Eunice Berry, a rancher and homemaker, with the strength and backbone of her family, peacefully escaped the confines of the world on April 7, 2022, at the age of 84. A beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, Eunice was the bedrock of a large family that grieves her loss but celebrates her life, memory, and release from the constraints of body and mind that held her captive in her later years. Eunice joins her husband Russell in eternity's embrace, just more than eight months after his death. Family, strength, resolve, hard work, and kindness -- are the words that most completely describe the remarkable woman Eunice was throughout her life.
Eunice Emmeline Atwood was born on January 22, 1938, into a large hardscrabble farming family in Fremont County. She was the sixth child born to Harry and Margaret (Gilbert) Atwood, a family that subsequently grew into a neat "baker's dozen" of 13 children. The descendants of that family are now measured in the hundreds. She knew family, hardship, and hard work from the earliest age, growing up near Penrose and Florence in the aftermath of the Great Depression and through the challenges of the Second World War.
She graduated from Florence High School in 1955. That year, she met Russell Berry, the oldest son of a Hillside ranching family, at a dance in Westcliffe, and the rest of their lives were marked by love and companionship that stretched nearly 66 years until his death in 2021. They were married on August 20, 1955, in Canon City, and raised three children on the family ranch in Hillside, with purpose, to instill independence, strength, and character: Rhonda (Gary) Patterson, born in 1957, Rita (Scott) Wilson, in 1964, and Randy (Pravesh Singh) Berry in 1965. Eunice's entire life was shaped by devotion to her family -- both the one she grew up in and the one she raised. She was a proud grandmother of six: Steve Patterson, Sherri Tafoya, Kim Coulter, Jessica Ingo, Arya Berry-Singh, and Xander Berry-Singh, and great-grandmother of seven. As she saw the signs of Spring for the final time this year in Hillside, she was surrounded by them on the family ranch.
Eunice was a strong and independent woman. Prior to marriage, she moved briefly to Colorado Springs and began an office job. One of her cherished possessions was a slightly racy leather jacket with tassels and longhorn skulls that she reportedly bought with her first paycheck, wore while she was dating Russell, and kept in her closet to make occasional special appearances as life progressed. Eunice immediately established her lifelong role as the foundation of her family, always working for the family in multiple, simultaneous ways. Nobody in the family remembers her ever sitting down to take a rest -- she lived in perpetual motion. As a homemaker, she not only ensured her kids were fed, reasonably clean, and doing their homework, but was also the business mind behind the family's ranching enterprise, though she allowed Russell to think he was in charge most of the time. A model working woman, she handled kids, taxes, meals, receipts, and gardens while also working full time alongside Russell in the fields. Eunice wasn't just a rancher's wife; she was a rancher. The famous saying goes that the great Ginger Rogers could do anything Fred Astaire could do, just backwards and in high heels. Eunice did that, backwards and in irrigation boots. She worked alongside Russell as an equal in every way, but with the added responsibilities of keeping the family home running and meals on the table.
Behind "Eunice's chair" in her living room in Hillside, there is a humorous sign on a shelf, a gift from long ago, that reads "behind every successful rancher is a wife who works in town." That was also part of Eunice's truth. With kids nearly grown, she began a career in addition to the ranch in the early 1980s -- first as the head cook with Custer County Schools in Westcliffe, and later in a nearly 17-year long career, as a program assistant at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency in Canon City. She excelled in those roles and took great pride in her work. And, of course, she continued to be the "chief cook and bottle washer" at home, as she would say. Driven by a commitment to family and the strongest of work ethics borne from her earliest days, Eunice was just as at ease on a tractor, pulling a calf, cooking for the large gatherings of family at branding or picnic time, or treating childhood boo-boos as she was in an office, or maintaining cattle and billing records. With a reluctant and whining bunch of kids in tow, she often trooped them off to the fields during early summer, amid irrigation, spring planting, and haying, to dig earthworms to sell at the Texas Creek store. Or fix fences. Or roll flat bales. Or split wood. Or pick sticks. Or weed the garden. She did it all.
Eunice also found time to devote to activities she loved. Her home was never without a sprawling garden and a wealth of flowers in every spare pot, old water tank, or used tractor tire. Quilting and embroidery projects large and small always surrounded her chair. No visitor to the house ever left hungry, even though her preference for cooking was to always be outdoors, with her husband and family in the fields. Her example and influence were intended to, and did, produce the same work ethic and responsibility in her children, and sometimes it was pretty direct. One of her favorite directions to family was to "go outside and get the stink blowed off you," if she thought someone needed to get busy, and nobody disobeyed that direction. Even Russell. Especially Russell. She always had a project in process: raising milk cows, chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep, and a host of other animals, making decoupage, or constructing rock planters for her flowers. Her often-sulking children were sometimes instructed to be more productive, being handed a ball jar to shake to make homemade butter while watching TV, for example. Multitasking at its best. She was devoted to her family and attended every school play, volleyball and basketball game, Halloween carnival, cake walk, and pumpkin-decorating contest on the schedule, and did so with great pride.
Eunice enjoyed a full and happy hard-working life -- just the way she intended. She and Russell loved to gamble from time to time, with a few trips to Las Vegas over the years, but more frequently, Bingo nights in Canon City and trips to Cripple Creek to visit the casinos and take in wild-west melodramas. Along with Russell, she had a lifelong love of country music -- right from their 'dating' days until late in life. She loved to hike the trails and lakes of the Sangre de Cristo Range, the dramatic backdrop to her whole life on the ranch. And her companionship with Russell, measured since she was 17, was the defining relationship and commitment of her long existence.
Her family is devastated by her passing, but ever thankful that her light, heart, and love touched their lives, and that she is free again. Her long twilight was lived increasingly in the shadow of the limitations of mind inflicted by her battle with Alzheimer's Disease. It never defined her life, but over time, it stole her most precious memories from her, and her from her family. But it never defeated her independence and strength. Up to the end, she was tough, independent, and kind, even on the most difficult of days. She relied heavily on her family in later life, as did Russell, particularly depending upon her daughters, Rhonda and Rita, for the loving and enduring care and support that stretched over many years. Perhaps the only silver lining of her struggle with Alzheimer’s was that mercifully, it prevented her from having to live in a world without Russell. Though he passed eight months ahead of her, on July 15, 2021, Eunice was never aware of his death and continued to refer to him in the present, right up to the day she died. He must be out in the field, she'd say. So, in a way, neither Russell nor Eunice lived a day since they met, in 1955, without each other.
John Muir, the conservationist, once wrote simply: "the mountains are calling, and I must go." Eunice is so deeply missed by her family, they are heartened to know that she is whole and free once again, the spirited young woman of strength who wore a sassy leather jacket, loved her family and the outdoors, worked the fields and the cattle, and lived a truly honest, authentic, independent life. We know the mountains are calling her, as they did Russell, and they are out there now, eternally, walking the trails, woods, fields, and streams, side by side again.
After a lifetime together, Russell and Eunice had told their children to wait to hold a memorial service until they were together again and to use it to celebrate their lives, not mourn their deaths. A joint service to remember and rejoice in their lives will be held on Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Custer County; details will be shared at a later time.
For those wishing to honor Eunice's memory, and the lives of millions of others similarly affected, the family requests donations to the Mayo Clinic's Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research in Rochester, Minnesota.
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