Geri Ellingson was born in Roseville, California, on the first day of Spring 1930 to Ethel and Walter Saathoff, a railroad man. Her nickname was ‘Kicky” though she was a little shy compared to her older sis Frieda. She loved her family’s succession of pet cats, all named “Cat-Cat”, and her many life-long school friends.
In her first year of Bethel Bible College in San Francisco 17-year old Geri accepted an invitation from a classmate to attend an evening church service in Hayward. When the classmate was instead hospitalized with appendicitis, his older brother Chet came to visit (Chet happened to be in town buying war surplus goods to resell back home in Kalispell). Ever the gentleman — and obviously infatuated by the prospect of a Hayward church service — Chet offered to take over his poor, stricken brother’s chauffeuring commitment.
The sermon must have been soul-stirring, because Chet and Geri agreed they should review its themes again the next day — over lunch.
After that lunch, Chester L. Ellingson went off to serve in the war . . . surplus business back in Kalispell (having served during WW II in both the U.S. Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force) — but he left his heart in San Francisco. And Geri began to imagine what her life might be like in the mountains of Montana.
Absence — and several letters — made the hearts grow fonder, and Chet decided a few months later he was in desperate need of more war surplus inventory. And as long as he was going to be in San Francisco . . .
Chet and Geri soon made a date for another momentous church service and tied the knot on August 6th, 1948. On their honeymoon Chet rolled their new Packard on a rainy road in Washington, but they made it otherwise unscathed to Kalispell. Geri took over management of their home, and Chet was hired to help manage Kalispell Lumber Company. Chet also contracted the building of a few houses, including three that Geri and the kids called home over the years. Geri then helped Chet found Ellingson Agency for Insurance and Real Estate.
Mom first took on that title in 1951 with Greg, following with Jeff in 1953, and her long hoped for ski-buddy Kristin in 1966. Mom taught her children by example to ski and golf (including how to hit a hole in one) and hike and swim and waterski — and socialize. Mom particularly delighted in those early Spring days when she could ski and golf in the same day. Even in the shortest days of Winter, though, Mom would sometimes gather up little Kristin in the middle of the week and head to Big Mountain for a few runs. Kristin reciprocated last year by taking Mom back up to Big Mountain to share some apres-ski memories, including savoring a red beer and lots of laughter with other ski-moms at the Bierstube, Ptarmigan Room, or Alpenglow Inn. (Unlike the old days, though, this time Kristin did not crawl under the table to take a nap.)
Geri and Chet made summertimes a kid's paradise, including at Bitterroot Lake. Geri roughed it in a tent or primitive cabin the first few summers, until her intimate encounter with a rat in the out-house inspired Chet to install indoor plumbing “or else.” After the boys were in college Chet and Geri moved off their leased lot and built their dream cabin on the west side of the lake, where Mom was the hostess with the mostest, sharing her appreciation of Montana’s beauty with family and friends.
Geri and Chet often joined their many friends at each other's homes, or at the First Presbyterian Church, Rotary functions, Alert banquets, the Beaux Arts balls, Sportsman Ski Haus parties, and dancing at the Outlaw Inn. Geri was deeply proud to be a PEO sister and, later in life, she especially enjoyed her Bible study group and her fellow Thursday morning coffee ladies at Norm’s News.
Mom loved having Kristin and granddaughter Ruby move in with her and her pets Mollie and Poppy five years ago, along with Ruby’s cat Agent Six and dachshund-mix Gulliver. Mom’s former relative solitude was thereafter transformed into a wild and wacky sit-com experiment in multi-generational, multi-pet living.
Grandma G was especially grateful to spend time last summer at Bitterroot Lake with granddaughter Courtney Burks (Dustin) and great-grandchildren Danika and Decker, who came to visit from Zurich, and with Kalispell granddaughter Kiersta (Justin) Turner and Kiersta’s daughter Imrie and baby Pierce.
Throughout the years Geri happily shared her wisdom and humor with the next generations at many waffle-fests (extra whipped cream please) and other feasts with: Jeff and Susan, Ruby and Kristin, Kiersta and Justin, Greg and Kris, grandson Camas, granddaughter Lindsey Bennett (Dan Simonson) and “the girls” Verona, Jules, and Aenea, and with Susan’s children, Anna, Evan, and Daniel (Heather) Hilderman. Mom also celebrated a special Grandma Geri connection with Correia and Walker and their parents Janet and Andrew Borba, and with Jamie Joseph “JJ” and his mom Marguerite Martins.
Geri’s sparkly blue eyes and beautiful smile radiated her appreciation of life, curiosity, and encouragement to everyone she met.
Mom was preceded in death by husband Chet, her sister Frieda, and cherished granddaughter Brandi. She is survived by Greg (Kris Allen), Jeff (Susan), and Kristin, and their above children and grandchildren, and a whole bunch of family dogs and cats.
Friends are invited to join family at a celebration of Geri’s life at the First Presbyterian Church in Kalispell at 3:00 P.M. on Sunday, February 6, 2022, followed by a reception at Buffalo Hills Golf Course from 4:00 - 6:00 P.M.
As paramedics were helping Mom get ready to leave her beautiful home for the last time on January 21, 2022, dachshund Gully stayed close to comfort and protect his Geri, while Kristin’s cat Agent Six made sure Mom heard him meowing at her feet. In a voice reserved for pets and little children Geri reassured everyone present, “See you in Heaven, Kitty.” We hope all who had the pleasure of meeting Mom will take comfort in knowing our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and dear friend Geri will keep watching over us, in God’s embrace, with Chet and Brandi and a host of other loved ones gone before. Buffalo Hill Funeral Home is caring for the family.