Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Edward Mangis
PCN Correspondent 

Another centurion: Remembering Fern (Compton) Mangis

 

March 18, 2020

Fern (Compton) Mangis.

March 5th in 1920, 100 years ago, a baby girl was born in the Malta, Montana hospital. She came from strong stock. On New Year's Day, her parents decided that she should not be born in the homestead sod house as her brother, Duane, was. Her older brother, Ward, was born in the Homestead House her Great Grand Parents had built near Eyebrow, Saskatchewan, Canada.

So, they packed up a seven-month pregnant Leafy onto the seat of a buckboard wagon, bundled in blankets and with rocks from the oven to keep her warm and started south. When Henry and Leafy Compton followed her parents south to homestead in Montana. They stopped one mile south of the Canadian Border to start over again. Henry's parents followed later that year. So, this journey started from that point and followed some 45 to 50 miles of primitive road to Malta Montana.

The first leg was some 12 miles south to the wee town of Loring where they stayed overnight with Henry's brother and sister-in-law, Herb and Helen Compton. Day two covered another 20 miles to the While Ranch just below Mitch Hill for another night's stay. Finally, on day three, they arrived in Malta.

Remember this was in January which then was deep into winter. Just the stiff buckboard seat springs smoothed the ride. No windbreak. And seven months pregnant. Leafy was one tough woman!

After staying with Billy and Lulu Robertson (She was one of Grandpa Henry's sisters) for the rest of the term, a beautiful, lively, and most welcome daughter was added to the family – Fern Compton. She grew up on the homestead – doing chores, riding a horse to school, and graduating from Loring High School. She then attended Northern College where she received a two-year degree and a teacher's certificate.

She also met Vern Mangis there – her future husband. Following graduation, she moved to Malta and taught at the Streiter Grade School for a year. After a few months of her second year, Vern popped the question and they were married over a three-day Columbus Day weekend and moved to Bozeman. It was six months later they were back (the only period in either of their lives that they did not have Phillips County address.)

Fern started her family a couple of years later with the birth of her son, Edward. Two- and one-half years later, they bought the Simon Hunt Homestead just north of Loring. Both of her brothers and her parents lived about 10 miles north. For the next 11 years, she lived and was an integral part of the Loring community. Plus, she enlarged the family with the birth of daughters Myrna and Lorraine. In late 1955, after a "trip of the lifetime" (She and Vern took a train tour from Malta to Chicago to New Orleans to Miami for a week's tour of Florida. Then back the reverse route) she started feeling unwell. The medical process continued to an operation in Great Falls which discovered advanced cancer. She died on April 5, 1956, at the age of 36.

It is not an exaggeration to say that everyone who knew Fern loved her. She was just a happy, hard-working person. In all my memories, I find always a smile. At her funeral, I remember a man saying, "Phillips County has a Fern sized hole in its heart." As we all did – and still do. She became quite religious during her last months, being baptized and confirmed into the Episcopal Church. So, we can look forward to renewing our relationship someday.

As I think of Mom, I believe, if she can see the family she started, she is smiling and very proud.

One additional story. Grandpa John Mangis, Fern's father-in-law, was in declining health. Years earlier he was struck by lightning, and progressively his heart wore out. One night, unable to sleep in a bed, he moved out to a chair in the living room. This was a year or two after Fern had died. As he slept, he heard singing and saw a crowd of robed people descending out of the sky. Quite frightened, Grandpa thought they were coming for him. However, one of them came forward to comfort him. Telling him that Heaven was real and as beautiful as we had been taught. And the transition there through death was painless. Grandpa said he was content for the rest of his life. That person he saw was Fern!

 

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