Our world lost a gentle, sweet and gracious soul when Imelia Blazek, 95, went home to her Heavenly Father on Monday, May 6, 2013.
A memorial service will be held in Billings on Wednesday, May 22, at the Kathy Lillis Chapel on the St. John’s Lutheran Ministries campus beginning at 11 a.m. Burial will be on Friday, May 24, at the Big Sandy cemetery.
She was born on Feb. 26, 1918, in Malta, to Bernt and Elizabeth Fjeldheim, the second of five children. Soon after her birth, she traveled back home to her family’s homestead in the Forks Community near Whitewater, where she grew up.
She was a true pioneer and adventurer all of her life. Her parents and extended family emigrated from Norway. They spoke Norwegian in their home until Imelia and her older sister went to school and learned English. They taught the rest of the family proper English, and after a time, Bernt and Elizabeth decided they would speak only English in the home from then on. Imelia retained the ability to speak fluent Norwegian until the end. Even days before she died, she was trying to teach her family and caregivers simple phrases.
A proper education for their children was a priority for Bernt and Elizabeth. Imelia began first grade at the age of 6, in spite of the fact schooling required her to be boarded with another family, as she lived too far from the school to remain at home. She remembered this as a particularly hard year for her, since her father couldn’t always come to get her on the weekends due to the uncertainty of winter weather in northeastern Montana and its propensity to prevent travel.
Her father built a special wood chair for her that he placed in the wagon so she could sit more comfortably, a chair she kept throughout her lifetime. By the following school year, a schoolhouse nearer her home was completed, allowing her to remain at home while attending school until she completed eighth grade.
She then attended Whitewater High School and graduated as valedictorian in 1937. Again, she boarded throughout high school; waitressing, washing dishes, cleaning and doing childcare in return for her room and board. After high school, she went to commercial college in Great Falls.
Upon graduation, she worked as a bookkeeper, predominately for General Mills in Great Falls, until she met and married Joseph Charles Blazek. They married on Valentine’s Day, 1950. Their son, James Blazek, was born a year later. The family moved to Glasgow in 1951 to start the Glasgow Livestock Sales Company.
Imelia’s life was shaken by Joe’s sudden death in 1959. Widowed with a young son to support, she did what she always would do, persevere. She partnered with her brother, Orville Fjeldheim, keeping the business in the family. At the time, she was the only woman in the country to own a livestock auction company.
She began to travel after her son was in college. She joined a group of people in the cattle business, traveling to South Africa to study exotic cattle breeds and to explore. She always told her family that this was her favorite trip, and she loved the 10-day safari and wild animals she saw while she was there. This trip whet her appetite for overseas travel, and she went on many other trips, including a trip around the world and another to Norway to explore her heritage and visit her parent’s families. She kept in touch with her extended family in Norway all of her adult life, exchanging cards and letters. Her travels came to an end when rheumatoid arthritis kept her closer to home.
She retired and moved to Billings in the early 1980s. She lived in the Phoenix Condominiums in the downtown area, where she was treasurer of the condo board for 20 years. She loved walking downtown, and frequently could be seen walking for pleasure or to her destination. She was a loyal patron of Alberta Bair, and enjoyed many community concerts.
She did volunteer work for the Billings Clinic and belonged to the Soroptimists, Eastern Star and Beta Sigma Phi sorority. Her membership in these organizations was longstanding – 50 years and for some longer. She enjoyed golfing when it was warm enough, as she put it – playing for fun.
Spiritual life and health were core elements of her life. She was an active member of the First Lutheran Church in Glasgow for over 30 years, where she enjoyed many a lutefisk dinner. American Lutheran Church became her church home upon moving to Billings. She was an active member for over 20 years, until her move into the Vista assisted living facility on the St. John’s Lutheran Home campus.
She lived at the Vista for over eight years. She enjoyed going to worship, exercise, crafts, Bible study and book club. Many strong friendships with other residents and with staff were formed in those years. She was not one to let anything crippling like her arthritis keep her from living her life to the fullest.
For her 90th birthday, she went traveling one last time to see her older sister, Elivia Falk, in Bellingham, Wash. Her younger sister, Bertina Evans, and Imelia’s son rode the train for what became the last reunion for the Fjeldheim sisters. This trip greatly lifted Imelia’s spirits. It was a time filled with childhood stories and many bouts of memory induced laughter.
She moved to the Liggett Cottage at St. John’s in February 2013 because of failing health. She received much loving and compassionate care in her final months.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Joe Blazek; two sisters, Elivia Falk and Bertina Evans; two brothers, Orville Fjeldheim and Oscar Fjeldheim.
Survivors include one son, James Blazek and his wife, Theresa, of Billings; two grandsons, Aaron Blazek (Catie Tackitt) of Flagstaff, Ariz., and Byron Blazek of Houston; and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be given to St John’s Lutheran Ministry, RiverStone Hospice or the Arthritis Foundation.
Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary is assisting the family with arrangements. Condolences may be left online at www.michelottisawyers.com.