Billingsley, Barbara Ellen (Prager) (September 18, 1948 - April 9, 2015)

Barbara Ellen (Prager)

Billingsley 1948-2015

Douglas Budget - April 15, 2015

Barbara Ellen (Prager) Billingsley passed away Thursday, April 9, 2015, at Memorial Hospital of Converse County in Douglas, Wyoming, at the age of 66.

Funeral services were held Monday, April 13, 2015, with Pastor Donnie Holt officiating at First United Methodist Church in Douglas, Wyoming. The eulogy was offered by Larry Prager, Dr. Kent Sundell and Jason Muhr. Interment followed in Douglas Park Cemetery.

Barbara, daughter of Lawrence McFarlane and Sibyl June (Bruner) Prager, was born September 18, 1948, in Douglas, Wyoming. The Blizzard of '49 was spent in her Grandmother Mandy (McFarlane) Prager's one-room homestead cabin at the Prager Ranch, 50 miles from the nearest town. A tarp was hung over the cabin's thin door, trying to capture what little warmth the sheepherder's stove provided. Water carried from the spring froze in the bucket each morning: if the baby's mitten came off during the night, her hand would turn blue.

In February 1950, the family moved a few yards down the hill into the newly renovated Comly house. Siblings Rita, Larry and Norman soon joined the household.

Barb probably learned to dance before she could walk; her parents' banjo/accordion or piano music rocked her to sleep many nights. In fact, she never planned on learning to play, so she could always dance! Her early performances included school programs, folk singing and two years in the Wyoming All-State High School Chorus. When Douglas' radio station began, Barbara, her siblings and her father came to town to sing on the talent show, as well as on Casper's KTWO-TV Barn Dance. She played bassoon and bass drum in her high school band. She was a third-generation country-dance musician, featured on keyboards, bass, rhythm and lead guitars and vocals in numerous bands. She also played for numerous weddings, funerals and church services.

The year 1954 brought lots of firsts in Barb's life. Electricity came to the ranch, and with it, new appliances and television. Barb never liked TV much. Instead, she would compose newsletters to her cousin, Carol Kilpatrick, about current ranch happenings. In 1954, the homestead cabin became the new Prager School, and a local girl, Laura Lee Bell, became Barb's first teacher. She would stay with the family during the week then ride horseback 10 miles to her family's ranch on weekends when weather allowed. Later, Evelyn Sands also stayed at the house while teaching. It's hard to get out of doing homework when your teacher lives with you.

After Dave Thomas McFarlane, Lawrence's uncle, purchased a neighboring ranch, his hired-hand's wife, Mildred Bennett, would drive to the Prager ranch to teach. When the snow was too deep for her Jeep, Lawrence used the snow tractor to take the kids to the teacher's home on Monday mornings, then repeat the six-mile trip each Friday, bringing them home for the weekend.

One day, Barb's uncle, Bob Sturgeon, dropped off some bum lambs and Barb's lifelong love of sheep was born. Each Prager child had a pet lamb that would follow its owner. You could tell which child was in the outhouse by which lamb was waiting outside. Barb showed registered Corriedale sheep in 4-H. She later became a member of the Wyoming Wool Growers and Wyoming and American Corriedale Sheep Associations.

In 1962, Barbara stayed with friends in Douglas to attend high school, while the rest of the family remained at the ranch. She graduated in 1966. That same year, Lawrence and Sibyl purchased the Side Hill place near Douglas so Sibyl could oversee the youngest three children's educations.

Barbara studied bookkeeping at Colorado State College in Greeley. She started dating Johnny Dean Cundall and her attention was split between boyfriend and studies. Seeing this, Sibyl asked Barb if she was serious about college or if she would rather help Lawrence feed hunters.

After one semester, Barbara returned home and on September 10, 1967, she married Dean at the Methodist Church in Douglas. For a few years, their home was at the 14 Ranch on Horseshoe Creek where Dean was employed. Dean was allowed to have his own cows, but when they inquired about Barb's sheep, Clark Fritz hesitated. They left the 14 Ranch to work on the Gene Hardy Ranch, where they could have both sheep and cattle. One day, Barbara and Dean visited Clark and Gertrude Fritz. A pleasant return to the 14 Ranch - with both their cattle and sheep - was the happy result. Barb was also an active member of the John Prince American Legion Auxiliary in Glendo and helped with branding meals up and down Horseshoe.

During this time, Barbara supplemented their income by decorating cakes and playing music. One of the places Barbara played was Hubbard's Cupboard with her father and Cliff Hubbard. This dance hall, with its warm glow of happy days gone by, sits on Cottonwood Creek, the very creek where, in 1876, Barbara's Great-Grandfather, Frank Prager, Sr., survived a skirmish with 87 Indians.

Often Barb was hired to deliver multi-tiered wedding cakes and to play music or sing at Esterbrook, a few miles of rough, dirt road away from the 14 Ranch. On one of her busiest days, she delivered three cakes, played for two weddings, and then finished the night playing for a dance at the lodge.

Their adopted son, Gary Dean, was born June 11, 1974; three days later, they drove to Laramie to bring him home. Even though Barbara was raised around history, her passion ignited when she read the Platte County Heritage Book to Dean when he would come in for lunch.

In 1982, Barbara and Gary moved to the Side Hill place when she and Dean divorced. She again provided support by decorating cakes and playing music. Because Gary really wanted to continue school in Glendo, she bought a trailer there and worked at Howard's General Store. The late hours made it difficult to see Gary, so she became Glendo's Town Clerk. She also became a 4-H leader when Gary was old enough to join.

In 1985, Barbara went to the first High Plains Old Time Country Music Festival. While there, LaVern Gene Billingsley noticed her playing her white bass guitar. Noticing her last name, Cundall, he introduced himself and asked is she was related to his boss, Leroy Cundall. She said that was her ex-husband's cousin and then introduced him to her father. Vern wondered if he heard the "ex-husband" part correctly.

The following year he wanted to find out. He reintroduced himself and asked her to dance. She was judging the dance contest, so she couldn't right then, but Vern wasn't swayed. Leaving briefly to play music, upon his return his patience was rewarded with a dance. They felt like they had been dancing for years. Maybe it was because both of their fathers were away playing for dances the night they were born, or that they each went with their families to every dance in their respective communities, or maybe Vern just knew some magic steps. Whatever it was, it worked. November 1, 1986, they married in the Community Church at Glendo, the same building Barb's grandparents, Ferris Bruce and Mary Kathryn (Dunn) Bruner, were married in 1919 when it was the Methodist Church in Douglas. Barb loved her many step-children, step-grandchildren, and step-great-grandchildren.

Barb and Gary, along with their trailer, moved to Bayard, Nebraska, to be with Vern and his daughter, Hope. The first of many carpentering tasks began, with Barbara and Vern adding a bedroom onto the trailer from a salvaged trailer.

In 1987, after Lawrence suffered a mild stroke resulting in partial blindness, Barb returned with her family to assist on the Prager Ranch. The trailer and the salvaged bedroom were separated and moved from Bayard and reassembled at the Side Hill place.

Barbara and Vern never sat idle. They widened the trailer, placed it on a foundation with a large two-car garage, added a deck out back and a porch and sun room in front, creating what Barb called their little "Mansion on the Hill," surrounded by trees and plants from the Prager and 14 Ranches.

In 1989, it was announced that the High Plains Old Time Country Music Festival would be canceled because it was losing money. Sibyl told Barb and Vern they should run it. Barb and Vern said they didn't know the first thing about running a festival. Sibyl replied, "You can learn." They went to the Chamber of Commerce and announced their intentions. When asked how they though they could make it profitable, Barb replied, "We're rancher. We live within our means." With that, they became successful co-chairmen from 1989 until 2002. Only once did it run into the red - by about $200 - which was covered by previous years' profits. They continued on the advisory committee until 2014 and were affiliated with the festival all of its 30 years.

In 1998, Barb and Vern purchased the Sudsy Duds Laundromat in Douglas, which they operated until 2009. Vern continued working there for a few years and Bard did its bookkeeping until April 2015.

Barbara loved history. She and Gary worked together to organize several historical tours starting in 2000. She enjoyed these treks and the many people that she was able to share them with.

She also loved to decorate for Christmas and in 2014, she had six decorated Christmas trees and Christmas village dioramas, snowmen, angels, teddy bears, and sheep throughout the house.

In November 1993, Gary found his biological parents, John and Mary (Higgins) Murphy. They married after relinquishing Gary April 8, 2015, they picked Gary up at the airport and drove up to meet Barbara in the hospital for a final time.

She was preceded in death by her parents Lawrence and Sibyl; step-son Jim Billingsley; and step-son-in-law Bob Muhr. Survivors were her husband of 28 years, Vern Billingsley, of Douglas; son, Gary Cundall, of Washington, D.C.; step-daughters, Debbie (Rod) Heerton of Springview, Nebraska, Brenda Muhr of Mitchell, Nebraska, Melody (Todd) Kaufman of Holdredge, Nebraska, Katie (Sean) Reece of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Hope Billingsley of Gillette, Wyoming; step-son, Robert (Sarah) Billingsley, of Bristol, Connecticut; step-daughter-in-law, Brenda Billingslty, of Scottsbluff, Nebraska; sister, Rita Prager, of Douglas; and brothers, Larry (Karen) Prager of Belle Fourche, South Dakota, and Norman (Edwina) Prager of Douglas. In addition, she is survived by numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, step-grandchildren and step-great-grandchildren.

Pallbearers were Bill Bruner, Jim Bruner, Chad Miller, Jason Muhr, Jeffrey Prager and Ryan Prager. Honorary pallbearers were Jim Atkinson, Philip Bruner, Tom Bruner, Bruce Fowler, Roy Kilpatrick, William Sturgeon and her neighbors and friends.

In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully asks that memorials be sent to the Town of Glendo, Glendo Ambulance Fund, P.O. Box 396, Glendo, Wyoming 82213; the Converse County Memorial Hospital Foundation, Travel Fund, 111 South Fifth Street, Douglas, Wyoming 82633; or Wyoming Foundation for Cancer Care, 6501 East Second Street, Casper, Wyoming 82609.

The Gorman Funeral Homes - Converse Chapel of Douglas was in charge of the arrangements.

Condolences may be sent to the family at www.gormanfh.com.

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