Ruth Marilyn Refsland O’Sullivan

August 30, 1937 - October 19, 2020
Thursday, December 3, 2020
Ruth Marilyn Refsland O’Sullivan

Ruth Marilyn Refsland O’Sullivan was born and raised in Big Timber, MT. She was the second child and eldest daughter of Agnes and William Refsland. She was the daughter and granddaughter of Norwegian immigrants -- her grandmother, Marit Braa, immigrated in 1906, and her father, William Refsland, in 1925. She had three siblings: older brother David, younger brother Gary, and sister Diana; four children, eight grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.

The Refsland home was always warm and welcoming and was a great gathering place. The family was happy to set another place at the table or make-up the rollaway bed. The Refsland children formed close friendships in these years. One of Ruth’s lifelong friends, Mary Jane Andrews, lived with the Refsland’s during high school. They maintained their friendship over all of these years, as did Ruth with most of her friends. Ruth and Mary Jane had a heartfelt conversation only days before Ruth’s passing.

Ruth graduated from Sweet Grass High School in 1955. She was an excellent student, and upon graduation was offered a scholarship by the FBI. A bout of pneumonia prevented her acceptance. Shortly thereafter, she accepted a position working for Montana State Congressman, Orvin Fjare, and later held a position at a bank in Livingston.

She met Jerald James “Kirk” Kirkpatrick from Wolf Point at Cole Drugs over a chocolate malt, her favorite. They were soon married and began their life together in Bozeman where Cheryl, their first child was born, and Kirk earned a degree in engineering from Montana State. In 1960, after Kirk’s graduation, they moved to Los Angeles, California.

In the following years, Ruth and Kirk welcomed Joe, Shelly and Tim to the family. Throughout the children’s upbringing, Ruth fulfilled the roles of wife, mother, carpool driver, etc., always doing so with love, friendship, sacrifice and humor. Life was filled with birthday parties, youth sports, slumber parties, brownies and girl scouts, camping trips and annual trips to Big Timber. She also cared for multiple family pets: both dogs and cats, her favorite turtle, Lucerne, and even a few frogs, lizards, snakes, hawks and a goat! She enjoyed bridge club, ceramics and neighborhood get-togethers. Ruth and Kirk hosted epic Halloween and Christmas parties attended by neighbors, work and family friends. Always outgoing, fun loving and generous, Ruth collected lifelong friends along the way.

In 1977, Ruth divorced and then married Pat O’Sullivan and moved to Tyler, Texas with three of the children, Joe, Shelly and Tim. Cheryl remained in California to attend college. In Texas, Pat and Ruth were pursuing Pat’s lifelong dream to open a fullservice Italian restaurant in his home town. By all accounts the location, the décor, the menu, and especially the staff and management (Ruth, Pat and the kids) were simply fabulous. Alas, the demand for Italian food was not high in East Texas where the palate is more accustomed to chicken fried steaks and barbeque. Never lacking gumption or ability, Ruth then opened a wallpaper hanging business. Soon after, she pursued a career as a real estate agent and renovated houses for resale.

In 1981, Ruth and the kids left Texas and moved back to California, this time to San Diego, to be closer to Cheryl. Ruth’s new home became the family hub where the children came and went until they eventually started their own families. Ruth worked as an office manager for an architect and an appraiser. In 1994, she moved to Northern California to manage her son-in-law Hugh’s business, SHUR Sales, and to be closer to Cheryl and her family.

Ruth retired in 2002 and moved back to her childhood home across from the park in Big Timber, where she established a very active and full life. Disproving the old adage that “you can’t go home”, she did so with gusto, rekindling old friendships and making new ones. She lived in the family home for almost 17 years and during this time she renovated the house, while keeping its cottage charm.

Ruth was a collector of friends and a generous host. She introduced the town of Big Timber and the local sights to many out of state friends and extended family. The annual “Buffalo Gals” trip to Big Timber with her daughters and her granddaughters was always a favorite. Kirkpatrick family trips were held in Big Timber and even the youngest great grandchildren had the opportunity to visit Ruth in Big Timber.

Ruth was an avid bridge player and member of multiple bridge groups including tournament bridge. Bridge kept her mind sharp and she loved meeting new people. Soon after moving back to Big Timber, she was invited to join a weekly wine group. These ladies became some of her dearest friends. While convalescing in California she continued to meet with the group and her many of her other friends via phone or Facetime.

Ruth found a home at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. She was a docent at the Crazy Mountain Museum and a volunteer with the Sweet Grass Community Foundation. For a short time, she worked at Terri’s Gift Store and Gallery. During her retirement, she was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of working a summer in Yellowstone Park at Lake Lodge and living in the “dorms”. Ruth enjoyed meeting the tourists as she checked them into the lodge and helped to schedule activities in the park.

In 2006, Ruth visited Norway with her daughter, Cheryl, her sister, Diana and her sister-in-law, Ruthie. They visited the Refsland family home near Stavanger and had a reunion with 13 first cousins, also visited with the Ronnebergs, Agnes Refsland’s second husband’s family (Lars Ronneberg), and lastly they visited Trondheim, home of Ruth’s maternal grandmother, Marit Braa. It was a great trip. They were welcomed in Norway with the same warmth and hospitality that the family would welcome Norwegians when they came to Big Timber!

During Ruth’s Christmas visit to California in 2018, she contracted pneumonia and was hospitalized. Weighing all of 79 pounds, she was not expected to make it. Despite all odds, she survived this bout, as well as another, involving a broken femur. With both of these events happening one right after another, she was no longer able to live independently. As Ruth would, she accepted this new reality with grace, dignity and humor. She never gave up, however, on her dream of one day returning to her beloved Big Timber home.

Throughout her illness, Ruth lived with and was lovingly cared for by her children, as well as her sister Diana, who came frequently from North Carolina to help her and be with her. This is what Ruth wanted, to be with her family. She loved her family dearly as they loved her. And, during the very early hours of October 19, she quietly passed away in her sleep at her daughter Cheryl’s home, under the care of Hospice of Santa Cruz.

The matriarch and anchor of her family, a true and loyal friend, Ruth (‘lil Ruthie Refsland) profoundly affected the lives of all who knew her. We will miss her love, generosity and humor and we will carry forward her great energy and strength. She is survived by her sister Diana Refsland, her four children: Cheryl Shyba, Joe Kirkpatrick, Shelly Sinkovich and Tim Kirkpatrick; her eight grandchildren: Justin and Kelsey Shyba, Amy Kirkpatrick, McKenna and Tyler Sinkovich, Keara, Finn and Molly Kirkpatrick and her six great grandchildren: Jack, Zoe, Beau, Evvie, Demi, and Nikolas Shyba.

A celebration of Ruth’s life is planned for June in Big Timber. In lieu of flowers, please make donations and memorials to the Sweet Grass Community Foundation, Big Timber MT 59011 https://sweetgrasscommunityfoundation.org/funds/old-high-school-fund or Hospice of Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley CA 95066 https://www.hospicesantacruz.org/tol/

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