LaWana Helm Whaley passed away Dec. 6 at The Village's Pearl Garden after a lengthy struggle with Alzheimer's Disease.
She entered this world on October 1, 1939 in Boise, ID born to Clarence and Arlene Allison Helm. After being educated in Boise, she entered nurse's training in Spokane WA and graduated from Sacred Heart School of Nursing in 1960.
Soon after graduation LaWana set off for San Francisco. She worked at U.C. Medical Center for six months and then she and two nursing classmates, Martha and Rosalie, boarded the American President Lines Ocean liner bound for Hawaii. They traveled in steerage with a group of Gypsies who fed and cared well for the young nurses during their five-day crossing. This memory was one of LaWana's favorites.
While in Honolulu, she was employed by the Straub Clinic in the pediatric department and Queens Medical Center.
After three years in Hawaii, LaWana returned to San Francisco where she was hired by United Airlines as a flight attendant flying between San Francisco and Hawaii. This was at a time when attendants on over-water flights had to be registered nurses and unmarried. While flying with United, she also had the opportunity to fly with Military Air Lift Command, carrying U.S. troops to and from Vietnam, an experience she treasured.
On one of her regular Hawaii flights, she met passenger U.S. Marine Corps Major Bob Whaley who was on convalescent leave from the hospital, recovering from a helicopter crash in Vietnam. He asked her to dinner and a birthday party, an invitation she declined due to airline policy. But having learned her schedule he arranged to meet her at her hotel. He presented her with a lei, and at that point she couldn't resist. They attended the Hawaiian-themed birthday party for his three-year-old Godchild, who was the daughter of his squadron mate. That event was the start of their 54-year journey together.
Bob and LaWana were married on October 5, 1968 at Mission San Juan Capistrano, California. Shortly thereafter Bob was sent on his third of three tours of Vietnam.
They were then transferred to Okinawa for three years with U.S. Forces Japan, where they were able to travel extensively throughout the Far East. LaWana was the consummate Marine wife.
From Okinawa they returned to Yuma, AZ where LaWana was a public health nurse, driving a pickup truck to do "well-baby" clinics for migrant farm families in the Yuma to Phoenix areas of Arizona. She loved caring for their little ones.
During a second stint living in Vista, CA, LaWana practiced nursing at the Tri City Hospital. Then, having attained Lieutenant Colonel status, it was finally time for Bob to retire.
In the summer of 1980, they moved back to Bob's hometown of Missoula, buying their home in the Hayes Creek area. During their first years in Missoula as Bob began a second career as an investment consultant, LaWana was very devoted to Bob's mother and beloved family matriarch, Mary "Mimi" Whaley, until her passing. For this care, the family remains deeply and forever grateful.
LaWana was head nurse for the Missoula American Red Cross Blood Center for twelve years, where she met lifelong nursing friends Margie, Barb and Nancy. She retired from the Montana State Department of Public Health and Human Services, where her responsibility was evaluating home-health facilities from Bozeman to Kalispell.
LaWana loved the outdoors — all flowers, hiking, golfing, and backpacking through the Bob Marshall and Selway Bitterroot wilderness areas. She also enjoyed yoga, hiking Blue Mountain with their dogs, and photographing adoptable pets for the Humane Society of Western Montana's website.
She was predeceased by her parents and two brothers in law, John Boros and Kel Adams. She is survived by her husband, Bob, a sister LaUna Boros of Grand Rapids, MI, sisters-in-law Sonny Adams Cooper of San Diego and Bob's sister Mary Ann Antrim, Missoula, as well as many nieces and nephews and their dog, Duke, who was a gentle companion to all Village Pearl Garden residents on his many visits.
The family extends a special thank you to the staff at the Village Pearl Garden and Partners in Home Care for their devotion to LaWana while she was in their care.
Memorials in LaWana's name may be sent to the Humane Society of Western Montana, 5930 US 93, Missoula MT 59804; Missoula Catholic Schools Foundation, 503 Edith St., Missoula MT 59801; or Partners in Home Care 2673 Palmer, Missoula MT 59808.
LaWana had a strong Catholic faith. Mass of Resurrection will take place at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Missoula on Saturday January 7th 2023, at 11am. With a vigil being held beforehand at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Missoula on Friday January 6th, 2023 at 7pm.