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Neil Eliason

April 30, 1932 — August 25, 2022

Neil Harvey Eliason

(1932-2022)

After 90 years of living a vibrant, accomplished life, Neil Harvey Eliason passed away on August 25, 2022, in Kalispell, Montana. Growing up in a ranching family in the Deer Lodge valley, Neil developed an admirable work ethic and a deep respect for family, friends, and the natural world. He fished and hunted with great enthusiasm. After graduating from Powell County High School in 1950, Neil started his college career at Graceland College in Lamoni, IA, and later finished at the University of Montana, Missoula, with BA and MA degrees. One memorable year in New York City, Neil earned a Professional Diploma in Counseling from Columbia University. While at the U of MT, he met Carol Nelson, whom he married in 1954. In their 67 years together they raised three children and several golden retrievers. After college, Neil pursued a career in teaching, counseling, and coaching. He started in Brady and followed up in Hot Springs, Kalispell, Bozeman, Swan Valley, and finally Bigfork. Throughout this time, he developed a strong, positive reputation as a leader. People recognized him as a man with a vision.

Though proficient in coaching a range of sports, Neil will be remembered best as “Mr. E.,” the man who realized before most of his contemporaries that girls and women deserved a track and cross country team of their own. His coaching resumé and knack for bringing people together to achieve shared goals earned Neil recognition from athletes, their parents, fellow coaches, and the public. He earned the trust and respect of athletes of all ability levels. No one was left out, and no free passes were granted to the blue chip athletes–even the ones who would later compete in the Olympics. On Mr. E’s teams, everyone was expected to perform. With timber trees upon the chests of their uniforms, they were the girls, Montana’s best. While he was the head girls track coach at Flathead High School from 1961-1971, Neil’s teams won every varsity girls track meet during that period. Later, as head coach of the women’s track team at Flathead Valley Community College, he coached his athletes to great success, time and again. In 1975, Neil received the Flathead Legacy Award for “civic and volunteer spirit that spans a lifetime and creates a legacy for the community.” Just two years later, he improved upon that legacy, as the FVCC Mountainettes won the Junior College National Championship in women’s track and field.

After that stunning achievement, Neil and his family moved to Bozeman, where he first became the head women’s track and cross country coach and then the assistant women’s athletic director at Montana State University. This period of his life also saw Neil embark upon a second successful career, as a real estate agent-broker. His competitive fire and keen ability to connect with people led him to enjoy significant success in Bozeman, where he once earned Realtor of the Year, and then in Bigfork. His coaching career culminated at Bigfork High School, as an assistant coach to Sue (Bronson) Loeffler, who, several decades prior, had competed on one of Neil’s best teams. Bigfork won three consecutive Class A state championships in cross country in Neil’s last three years coaching. Neil was inducted into the Montana Coaches Hall of Fame in 1983, and the Montana Officials Hall of Fame in 1987. He finally retired from coaching in 2004, after 50 years of encouraging young people to see sports as a way of making sense of life.

This proud man was more than just a successful teacher, coach, and businessman–he also encouraged family members to find their own ways to live. Neil’s generosity would come out in thoughtful suggestions, but he was not pushy. With his family, Neil could step back and let circumstances unfold. He did not have to control the tone or tenor of a conversation. His path, his success, did not overtake anyone else’s. He loved doing things for family whether it was funding a trip to Disney World or helping a grandchild learn to fish. All those who knew Neil appreciate all he provided them, and the gorgeous dahlias he nurtured, and the years he volunteered through Sunriser Lions Club and other groups. He will be remembered for the deep impressions he made on others as they ran, threw, and jumped past the obstacles he helped them overcome. Neil Eliason would be there for you in the final lap of a tough race.

Neil was preceded in death by his parents Harvey and Helen; sister Marilyn Chappelow; and his elder son, Richard Eliason (survived by his partner Maggie Lander and her daughters Ellie and Elizabeth). Surviving Neil are his wife, Carol; daughter Lauri (Mark Miron); and son John (Alexandra Voorhees; as well as Neil’s grandchildren: Erik and Patrick Miron and Sophia and Ian Eliason.

The family will hold a private celebration of life for Neil. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to these organizations:

Highlander Track and Cross Country

P.O. Box 7250

Kalispell, MT 59904

Glacier National Park Conservancy

P.O. Box 2749

Columbia Falls, MT 59912

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

5705 Grant Creek

Missoula, MT 59808

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