Irene Estelle Keil
Irene Estelle Keil, 97, surrounded by family, passed away peacefully on Friday, June 14 at the Villages Ecumen in North Branch, MN.
A Celebration of her life will be held at Cease Funeral Home in Bemidji on June 21, 2019. Visitation will begin at 12:00 PM with a service to follow at 1:00 PM.
Irene was born on May 28, 1922 in Nora Township of Clearwater County Minnesota to Mabel and Henry Widmark. While growing up an only child and attending a rural schoolhouse; Irene spent her early years following her father's trap line, befriending her mother's chickens and training 2 pet crows to ride on her shoulders. Like many, Irene's parent's lost their farm in the Great Depression. Following their loss, Irene and her mother moved to an apartment in Grand Rapids, MN so they could be closer to her father's CCC camp assignment. Around age 16 Irene's parents purchased the Elmwood Dance Hall in Alida, MN where Irene played accordion and piano while also attending Bagley High School. Irene also helped support herself by playing accordion and piano at the International Falls and Winnipeg Moose Lodge's. Irene graduated from Bagley High School at age 16 and attended Bemidji State Teachers College where she received a Teachers Certificate and began her teaching career at age 18.
Irene met her future husband, Robert Walter Keil, at Bagley High School. After high school, Bob joined the "US Air Corp" and was off to the war in the Pacific during WWII. During this time, Irene was a teacher at Nett Lake Reservation. Irene and Bob were married June 16, 1946 in International Falls, MN. Shortly after their wedding, they purchased and operated Hallock Eats in Hallock, MN. For the next 13 years Irene and Bob ran the restaurant and had 4 of their 5 children. After the early death of Irene's mother Mabel, she and Bob made the decision to move to Bemidji to live with Irene's father Henry and a 5th child soon followed. Not long after they arrived in Bemidji Irene began teaching again. First in Nebish from 1961 to 1966, then in Pinewood from 1966-1970 and finished her teaching career in Solway 1984. Looking forward to retirement, Irene and Bob built a home on the Mississippi River. Upon retiring, Irene began nurturing her artistic side with painting, wood carving and crocheting afghans for her grandchildren. Many of her paintings and carvings are widely distributed among family and friends. These will always have a special place in our homes. Irene and Bob took many trips to Alaska to visit their son and family friends. Irene and Bob spent a week every summer at the Minnesota State Fair while also cherishing their gardens and home on the Mississippi River. Irene was president of Bemidji Presbyterian Women's Association for several years and Irene and Bob were charter members of Lake Itasca Pioneer Farmers.
Irene was also passionate about reading, learning, and education her entire life. She was a voracious reader until 6 months before her death. Her knowledge of natural phenology was remarkable. After Bob's death in 2004, Irene developed mobility issues and moved to North Branch to be near her oldest and youngest daughters. During her 10+ years of living at The Villages of Ecumen, she was loved and cherished for her upbeat attitude and big smile. As many will attest, Irene developed friendships and strong bonds with whomever she met.
Irene is survived by a son, Evan (Dixie) North Pole, AK.; daughters Roberta (Harvey) Johnson of North Branch, MN.; Anita (Mike) Norden of Bemidji, MN.; Loretta Lynne of Bemidji and Nancy Johnston of Rush City, MN.; 14 grandchildren, 27 great grandchildren and 4 great, great grandchildren.
She was preceded in death by her husband of 58 years, 4 brothers in law, 2 sisters in law, an infant son and 1 grandchild.
The family requests that memorials be sent to the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, Itasca Pioneer Farmers, or the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra.
Condolences may be left at ceasefuneralhome.com.