Devoted to her family, fiercely loyal, and beautiful through and through, Cidney Munn Brown met every life challenge with grace and good humor. After an extended illness, she died April 12, 2017, at her daughter’s home, with Robin and Nick by her side.
Cidney was born Dec. 13, 1917, in Athens, Pennsylvania, to Adelbert (Del) and Clara Bull Munn. As an infant, she moved west with her parents to homestead at Wilborn, Montana, below Stemple Pass. The Munns had followed a group of adventurous friends from Athens and soon Del, trained as a banker, learned how to handle horses and break ground. While Clara taught at the local school, Del placed Cidney on the back of an old workhorse, the only babysitter around.
Some winters the family left their cabin and its lack of electricity and running water for a rental in Helena where Del worked for Holter Hardware Store. When Cidney was ready to start school the Munns moved to town for good.
An only child, Cidney was mostly oblivious to the hardships her parents suffered as they eked out a living during the Great Depression. The only inkling came when Cidney talked her reluctant mother into buying herself a dress, which Del had them promptly return because they couldn’t afford it. Otherwise, carefree days were spent ice-skating on Hauser Lake, skiing on MacDonald Pass or at Belmont in Marysville, and dancing, dancing, dancing.
As a teen, Cidney began teaching at Walker-Bishop School of the Dance in Helena. Upon graduating from Helena High School in 1935, she spent the summer studying dance in Hollywood, California, returning to offer dance classes that fall in Townsend while teaching at Walker-Bishop. Cidney spent the summer of 1936 studying dance in New York City. While visiting relatives downstate in Elmira Heights, a trip to the store changed her life when a handsome college student, Bob Brown, bagged her groceries. The next evening, Cidney attended an Epraith League dinner at the Methodist church, and there was Bob. Dancing to “their” song, “Stardust,” at the Elmira Heights pavilion led to a seven-year, long-distance courtship that, at times, saw Bob thumbing his way from New York to visit Cidney in Montana.
While Bob focused on his studies at Syracuse University, Cidney’s reputation as a dance instructor grew. In 1937, she opened the Cidney Munn School of the Dance in Helena. She continued to offer classes in Townsend as well as Anaconda and acquired another dance school in East Helena. Cidney’s programs were lively, well staged and featured surprising elements such as tap dancing with roller skates or jump ropes.
The thriving dance school was a family enterprise: while Cidney taught all styles and levels of dance, Clara designed all of the costumes, creating patterns and providing fabric for the students’ mothers to sew. The summers of 1938, 1939, 1941 and 1942, saw Cidney continuing to study in New York City, always accompanied by Clara.
Meanwhile Cidney’s romance with Bob heated up. With the onset of World War II, Bob enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He wanted to get married but Clara objected. She didn’t want Cidney to give up her popular and successful dance school. Finally Cidney put her foot down and received her parents’ blessing. As Bob awaited the commissioning of the USS Bunker Hill in Boston, she joined him there and they were married on June 20, 1943.
When the war ended in 1945, Cidney closed her dance school and began life as a military spouse, quickly adapting to the customs and frequent moves. Daughter Carol Cidney arrived in 1946 while Bob was stationed in Oberlin, Ohio. The family soon moved to Camp Pendleton, California, where Cidney faced her first health crisis the next year, having a tumor removed from her parotid. As a follow-up to surgery, she drove 180 miles round-trip every day for six weeks to receive heavy doses of radiation at a Navy hospital. Then she got on with her life.
Duty took the family to Newark where in 1949 they welcomed a second daughter, Robin Claire, in a suburban hospital. With the outbreak of the Korean War a few years later, Bob once again left for overseas and Cidney and the girls took an apartment in Helena across the street from the Munns.
After Korea, the family continued their itinerant life, moving back and forth across the country every two or three years. Each move saw Cidney leading Brownies or Girl Scouts, taking an active role in PTA, supporting her daughters’ many activities, and always keeping the cookie jar filled with fresh, homemade cookies.
In 1960, orders to Vietnam arrived soon after Bob lost hearing in one ear because of Meniere’s Disease. Disability was no stranger to Cidney since her mother suffered from severe hearing loss. Both Cidney and Bob quickly adapted to his loss but the next year, just as Bob was due to begin service as senior Marine adviser to the Vietnamese Marine Corps, Cidney abruptly lost sight in her right eye after another tumor was removed from her sinus cavity. Relieved that the tumor was benign, Cidney never complained about her vision and soon learned Braille — just in case she lost sight in the other eye. Later, when the family moved to Missoula, Cidney used this skill to proofread books for the blind. At the time, she was the only sighted volunteer who used just her touch to proofread the many books that came her way. In 1967, the Women’s Club of Missoula recognized her for her distinguished service to the Missoula Braille Association.
In 1964, Bob retired from the Marines and the Brown family settled down in Missoula. Cidney embraced her new life here through bridge clubs and service as a deacon at First Presbyterian Church and through Meals on Wheels. With Bob, she played an active role in the Western Montana Military Officers Association. They also joined Dave and Alpha Tawney as members of the Rattled Squares, a square-dancing club.
When Bob became Missoula’s mayor in 1973, Cidney embraced her new role as an unofficial and protective, ambassador for her adopted city. In October 1974, Missoula hosted people from all over for a world affairs seminar. Smitten by the picture-perfect weather, one of the attendees told Cidney, “I’m going to send for my wife and move up here.” Cidney told him he really should think about it.
In 1977, Bob chose to not run for a second term, and he and Cidney started traveling in earnest. They began his second retirement with a four-month odyssey to the Far East, Australia and New Zealand.
Meniere’s struck again in 1980, rendering Bob completely deaf. Cidney continued her loving support, enrolling them both in sign language and using paper to write copious notes to Bob. They taught their bridge buddies simple signs, provided notepads to anyone who visited and continued to travel extensively, using bridge as a way to make new friends. Life was full as they continued their global travels and provided unconditional love, cookies, and lots of time to their growing grandchildren. These grandchildren, and later their offspring, were a never-ending source of joy.
Cidney spent many years as a loving caregiver to her parents and to Bob as he fought a lifetime of injuries and ailments. When Bob died in 2008, she sold the family home to her grandson and moved into the Village Senior Residence where she lived for 8 ½ years, moving to Robin and Nick’s home for her last three months. Since 2003, she had been fighting a persistent parotid tumor that resulted from the radiation she had endured in 1947.
The family extends special thanks to Partners Hospice and, especially, to Becky Fritts. Cidney looked forward to bath days and appreciated the professional care that Becky provided. She had a similar bond with Dominique and Nicole of Home Instead.
Preceding Cidney in death was her husband Bob, granddaughter Carilee Matchett, and son-in-law Phil Tawney.
She is survived by her daughters and sons-in-law Carol and Larry Matchett of Van Cleave, Mississippi, and Robin Tawney Nichols and William (Nick) Nichols of Missoula. Also surviving are six grandchildren, Amanda Strong, Marci McEnaney, Chris Matchett, Land Tawney, Mikal Begnoche and Whitney Tawney, and nine great-grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made to Watson Children’s Center, 2901 Fort Missoula Rd., Missoula, Montana, 59804.
A celebration of Cidney’s life will be held at 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 1, at First Presbyterian Church with Pastor Dan Cravy officiating.