Jenny R. Nelson, 97
After living in Libby for 97 years, Jenny R. Nelson moved to an even better place Aug. 13, 2021. The fifth of seven children born to Norwegian immigrants, Ole and Ane (Uthus) Rolseth, Jenny was a belated Christmas present coming into the world on December 26, 1923.
A child during the Great Depression, Jenny’s family weathered the tough time through hard work, thriftiness and soup bones. Her mother fed a family of nine on little money and taught Jenny how to make food stretch, a lesson that she never forgot. Her family kidded Jenny that only Jesus could surpass her “miracles” of feeding four growing kids on one can of tuna fish or a family of six on one chicken. After wearing her sisters’ hand-me-downs for years and getting one pair of shoes at the beginning of each school year, Jenny like nice clothes, but shoes … well, shoes were a passion and one of her few indulgences.
Her father owned the South Libby Meat Market and, as a child, she delivered meat to his Libby customers on her bicycle and was paid in dill pickles from the pickle barrel in Ole’s store.
She was a good student, attending Libby schools, and a proud Libby Terrier twirler. She graduated in 1941, in absentia after suffering a head laceration and broken pelvis, the result of a car wreck on Senior Sneak Day. Even in a decade-long depression, Ole and Ane were determined that all their children would receive some higher education, so Jenny headed to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., in the fall of 1941. But the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 and the subsequent entry of the U.S. into World War II sent Jenny back to Libby, but not without having formed a friendship with classmate, Polly Lee, that would last a lifetime.
Back home, Jenny started work at the First State Bank as a teller. Being detail-minded and friendly, she was soon a favorite with both customers and the management. In the summer of 1943, a friend invited Jenny to attend a dance at the Swamp Creek Community Hall where guys working at the Forest Service Raven Work Center would go for fun. There she met a very handsome, very tall young man from Helena with twinkling blue eyes and a big, dimpled smile named Frank Nelson, known to his friends as “Shorty.” Jenny and Frank dated over the summer and, at it’s end, Frank returned to the University of Montana and soon enlisted in the U.S. Army. Frank and Jenny wouldn’t see each other again until 1946. But Shorty didn’t forget the serious, petite girl with the long auburn hair and when he returned to Libby to work for J. Neils Lumber Co. after the war and finishing college, he soon found the pretty redhead working at the bank.
Jenny and Frank were married at St. John Lutheran Church on Oct. 10, 1948, the opening day of duck season, which was the only flaw in their wedding plans as Shorty was an avid duck hunter, resulting in many delayed anniversary celebrations over the next 56 years.
Shorty and Jenny soon welcomed their son, Joel, and daughters, Bryn, MaryBeth and Jennifer, to their family. In 1960, Frank and Jenny moved into the house that would be their home for the rest of their lives. Their home became the hub for a multitude of celebrations and gatherings of family and friends over the years with Jenny effortlessly cooking meals for all, usually with homemade pie.
The family dinner table was alive nightly with conversations about what her family was doing and what was happening in and outside of Libby. Never one for gossip, Jenny enjoyed good conversations about current events and encouraged her children to be aware of the world outside of Libby.
After taking a “break” to have a family, Jenny went back to work in 1963 at what was then First National Bank with the goal of building a cabin on a newly acquired lake lot. The cabin became yet another place to entertain family and friends and — with the help of her sister, Borgie — they had great fun furnishing it with rummage sale finds and eclectic memorabilia. They painted it a vivid turquoise, orange and lime green. The cabin was Jenny’s special place and she loved spending time there, alone or with a crowd.
Jenny and Frank valued education and encouraged their children to learn and explore. Jenny continued to work and save money so her children could attend college. That goal accomplished, she retired from First National Bank in 1977.
Retirement brought new adventures for Jenny, including traveling to Norway and England, Mexico, Hawaii, Arizona and Alaska as well as several other states to see friends with Shorty and visit their wandering family. Jenny gardened more and took classes in healthy cooking. She took up quilting and cross-country skiing and continued to walk and ride her bike. She was proud of her Norwegian heritage and was active in Nordic Fest for many years. She served on Libby City Council, chairing the beautification committee. She watched the stock market and took classes in investment, even challenging Shorty to an investment competition (which she won). Retirement also meant more time to spend with her beloved grandchildren, her dear friends and her Shorty.
Jenny was a longtime member of St. John Lutheran Church and served on alter guild for nearly 40 years. Her faith was strong and sustained her through many hardships. She lived her life espousing the values of compassion, kindness and tolerance, and her gentle wisdom was a gift to her friends and family. She was a strong advocate for the Libby community and an amazing local historian that took great pride in her town. She truly was a solid cornerstone of Libby and was sometimes referred to as the “grand dame of Libby.”
She was loved by so many and she will be greatly missed.
Jenny was preceded in death by her husband, Frank; daughter Bryn; granddaughter Amy Marie; three sisters, Hilda McCallum, Gladys Haynes and Borghild (Borgie) McDonald; and two brothers, Odin and Albert Rolseth.
Jenny is survived by her sister, Thelma Darsow of Tacoma, Wash.; her son, Joel (Linda) of Kalispell; daughters, MaryBeth (Steve) of Sitka, Alaska, and Jennifer of Libby; grandchildren, Erik and Mali Nelson, Kari Paustian, Ted and Andrew Miller, Seth and Lucas Cummings, Sydney Herrmann; and many great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and special friends, Polly Lee, Scott Slauson, Vicky Lawrence and Greg Stickney.
A celebration of Jenny’s life will be held at St. John Lutheran Church on Oct. 2, 2021, at 1 p.m. in Libby with a reception to follow.
Charitable donations may be made in Jenny’s name to Cabinet Peaks Medical Center Foundation (209 Health Park Dr.), Libby Memorial Events Center (Kootenai Heritage Council, P.O. Box 360) and the Heritage Museum (P.O. Box 628), Libby, MT 59923.