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Hilda E. Hatlen, 96

| March 17, 2005 11:00 PM

Hilda E. Hatlen, 96, a Libby resident since 1949, died Monday, March 14, 2005, at the Libby Care Center.

She was born on Aug. 23, 1908, at Somers, to Ole and Gunhild Lee who emigrated from Norway and were married in Kalispell in 1907.

Hilda lived in Norway from age three to five on an extended family visit to the homeland, speaking only Norwegian when she started school at Somers.

Hilda graduated from Flathead County High School at Kalispell in 1927 with high honors and was awarded a four-year scholarship to Montana State University.

One of her few regrets is that she decided to first work for a time to save money for college. When the 1929 stock market crash occurred, her college plans were thwarted as she thought it wise to hang on to her job when many were out of work.

On Oct. 21, 1934, Hilda married Harold Hatlen, a carpenter from Clarkfield, Minn., to begin a marriage that would last until Harold's death 58 years later in 1992.

They settled first at Somers, where Harold was employed by the Somers Lumber Company. When the Somers mill closed in 1949, they sold their ranch, moving to Libby. The Hatlens had four children, Jeanine, Betty, Roe and Richard.

Harold built homes in Libby before going to work for the J. Neils Lumber Company.

Hilda's main hobbies were writing and painting. She was a charter member and past president of the Montana Institute of the Arts Libby Writers Group, remaining active for more than 45 years.

She had been a correspondent for The Western News and The Daily Inter Lake and her articles were published in The Washington Post and The New York Times Herald.

She also had numerous feature stories and poems published in Montana and throughout the northwest.

Her published works include Poems, 1947; Our Family Heritage, 1983; Dear Mama, 1993, and her most recent book of poems, Come and Talk to Me, 1994, when she was 85. The title poem in Come and Talk to Me won a national Golden Poet Award. Her last book, From the Fjords to the Flathead, was almost finished when she suffered a major stroke at the age of 90. Her children will finish the two remaining chapters.

Hilda's works are included in all six books produced by the Libby Writers Group with the last volume, Tapestries of Yesterday, 1993, featuring one of her oil paintings on the cover.

Hilda enjoyed reading to her grandchildren. They all have poems written especially for them as a cherished legacy. Her writing abilities were passed on to her grandchildren and even to her sons, who, according to Hilda, when pushed, write acceptable poetry.

Hilda began painting in oils and doing charcoal drawings in 1966, at age 58, and was a charter member and past president of the Libby Fine Arts Group, organized the same year.

Many of her paintings have won awards. Her favorite subjects were local landscapes and her copyrighted series of Norwegian paintings have become family heirlooms.

In 1968, Hilda opened the Hatlen Art Gallery, first of its kind for Libby artists, operating it for four years before selling it in 1972 when Harold retired.

Shortly thereafter, Libby Second Hand and Antiques was formed and enjoyed by both Hilda and Harold until Harold's health began to fail.

As a fitting capstone to her artistic career, Hilda was honored by Pacific Lutheran University at its 1997 Norwegian Heritage Festival with a major retrospective of her paintings and poetry titled From Pen to Palette. The Scandinavian Scene wrote, iHilda Hatlen charmed, impressed and inspired all who came in contact with this active 88-year-old poet and artist.i

Hilda was an active member of Christ Lutheran Church and, for more than 50 years, renters at the Hatlen Apartments were introduced by Hilda to her church.

She was past president of the Ladies Aid church group and historian for the church. She was also a member of the Sons of Norway Norhaven Lodge of Libby, which she and her husband helped organize, the Heritage Museum and the Libby Senior Citizens.

Hilda's encouragement and enthusiasm was instrumental in helping to found Libby Nordicfest in 1985, including suggesting the name. She and Harold were advisors, honorary board members and served as Nordicfest's first King and Queen. In 1998, in conjunction with the celebration of Hilda's 90th birthday, Libby Nordicfest announced the establishment of the Hilda Hatlen Literary Arts Endowment Scholarship, and in 1999, featured her on the annual Nordicfest poster surrounded by young children of the community.

Although the Great Depression threw a monkey wrench into her plans for a college education, Hilda never stopped learning, even while raising a family of four, and she never forgot the value of education even when it meant a second mortgage on the family home so that her children could achieve the college education she was not able to achieve. She never stopped being a source of inspiration for her family and the community.

In 1998, Hilda's family celebrated her life on her 90th birthday, setting up scholarships in her name for students of the arts and those attending Lutheran colleges to insure that others beyond her own family can test Hilda's motto, iYou Never Know What You Can Do Until You Try.i

To Hilda, church and family came first, then the pursuit of personal goals.

Preceded in death by her husband Harold, daughters Betty Smith and Jeanine Hatlen and brother Ole Lee, Hilda leaves a rich legacy of faith and heritage and is remembered and loved by her children, Roe Hatlen and his wife Beverly, Apple Valley, Minn.; Richard Hatlen and his wife Karen, Menlo Park, Calif.; son-in-law Russ Smith, Ocean Park, Wash., and grandchildren Monica Myers-Roys, Randy Roys, Kari Hatlen, Erik Hatlen, Lars Hatlen, Hans Hatlen and Leif Hatlen and great-grandchild Colton Myers-Roys.

Funeral services will be conducted at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Christ Lutheran Church with Pastor Les Nelson officiating.

Private committal services will take place Monday morning at the City of Libby Cemetery.

Memorials may be made to Christ Lutheran Church, 200 W. Larch, Libby; the Sons of Norway, 165 Garden Rd, Libby, or the Nordicfest Hatlen Memorial Fund, 186 Airfield Rd., Libby.