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Thu, April 02

Obituary: Elladean Hays Bittner

Mrs. Elladean Hays Bittner

Mrs. Elladean Hays Bittner

Elladean Hays Bittner, 89, died June 10, 2008, in Anchorage surrounded by her family. She had suffered a stroke five days earlier.

Elladean, known as Ellie, was born to Roy and Hazel Hays Feb. 1, 1919, in Phoenix, Ariz., during the great flu pandemic. She often remarked on why she had no birth certificate: the hospital did not expect her to survive.

Ellie grew up on the Hays Ranch in Peeples Valley. Her ancestor, Boone Hays, Daniel Boone's grandson, drove cattle to California in 1849 and began the family ranching operations, which remain in business to this day. Ellie's father moved to Arizona in 1912 to start the Hays Cattle Company. He thought California was too crowded: "When they started raising white chickens and Jersey cows, it's time to move." As a child and young woman, she worked on the open range ranch and attended class at the one-room schoolhouse in Peeples Valley, which she successfully fought to preserve in the last years of her life. When her older sister Margaret first went to school, Ellie also packed up her things and headed across the ranch to the one room schoolhouse, only to be sent home each day, as she was too young. Ellie wouldn't take no for an answer and, after escaping home and going to school on her own several times, she was finally allowed to attend permanently.

Ellie often shared stories of riding the range around Peeples Valley, proudly laying claim to the fact that she had ridden all of the land you could see for three hundred and sixty degrees. She studied home economics at the University of Arizona, graduating in 1939. During her time at the University of Arizona, she rode with the U.S. Army Cavalry and was crowned "Aggie Queen." She was chosen to be a member of Mortar Board, a national honor society.

Ellie married William Edward Bittner on Aug. 5, 1944. Bill was born in 1917 in Anchorage and learned to fly in Alaska. With the shortage of pilots during World War II, Bill instructed Navy recruits in Holbrook, Ariz., where he met Ellie. They honeymooned in the territory of Alaska that year, traveling by Alaska Steamship to Anchorage to meet her in-laws, Catherine and Edward Bittner, and Catherine's mother, Anna Ashton, who had moved from Nome to Anchorage in 1915. There she encountered another breed of Western women - Anna, who had run the Banner Train Station outside of Nome during the gold rush, and Catherine, who won the Nome High School dog mushing race on the Bering Sea in 1914.

In 1950, Ellie and Bill moved to Anchorage with their children, Catherine, William and Judith.

Ellie worked for the Anchorage School District from 1951 to 1964, teaching home economics at Anchorage High School and later at East High School. She started a boys' cooking class and an early childhood education daycare. Ellie later attended graduate school in early childhood development at Cornell University and Oregon State University. Governor Hickel appointed Ellie to a position with the State Department of Education. In this position, Ellie traveled extensively, interviewing women in remote villages and towns around Alaska and published a study, which was a pioneer effort to identify economic opportunities for women in Alaska.

Ellie returned to ranching in the early '70s when she and Bill began splitting their time between Alaska and Arizona. She established the "Quien Sabe" Outfit, in her words a greasy sack outfit, and remained active in ranching until her death. Ellie and her Quien Sabe Outfit were featured in the "Modern Ranching Women" exhibit at the grand opening of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas in June 2002. Ellie is included in "Hard Twist," Barbara Van Cleve's book on Western ranching women.

Ellie was involved in many community organizations throughout her life including the Nature Conservancy, Peeples Valley Yarnell Historical Society and Wickenburg Cultural Organization. She served as Chairman of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum and as President of the Yavapai Cattle Growers Association, which hosted the annual Calf Sale at the Hays Ranch.

She is survived by her daughter Catherine and son-in-law Senator Ted Stevens; son William and daughter-in-law Michelle; daughter Judith Bittner; granddaughters Angie Cagle and Lily Stevens; grandsons Jonathan, Daniel, William, and Nicholas Bittner; great-grandson William Edward Cagle; sister Margaret Rigden; brother John Hays and sister-in-law Mary Hays; nieces Cynthia Rigden, Anna Mary Rigden, Janie Surgent, Becky Rovey; nephews Charles Rigden and Johnny Hays; and many other beloved great nieces, great nephews and other family members.

She is preceded in death by her husband William Edward Bittner and parents Roy and Hazel Hays.

A memorial service to celebrate the life of Elladean Hays Bittner will take place later this year in Wickenburg. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, 21 North Frontier St., Wickenburg, AZ 85390, (928) 684-2272.

Information provided by survivors.

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