. The fact that we lost one of our brothers to cancer when he was very young led to her determination. She believed that her experimental treatment would contribute to the research that would benefit other cancer patients. She died on May 17, 2020.

Claudette was preceded in death by her parents, Frank and Medora (Backhaus) Wolff, brothers, Robert, Richard and Thomas Wolff, sister, Sally Anne (Wolff) Giebel, sister-in-law, Patricia (Burton) Wolff. She is survived by her daughter, Jessie FuChai (Wolff) Mead, son-inlaw, Michael “Mick” Mead, sisters, Michele Wolff, Lianna (Wolff) Karlin, brothersin-law, Rolland Karlin and Norbert Giebel, and sister-inlaw, Nancy (Monroe) Wolff. She is survived by a large extended family including many cousins and 29 nieces and nephews.

The family asks that those wishing to give memorials choose St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She is in God’s hands. Her funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, August 1 at Big Timber Evangelical Church with internment at 3 p.m., Sunday, August 2 at Hillcrest Cemetery in Deer Lodge. The Reverend Bryan Beveridge, rector of St. Mark Episcopal Church officiating. Social distancing will be observed and face masks encouraged.