The Billings Outpost

Friends recall Hurdle’s life of service, activism

By JANE WHITE - The Billings Outpost

Joan Hurdle, 81, who died here Aug. 10, devoted herself to innumerable causes pivotal to social justice in Billings, including issues relating to children and incarcerated women.

Theresa Schneder, a Billings attorney and current president of the League of Women Voters here, said she read “Every Dam Place,” Ms. Hurdle’s autobiography of nearly 500 pages when it was published in 2011.

“What struck me about her book was how honest she was,” Ms. Schneider said. “She stood up for what she believed in and she was fiercely independent. ”

Ms. Schneider and others, including friends in the Billings Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, were mourning the death of Ms. Hurdle, who had been an environmentalist, teacher, legislator and feminist who sought change for families on Billings’ South Side.

Merry Ann Peters, 55, who works at Yellowstone Public Radio, said, “She was a huge advocate for the South Side. I just got such a kick out of watching her ride her bike everywhere around town. She was one of the fiercest fighters we ever had, especially for alternative transportation in Billings. She got us involved in transportation studies, she got the LWV invited to city planning meetings, and it was a really good government exercise.”

Ms. Schneder said Ms. Hurdle made massive achievements in improving life for Montanans, including members of Native Nations on nearby reservations. In her autobiography, Ms. Hurdle wrote, “The twentieth century in America was a century of segregation and a struggle for equality. It was a struggle for minorities, for women, for the handicapped, and for everyone who was judged by those in power, to be ‘less than.’”

Mindy Nielsen, a 49-year-old postal clerk from Plentywood who has lived in Billings for 27 years, said she met Ms. Hurdle at an “info picket” at former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg’s office in 2011. Nielsen said, “I invited a lot of political people and she was the only one who came who was not a postal employee. She brought Pam Busey (Montana State Department of Labor administrator) with her to the picket.”

Nielsen said she also was engaged in issues high on Hurdle’s list. “I used to keep track of her when she was in the Montana State Legislature and I used to read all her letters to the editor,” said Ms. Nielsen.

In the epilogue to her autobiography, entitled “Words from 2050,” Ms. Hurdle wrote as if she had accomplished most of her lofty environmental and transportation  goals: “By 2025 the nations of this planet were finally able to reduce the amount of [carbon dioxide] in the air of this planet back down to 350 parts per million. Along with many worldwide significant energy saving methods, transportation has changed everywhere. Montana trains, which run along the old heavy-line right-of-way, are supplemented here in Billings, as everywhere else, by bus loops or electric train routes, running everywhere at all hours; to the colleges, education centers, hospitals, dorms, play areas, farms, greenhouses, and shopping areas.”

Merry Ann Peters recently began an initiative to purchase a bench to honor Ms. Hurdle. Call (406) 860-7879 to contribute.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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