Beloved and beautiful mother, the family matriarch, wife, sister, dear friend, grammy to many, role model, leader, mentor, and kind and compassionate soul, Barbara M. Koepke (Kurimsky/Smail), 80, of Huson, Montana, passed away Saturday, December 12, 2020, with her saddlebags packed ready for her final ride on The Last Trail. Barbara spent her final months joyfully reflecting on her extraordinary life, full of love and laughter reminiscing with family and friends. A true coal miner’s daughter and Pittsburgh Steelers fan, she was born in Newfield, PA. Shortly after graduating from Plum High School, her high IQ, determination, and strong work ethic helped her secure a career in the Seismic, Gravity, and Magnetic R&D Divisions at Gulf Research and Development Company. She married her high school sweetheart, Art Smail, moved to CA, then to NM, finally making a permanent home for their family in Las Vegas in 1972. It is here where she obtained her degree in Drafting Technology and established Barabbi Enterprises, her freelance drafting business. Cancer took Art at an early age with mom at his bedside and she devoted her future to raising her daughters in the role of both mother and father cultivating their dreams and bringing them joy with her unconditional love.
She met her best friend and soul mate, Jim Koepke, at a church function and remarried in 1987. An outdoor enthusiast, avid horseman, animal lover, licensed student pilot, with a sharp talent for art and architecture, it was always Barbara’s dream to move to the mountains in Montana and that dream became a reality when she and Jim established Barabbi Ranch in Huson, MT, in May of 2001. Throughout her life, she was incredibly gifted in so many areas and accomplished so much including helping to design and customize the dream homes for many area residents in both Nevada and Montana. She was very active in the development and design of the regional trails system and her ‘voice’ was sought after to announce the major horse shows in Las Vegas for a career spanning over 14 years. She was heavily involved in 4-H, dog obedience training, veterinary science, while mentoring the next generation of leaders and being called “mom” by so many. She was not only a Woman Warrior raised to protect us, she was a Wisdom Warrior, and so many young women looked up to her for her guidance, courage, strength, authenticity, and integrity, especially her daughters. A woman of undeniable faith brimming with spirit, loyalty, and inspiration, she was an active member of the Catholic church always volunteering her time (most recently at St. Albert’s and St. John the Baptist) and drawing people closer to Jesus just by living a purpose-driven life. Barbara’s primary passions were her Faith, Family, Friends, Foals, and Fillies. Her continued love for horses and trail riding led her to become a proud member of Montana’s Back Country Horseman Association. Jim never got to see mom through her first battle with cancer as he died on the day of her second chemo treatment in 2005 yet his spirit continued to live through her. The memory of our brave Barbara now forever lives on through her two loving daughters, son-in-law, sister, brother, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and their children, her horse Toby, four-legged grandchildren, and a host of so many close friends and neighbors who all were considered part of her extended family.
As our bold and beautiful mom would say, she wanted to ‘live’ until the day she died. Private services will be held and a special mass will be offered. In lieu of sending flowers and cards to the family, before Barb passed she said with her ever-infectious smile, “I would like for people to pay it forward with a genuine smile, kindness in your heart, do not be afraid, and to sit tall in the saddle always remembering to enjoy the ride.” Mom, your love lifted us up higher and higher into the sky until we had to let go of your hand as you continued to soar towards the healing light. You taught us everything we know except how to live without you. Thank you for making this world a better place, the precious and meaningful life you led and created for your family, and the many lives you impacted. Until we can feel your loving arms around us again, your legacy will live on as we follow in your footsteps…working hard, doing our duty, and leaving the rest to God. Long may you soar with the eagles and horses high on a ridge in a race with the wind, Mama Bear. Peace be with you