It is with deep sorrow that we announce the passing of Vernon Roy Durham — beloved son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin and social butterfly — in the early morning hours of Dec. 26, 2020. As a family friend observed, “he is now a true Christmas angel.”
Vernie was born in Helena on March 6, 1954, to Roy and Jean Durham. He joined two loving sisters, Valerie and Cheri, and, two years later, was joined by sister Betty Jo.
When he was 18 months old, Vernie contracted an illness that changed his life and the lives of his family forever. Despite being left with severe disabilities, he grew in personality and heart, endearing himself to those around him. He had a mischievous sense of humor and loved teasing his sisters, pulling their hair or pinching them. He had an infectious grin that tickled the hearts of those nearby. His joy was his loved ones’ joy.
For several years, Vernie was a resident at the Boulder River School and Hospital. On weekends, his family would pick him up and take him on picnics, campouts and the occasional warm dip at the Diamond S hot springs. He also came home for weekends and holidays. He delighted in Christmas, listening to carols and opening his presents. He also loved being the Birthday Boy and blushed when family and friends sang “Happy Birthday.”
In the mid-’70s Vernie came back to live in Helena, then in the ’80s moved with his parents to Fruit Heights, Utah. There, he attended a school for the disabled, where he loved the social interaction and enrichment activities. That love for activity and friendship continued after he moved with his parents to Spokane in the mid-to late ’90s. He especially enjoyed family time with his parents and grew close to his sister Cheri and brother-in-law Tom. In Spokane, he enjoyed his physical therapy sessions, which included swimming, and DJ-hosted dances at a local recreation center where he rocked out to “YMCA.”
Vernie moved with his parents to Billings a few years later, and, after several months, came back to the Helena area, where he lived with his sister Valerie and brother-in-law Kenny for three years. Under his sister’s loving and vigilant care, Vernie’s health flourished and he thrived. He particularly loved her homemade muffins, which she continued to make for him after he moved into the Kathy Group Home in Billings.
Vernie was very close to his mother. After her passing in 2016, he became especially close to his father who visited him every day, at the Billings Training Industries East (BTI-E) day program or the Kathy Group Home. Vernie and his dad were well-known for their close relationship and outgoing conviviality.
Vernie was preceded in death by his mother, Jean Durham; two aunts and two uncles. He is lovingly remembered by his father, Roy; sisters Valerie (KP) Palmer of East Helena, Cheri (Tom) Schwin of Red Lodge and Betty Jo (John) Harris of Laramie, Wyoming. Survivors also include his aunt Betty Davis of Billings, uncle William (Myr) Hakes of Sunnyvale, California; and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.
Michelotti -Sawyers Mortuary is handling arrangements and a celebration of Vernie’s life will take place at a later date.