Irwin James Eleson ’56 died on February 27 in Helena, Montana. He was 93 years old.
He was born on December 5, 1921, to Loyd and Maude Violet Eleson in Elk Point, South Dakota. He was the youngest of four brothers (Clarence, Ernest and Floyd) and grew up on the family ranch near Crawford, Nebraska.
In 1944, Irwin met Marie Soester and they married in 1946. Irwin and Marie had a marriage that was a testament to love. They were devoted to each other and to the Christian faith that became a significant part of their lives beginning in 1948 when they got involved with Bethel Bible Church. So important was their belief in God and practice of Christianity that in 1952, they decided to leave the family ranch so that Irwin could attend seminary at the Grace Bible Institute. He graduated in 1956 and was ordained as a minister the same year. His first and only church was the Oaks Community Church, a non-denominational church located between Henderson and Emerson, Iowa, where he and his family lived for 4 years. After that, he worked briefly as a field representative at the Ozark Bible Institute and was a traveling minister for a short time, preaching in churches around the country, with his family providing the musical program for each service. In 1964, Irwin took a job with what was then the Yellowstone Boys Ranch (Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch) in Billings, Montana, where he worked until his first “retirement” in 1993 and then until his final retirement in 2011. For most of his years at YBGR, he was a field representative and worked tirelessly with ranchers in the Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota region obtaining donations of calves, horses, land, mineral rights and cash contributions that helped YBGR expand and improve its services to children. He loved his job and traveled thousands of miles each year to work with hundreds of ranching families in the region. It was his knowledge of their work that made ranchers respect him, but it was his passion for the mission of the YGBR that made him so successful at his job. He believed that children were better off after being cared for by the YGBR.
Irwin and Marie had five children: Linda Marie (Fjelstad); Cindy Anne (Christensen); William James; Thomas Lee; and Charity Joy. They had nine grand-children: Kim, Michelle, Lisa, Melinda, Shelly, Scott, Katyana, Celia and Tevis. They had thirteen great grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his mother, father, three brothers, wife, Marie, and eldest daughter, Linda.
We will remember this man as a force of nature who had a thousand stories to tell. He was a committed and devoted husband and a man who was honest and generous with those he met. He taught us the value of work and honesty and a love of the earth. He loved his life and lived it with strength, joy and integrity.