Maureen Jane Kirchhoff, 69, died on January 1, 2022, at the Springs of Bozeman from complications stemming from her battle with early on-set dementia.
Maureen was born on March 3, 1952, in Southbridge, Massachusetts, to Therese and William McBrien, the first of three children. The family moved to Pennsylvania and then four years later to rural (at the time) Norfolk, Massachusetts, seventeen miles southwest of Boston. Maureen grew up playing in the woods behind her house or at her friend, Jeanette’s farm just down the road. She attended the local grade schools and graduated from King Phillip High School in 1969 at the age of 17. The family, which by this time included her two younger brothers, Michael and Liam, enjoyed summer visits to the beach at Buzzards Bay. Eventually, they purchased a small cottage near Mattapoisett which became the focal point of their lives in the summer.
After high school, Maureen attended the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She majored in Earth Science with a geology emphasis but also took courses in education. She went into a science field partly because a high school counselor discouraged her by telling her he did not think she was suited for the sciences, and she took that as a challenge! She was able to spend a memorable semester in Hawaii on an exchange program where she got to study volcanology while observing the island’s live volcanoes. It also didn’t hurt that with baby boomers overflowing the campus, she was housed a block off Waikiki beach—she never had a better tan in her life! Maureen made many dear friends while at UM as a member of the Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority, and while living in the dorms. It was at UM that she met Patricia Packard who would remain her close friend for the next 50 years.
After graduation in 1973, Maureen secured a job teaching ninth-grade science at Pollard Junior High School in Needham, MA for one year. The following year she landed a similar position at Dover Sherborn Regional High School in Dover, Massachusetts. There she taught ninth-grade earth science, twelfth-grade classes in meteorology/oceanography, and was a class advisor.
Maureen loved to travel. While teaching she had the opportunity to chaperone a student group to France to go skiing, and in subsequent summers she visited Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Spain, and Portugal. Her most memorable visit was to the Dordogne region of southern France where her geology field group was given special permission to tour the Lascaux caves which had been closed to public visitation since the early 1960s. She became fascinated with paleolithic art, a passion she was later to indulge while living in central Utah amidst the rock art of the Anasazi people.
To advance her teaching career she attended Wesleyan University and earned a master’s degree in Earth Science / Coastal Studies in 1980. Part of her thesis involved assessment of the geology of the Connecticut River. She participated in a summer canoe trip from the river’s headwaters, the ocean, one of her most memorable field experiences.
Seeking to broaden her horizon, Maureen left teaching in 1981 and took a job with the USDA Forest Service as a geological technician with the Manti La Sal NF in Price, Utah. While there she mapped geologic faults, dealt with NEPA regulations, and interacted with the coal mining interests who had several major mines under the forest. She got to go underground to see the mining operation up close—one of several mine visits she would make over the years.
In 1982 she met her husband to be, Bill Kirchhoff, who was working as a summer temporary employee in the Forest. Thus began a 40-year relationship that stretched the concept of a dual-career couple about as far as anyone in their right mind would want to take it. Looking for advancement she took a position as a Geotech specialist on the Mt. Hood NF in Gresham, Oregon and Bill went back to finish school in Missoula. Over the next few years, she worked in the field mapping landslide potential, but eventually, she entered a District Ranger candidacy program and served stints as a resource officer on the Zig Zag RD and as a Timber Management Assistant on the Clackamas RD. Halfway through this stint Bill moved to Gresham and became a temporary employee of the Mt. Hood NF. A year-and-a-half later Bill entered graduate school in Southern California and the relationship went back to increasing the profit margin of Ma Bell. Once Bill concluded his master’s degree he returned to Gresham. Together again—for a while. As luck would have it Bill subsequently landed a permanent position with the Forest Service as a biological laboratory technician, in Durham, NH. Operator, please connect me with… In 1989 Maureen moved on to become the Land Management Planner’s Assistant on the Targhee NF in St. Anthony, Idaho. Maureen’s persuasive abilities shown through when she was able to convince the Targhee they could use the services of bio lab tech as the forest’s new geographic information specialist. So, Bill jumped in his truck and after four days on the road, they were together again in St. Anthony. When the Forest’s Land Management Planning Officer abruptly retired the next year, Maureen was elevated to the Planner position with only a year’s worth of experience under her belt. The Forest was just entering its plan revision and for the next three-and-a-half years she led the forest team in that effort. Not knowing how long they would be in the same locale, but with no significant moves yet to appear on the horizon they decided it was time to tie the knot and in 1990 they were married. But opportunity came knocking again just three years later. In the fall of 1993, Maureen was offered a position in Legislative Affairs in the national headquarters in Washington, DC. It was déjà vu all over again and off she went to the nation’s capital while Bill stayed behind and lobbied for a job in the Washington Office. For the first year she underwent extensive training in governmental operations through the American Political Science Legislative Fellowship Program. Once she completed her training, she was tasked to work for a member of Congress for that year’s legislative session. She was lucky enough to land a position with Senator Thomas Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate Majority Leader. The following year she moved back to the Forest Service as a legislative aide where she was tasked with preparing testimony for Forest Service headquarters staff when they testified in front of Congress. About this time Bill was able to land a six-week detail to the WO, which eventually became an indefinite detail working with a planning group in GIS. Back to being a couple. But the roller coaster was not over quite yet. In 1997 Maureen moved to her final appointment in the Forest Service as Deputy Director of Recreation, Minerals, Lands, Wilderness and Heritage Resources for the Northern Region in Missoula, Montana. Within a year Bill moved to Missoula as a joint WO, Region 4 virtual employee. They bought a house and put down roots—of course Bill did wind up in Sandy, Utah for one year and Rutland, Vermont for another, but then that was it, enough, done, back to Missoula for good. Maureen went on to serve as the Deputy Director until 2015 when she finally retired after 34 years of federal service.
Maureen loved her work. Even though she spent far more time in the Forest Service, she never really left teaching. She loved to plan a presentation, facilitate a meeting, or help a fellow employee / staff member complete a project. She also loved the wide range of issues her staff dealt with—it certainly kept her busy. Having a great staff to work with was something she was always grateful for as well.
Maureen was a very gracious and caring person. She always felt it was her responsibility to help rather than criticize. At the same time, she was extremely competitive. She used to bemoan the fact that there were so few sports for girls in school when she was growing up. As if climbing the sandstone mesas in Utah or the scree slopes of Mt. Hood were not enough, she kept in shape by running. Not the fastest in the group, but tireless, she ran with friends in Oregon’s Hood to Coast race—a relay from Timberline lodge to the Oregon coast. It was in Oregon where she was first introduced to soccer. She joined a team in Gresham in the mid 80’s and subsequently played on teams in Idaho Falls, Washington DC, and Missoula. Her time spent with the Mudpuppies team in Missoula was especially important to her. She made many wonderful friends through the group. She also enjoyed riding her bicycle and eventually she and Bill got into kayaking and spent many wonderful hours at Lake Alva in the Seeley-Swan drainage.
Maureen had several hobbies. She learned to knit and sew from her mother. She enjoyed spending time with groups formed for these pursuits. Maureen also had a strong interest in the arts. She took drawing classes at the Missoula Art Museum and spent a great deal of her free time drawing and painting. She became quite accomplished with pastel crayons and produced beautiful landscape drawings.
Bill and Maureen had no children, but Maureen loved working with them particularly when she could teach them a skill or a craft. She volunteered her time with Big Brothers and Sisters.
She was a long-time member of the Blessed Trinity Parish in Missoula. She deeply appreciated being accepted into the community.
Unfortunately, after dealing with both her mother and father succumbing to dementia, Maureen was afflicted with frontal-temporal dementia herself in 2015. She did her best to stay active and engaged. During these years Maureen loved to attend basketball games and music presentations at the University of Montana. Eventually, though, the disease took its toll and after several years at home, Maureen moved into the memory care unit at the Springs of Bozeman.
I want to thank the caregivers at Home Instead Missoula and the Springs of Bozeman for the wonderful care they provided for Maureen over the last six years of her life.
Maureen was preceded in death by her mother and father. She is survived by her loving husband, Bill Kirchhoff; siblings, Michael McBrien and Liam McBrien, in Massachusetts; and her nephew, Patrick McBrien, in Oregon.
Should you wish to make memorials to Maureen, please donate to Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Missoula Art Museum.
My love is like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my love is like the melody,
That’s sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I;
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’s the seas gang dry.
Till all the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt with the sun;
And I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands of life shall run.
Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service. www.dokkennelson.com [dokkennelson.com]