Any longtime regular at the Old Mill Bar and Grill knows about “Bitch Fridays.”
A group of women, mostly over the age of 50, have been meeting under a sign reading “Bitch Boulevard” at the Millwood dive for years to gossip, complain, laugh, dance and drink. Aspiring members had to be funny or mean enough to impress members to join the elite club.
The weekly tradition all started when Kathie Bross approached Lori Stewart-Koelling at the bar about 15 years ago. Koelling said she “had a bit of a reputation back in the day.”
Bross asked Koelling, point-blank, if she ever had relations with her husband.
No, he was one of the only two men in Millwood she hadn’t, Koelling replied, not batting an eyelash as she retold the story during an interview.
The two hit it off from there, calling themselves “the bitches” and slowly welcoming other friends into their weekly get-togethers at the Old Mill, where Bross tended bar for a number of years.
Sassy and proud, Bross was the self-proclaimed “Queen of Bitches” and often wore a purple, plastic tiara – her favorite color – along with her usual ensemble: a sweatshirt, sweatpants and baseball cap.
Bross was as funny as she was mean, and as loving as she was ornery. Even people who didn’t love her respected her “and stayed the hell out of her way,” Koelling said.
Bross met with some members of the club for the last time the Friday before her 70th birthday party on June 2. On June 16, she died unexpectedly from bleeding of the brain.
“Ding Dong the B**** is Dead!” read the first sentence of Bross’ obituary, which appeared in The Spokesman-Review on July 2. In keeping with a lifetime of being prepared, Bross had written much of her obituary herself.
Bross was born in the back seat of her uncle’s car in front of Wadley Hospital in Texarkana, Arkansas, right on the border of Texas and Arkansas. She was raised by her extremely religious grandparents in Hooks, Texas, which her daughter Tammie Pease-Holmes said probably led to her becoming a bit of a rebel.
Her grandparents didn’t approve when she became pregnant with Pease-Holmes at 18, and Bross moved across the country to attend Columbia Basin College for secretary studies in the Tri-Cities before going to work as a secretary for the Hanford site in the early 1980s.
Well into adulthood, Bross was abused by a series of men “until she became tougher than they were,” Koelling said. Bross became a “bitch” to reclaim her independence – just shy of 100 pounds, she refused to be messed with. She’d probably slap you if you called her a feminist, Koelling said, but she was.
In the early ’90s, she found a good man who fell in love with her despite her spunk and brutal honesty, Koelling said. Kathie met Terry Bross over drinks, “and soon they were dancing on and off the floor,” her family wrote in her obit. They were married in 1994.
Through him, she gained a stepdaughter, Michelle Houghton, as well as several stepgrandchildren. She also had two grandchildren through Pease-Holmes, Ashley and Kenny Pease.
Fiercely loyal, Bross loved Terry Bross until the very end, Koelling said. He could bring her to tears with his kind words.
He hardly ever raised his voice, Koelling said. He respected and loved her back for all her little quirks, like her love of darts, Eminem or the color purple. She had a purple toaster, room and coffee maker, even though she didn’t drink coffee. Recently, when Terry went to buy a new toilet, she was disappointed that he didn’t get the purple one.
She loved animals almost as much as she loved Terry. In lieu of flowers, Bross asked that donations be made to SCRAPS or Salvation Army in her obituary. She rescued some animals, and she would also help friends pay for pets’ cremation.
Animals loved her unconditionally, and that meant something to her.
‘This will be my last one’
As Pease-Holmes opened her Christmas present from Bross last year, Bross bent down and whispered in her ear, “This will be my last one.”
She knew something was wrong, but she didn’t know what. Pease-Holmes said Bross called a funeral home a week before her sudden death to try to make arrangements for her own memorial.
Pease-Holmes said she noticed Bross had been more forgetful and tired lately, but she didn’t think it was anything serious. Bross had struggled with addictions, including smoking, which Pease-Holmes said probably contributed to her health issues. The doctor had recently found some heart abnormalities during a test, so she went in for an EKG. That’s when they discovered the brain bleeding.
Pease-Holmes and other family members rushed to the hospital when they found out Bross probably wasn’t going to make it. At first, they encouraged her to keep fighting. But after praying with the hospital chaplain, Pease-Holmes said they knew it was time to say goodbye. After everyone had left the room, Pease-Holmes told Bross to go and see her mom. She wouldn’t be in pain anymore. It was OK.
At that point, Bross was unresponsive. She couldn’t talk, open her eyes or squeeze a hand. But when they told her it was OK to go, Pease-Holmes said, three single tears fell down Bross’ face.
She died 10 minutes later.
Passing on the crown
Bross left Koelling a letter that started, “If you’re reading this, you are now the queen.” It also asked Koelling to take care of Bross’ husband, Terry, because he didn’t handle emotions well.
Bross also passed down her prized purple tiara. Bross’ granddaughter, Ashley Pease, was named “Princess Bitch” and will receive the crown after Koelling dies. She was especially close to her grandmother.
Bross had been there for Koelling throughout her battle with breast cancer, from which she only recently recovered.
Bross thought of Koelling as a daughter, though she was only 10 years older than her. It was a tradition for them to go to the Big Sky Rendezvous at the Halfway House Bar in Bull Lake, Montana.
Koelling and Bross’ family will go there in August for this year’s Big Sky Rendezvous and spread Bross’ ashes on the dance floor, “where she can camp and dance forever,” her obit says.
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