Joan Merrill

Joan Merrill, 85, passed away August 8th, 2017 with her loving family by her side. Joan was born June 28th, 1932 in Miles City Montana to William and Freida Norton. As a young girl, Joan would be best described as a “tom boy.” She loved to climb trees and play in mud puddles. Joan was a true Montana girl.

After high school she moved to California and became a telephone operator. During her time in there she met a sailor named Paul Bradley. She and Paul set sail to the Philippians where they lived on a Navy transporter while Paul gave his time to the service. After two years they moved to Miles City and had Barbie Ann and Michael Patrick Bradley. Barbie sadly passed away at the age of five. Joan continued her work as a telephone operator which she was praised for her ability to multi task and work efficiently. Shortly after Joan and Paul parted ways. 

In 1959 Joan met and wed a handsome cowboy named Charles Russel Mclean. They had James Ronald and Scott Russel Mclean. The family lived in Miles City until 1967 when Joan and the boys parted ways with Charles and moved to Helena, MT to start a new life.

Joan was a strong, stoic and elegant woman who defied the odds of being a single mom of three boys and enrolled in college and graduated a year later with a degree to become a secretary. This was a great feat for her because she had a fear of driving so she walked to all of her classes.  As a result the boys became efficient walkers and have fond memories of helping their mom with the groceries and venturing to the Rodney Street News to enjoy a root beer float. Joan and the boys would also spend many wonderful memorable trips on the train to Miles City to visit the rest of the family. She was quickly employed by Blue Cross as a key puncher when she completed school. 

As a single parent she continued to support her family until she met the love her life Ralphe Merrill.  They married in 1973 and started their lives together in their new home in the Helena Valley. She became a stay at home mom and was the happiest any woman could have been because she loved taking care of her family. After Ralphe retired, he and Joan moved out to Eagles Bay. For many years, their home was the place to gather with family and friends where many amazing memories were created that are held dear to each one of our hearts. During her time with Ralphe she became a member of the Eagles FOE Aux 16. She took great pride in becoming the Eagles FOE state president. As president she did fundraising for Hospice and raised a copious amount donations. Due to Ralphe’s declining health, they moved into town where he passed away in 2008. In her free time she was dominating her pinochle tournaments, reading murder mystery novels and spending time with her family. She took many trips with her friends to Wendover and even ventured as far as Mexico, which she did not enjoy. Joan continued to enjoy creating memories with her three sons, their wives and her six lovely grandkids until her passing. Joan is remembered as a loving and caring woman who opened her arms to everyone who came into her life. She had a great heart and never spoke ill of anyone. 

Joan Merrill is preceded in death by her parents William and Freida Norton; her husband, Ralphe Merrill; her brother Ronald Norton; and her daughter Barbie Bradley.

Joan Merrill is survived by her siblings Jean (Art) Yeager, William (Frieda) Norton, Gary (Shari) Norton, and Sherry (John) Uden; her sons Michael (Ellen) Bradley, Jim (Sherry) Mclean and Scott Mclean; her step-children Joe (Julie) Merrill and Marsha Merrill; her grandchildren Edie Cloud, Amy Wheeler, Candice Stockburger, Mikey Bradley, Christel Riitano, Kyle Mclean, Josh Mclean and Blake Mclean; and her great-grandchild Levi Lefferts. 

Cremation has taken place under the direction of Retz Funeral Home.

A committal service will be held at 3:00 p.m., Monday, August 14th at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery Committal Shelter at Fort Harrison. A reception will immediately follow the burial at the family’s home, 1944 Wooten Rd., Helena, MT 59602. 

Please visit to offer a condolence to the family or to share a memory of Joan.