Thursday, May 31, 2018
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Courtesy photo
Ellen Daley

Ellen Marie Louise Peterson Daley was born September 10, 1920, at her family’s homestead near Reed Point, Mont. She was the sixth of eight siblings born to Petrine and Ander Peterson, immigrants from Norway. She spent her childhood on the family farm and attended West White Beaver, a one-room country school.

She attended high school in Reed Point, Mont., riding her horse or walking the three miles to and from school each day. It is due to this rigorous youth that we have always attributed her amazing strength and vigor in her later years.

Her father died early, as did her younger sister Anna and her elder brother Burnett. Her father died in 1935, at the heart of the Great Depression and drought of the 1930s. To help the family, Ellen left home and school to work as cook and domestic at various farms and ranches.

In 1936, she went to Yellowstone Park to work as assistant to Opal Miller, a cook for C.A. Hamilton at Old Faithful. In time, she became the assistant manager at the BAC (upper store) at Old Faithful Village. It was through Hamilton that she met Edward Daley, one of Charles Hamilton’s core crew and cronies. Ed Dailey liked the beautiful young girl and served as her guardian/protector through the summers of her youth.

When the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Ellen had just moved to San Francisco, Calif., to find winter work. Fearing a Japanese attack on the West Coast, she came home to Montana. With war now a reality, Ellen went to Denver, Colo., and enrolled at Emily Griffith Opportunity School to learn the technical trade of aviation mechanics. She assembled aircraft there as part of her training.

It was there that she was singled out and photographed at her work, rivet gun in hand – we still have a copy of the picture and it is one of our most treasured possessions. Later, a military officer approached her and offered $200 (a sum that would currently have the value of about $5,000) for the picture that had been taken of her. It is our belief that she was one of the several women, who in an artist’s composite, later became “Rosie the Riveter.”

As the U.S. Navy opened its doors to women through the WAVES program, Ellen joined the Navy Air Force and was sent to Hunter College in New York City to complete training. She was then posted to various base assignments, including time spent in Norman, Okla., where she worked as a clerk in a parts depot. One of her most vivid memories from that time was that of a severe tornado that struck the base and overturned and wrecked most of the aircraft.

After the war, Ellen came back to Yellowstone and Hamilton Stores. In the winter months, when the Park was closed, she travelled south to Death Valley, Calif., where she managed the front desk of the Furnace Creek Ranch. Ed Daley went south too, as bartender at the nearby Furnace Creek Inn. He proposed to her at Zabriskie Point. On April 21, 1950, they were married in Las Vegas, Nev.

They purchased a house in West Yellowstone in the summer of 1951 and their son, Tim, was born in September 1951. Ellen catered to the summer tourist trade with nightly cabin rentals while Ed continued to work for Hamilton Stores, and between the two of them, they pieced together a livelihood in the high country. She washed the bedding by hand with a rudimentary old wringer-washer, hung the sheets, pillow cases and towels on a clothesline in the back yard, and used a mangle to iron each and every one of the linens – Ellen was a bit of a perfectionist.

Among her tenants for several summers were Dr. Thomas Brock and his team, who conducted some of the first research into the micro-organisms in Yellowstone’s thermal areas. Just as a sidelight, it was this research that yielded the discovery of the bacterium Thermus aquaticus and the associated enzyme Tag polymerase, which enables today’s many forms of DNA testing. One of her cabins doubled as not only a dwelling, but as a laboratory.

In 1987, Ellen, Ed and Tim purchased The Gusher Pizza and Sandwich Shoppe in West Yellowstone where Ellen helped with accounting, laundry, dish-washing, busing tables and hostessing. They built a busy trade before they sold the restaurant in 2000.

As a proud veteran, Ellen marched in West’s Fourth of July parade for many years, always wearing her original Navy uniform in which she will be buried.

Ellen spent her declining years tending to her yard and enjoying her grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents, siblings and husband. Survivors include her son Tim (Noelle Sullivan) of West Yellowstone; six grandchildren - Aislinn (Chris) Mast of Helena, Erin Groth of Bozeman, Melinda Daley of West Yellowstone and Brooklyn, N.Y., and Maeve, Clare and Fiona Daley of West Yellowstone. She has four great-grandchildren and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins in and around Columbus, Billings, Big Timber, Absarokee and other Montana towns.

Final services for Ellen Daley were held Tuesday, May 29, at Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church in West Yellowstone, Mont. Memorials in her name can be made to the American Legion or to the Rosie The Riveter Foundation.

Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at www.dahlcares.com.