Mary-Alice Downing, 92, of Miller, S.D., died Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012 at the Good Samaritan Society, Miller.
Funeral services were held Friday, Aug. 17, at the First United Methodist Church, Miller with Pastor Mark Johnsen officiating. Burial followed in G.A.R. Cemetery, Miller.
Mary-Alice was born October 16, 1919 to Ralph and Edith Belle (Leadbetter) Speirs on the “Prairie Home” farm located near Ree Heights, which was owned by Ralph’s parents, John and Mary Speirs. Mary-Alice attended grade school in Ree Heights and St. Lawrence. In 1938, she graduated from Miller High School. Upon her graduation, she attended Methodist Hospital Nursing Program in Mitchell. “World War II came along and changed all sorts of plans.” After completing two years of training, Mary-Alice eloped on August 24 1940, and married Donald Everett Downing in Aberdeen, S.D.
Mary-Alice and Donald farmed near Orient and later purchased land in Holden Township north of St. Lawrence. As a farm wife she loved to bake. Her fresh cinnamon rolls were a favorite after-school snack for her children. Her baking and decorating skills turned into a business, making specialty cakes for Hand County residents. Mary-Alice often gave the wedding cake as a gift to her nieces and nephews.
Mary-Alice had a passion for making pretty clothes. It was evident when she sewed for her five children, who wore many outfits lovingly sewed by their mother. When one visited Mrs. Downing’s Barbie Doll Clothing Shop, her passion for pretty dresses was evident. The pretty petite clothes brought joy to many area children who purchased the clothing for as little as a quarter. The shop burned down just before Christmas of 1966.
In 1967, Mary-Alice and Donald purchased the Laundromat in Miller. The Laundromat brought about another opportunity to learn and grow. Mary-Alice began repairing sewing machines and mending, as well as helping make repairs to the washers, dryers and water softeners. As a part of the business, she began picking up dirty laundry and later delivering baskets of freshly laundered clothing for residents in Miller–especially shut-ins.
Mary-Alice continued her enterprising ways and began purchasing one- and two-bedroom houses in Miller. She would fix them up, furnish the houses, and turn them into houses for those who needed them. In 1994, she sold the Laundromat, began selling the homes and apartment buildings she acquired over the years and “retired.”
Mary-Alice enjoyed playing cards and dancing at the Miller Senior Center. She will be remembered as a kind and loving woman who enjoyed spending time with her children and grandchildren, and as well as a pioneering business woman.
She is survived by her five children, Mary (Donald) Hague of Box Elder, Jean (Harlan) Gortmaker of St. Lawrence, Terry (Jean) Downing of Redfield, Glenda (Robert) Blom of Madison and Joey (Erlinda) Downing of the Philippines; 20 grandchildren; 31 great-grandchildren; three great-great-grandchildren; three sisters, Blanche McClellon of Pennsylvania, Dorothy (Leonard) Fawcett of Ree Heights, and Harriet Kopplin of Miller; and two brothers, Willis (Audrey) Speirs of New Jersey and Keith Speirs of Miller.
She was preceded in death by her parents; husband, Donald in 1990; three children, Fred Ralph and twins, Donald and Donna; four brothers, Waldo, Leonard “Lefty,” Glen and Kenneth; two sisters: Delila and Florence; and one granddaughter, Angel.
Reck Funeral Home of Miller has been entrusted with Mary-Alice’s arrangements. Visit www.familyfuneralhome.net.