Debra Kay Waite passed on September 11, 2021, in Bozeman, Montana, after fighting cancer for more than five years. She died peacefully at home with her family by her side.
Debra was born in Helena, Montana, on March 9, 1953. After spending three months at Shodair Hospital, she was adopted by Leoti June and Johnnie Waite of Helena. She graduated from Helena High School in 1971, then received her BS in psychology from the University of Montana in 1975. Debra married John Russell of Helena in 1975, and they were later divorced. She then earned a Masters Degree in special education from Eastern Montana College, now MSU-B, in 1978.
After a whirlwind romance, Debra married her life partner, Ron Laferriere, on October 14, 1981, at Holland Lake. Ron was attending graduate school at the University of Montana, and she was teaching special education at Whittier Elementary School in Missoula. They relocated to Bozeman after Ron graduated.
Ron and Debra had three beautiful baby daughters, Jessica Leoti Laferriere, Jaclyn Simonne Laferriere, and Erica Jean Laferriere, who were all, in her words, “strong, passionate, kind, fun-loving, beautiful women.” Words really can’t describe the love she had for her family.
Debra worked in the field of special education in various positions for 30 plus years. She taught at the elementary and middle school levels, most recently at Sacajawea Middle School, and also instructed at both the University of Montana and Montana State University. Providing support for students with special needs as well as their families felt like a calling to her. Debra was proud to work alongside many inspiring colleagues, several of whom became her closest friends. Ron and Debra’s commitment to children with special needs was one of the very strong bonds they shared throughout their lives.
Debra was a woman of faith, attending Holy Rosary Parish in Bozeman. Her passions included reading, outdoor activities, and cooking. She enjoyed needle arts, especially quilting. She gifted many of her beautiful quilts to family members and loved ones, and she donated several quilts to various charities, including Quilts of Valor. She also donated her time to Family Promise and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). Debra visited Guatemala twice while Jessica was in the Peace Corps and was deeply moved by meeting the people there.
Some of her favorite times were spent at the family cabin at Seeley Lake. She loved to host friends and family and share her famous home-cooked meals and baked treats. She enjoyed all the great things Montana has to offer, including the beautiful views and wildlife. She delighted in roasting s’mores over the campfire and spending time at the beach with her loved ones. Her other passions were kayaking, hiking, and picking huckleberries.
Debra was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a rare blood cancer, in December 2016. She received excellent care at Bozeman Cancer Center under Dr. Justin Thomas. She underwent a stem cell transplant at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in May 2017, which allowed her to live in good health and almost cancer-free for two years. During that time, she traveled to Israel where she met Father Elias Chacour. She relied on her faith and truly felt that Jesus was by her side during this journey.
Debra was preceded in death by her father, Harold K. (Johnnie) Waite, her mother, Leoti June Waite, and her Aunt Velma Gene Horton. She is survived by her husband, Ron, and her three daughters, Jessica, Jaclyn, and Erica.
A Celebration of Life will be held at 1:00 P.M. on Saturday, September 18 at the Best Western GranTree Inn Madison-Lewis-Clark Room. Parking and access are available from the west side of the building.
In lieu of flowers, please consider contributing to one of the following charities in her memory: Family Promise of Gallatin Valley, MAIA Impact, and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service.