Pauline “Polly” Nikolaisen passed away August 21, 2020. She was born of Norwegian heritage on December 3, 1920 in Egeland, North Dakota to Peter and Mae (Rasmussen) Odegaard. She was raised on the family farm where the wind blew and it was a long way to school, and she was the eldest girl of 13 brothers and sisters. Polly graduated from Egeland High School in 1938, and Dakota Business College In Fargo.
Because jobs were scarce in North Dakota in the early 1940s, Polly and a group of friends drove to California looking for employment. She worked for Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank, California during WWII, and was proud to help the war effort as a “Rosie the Riveter.” She later worked for the Bank of America in Hollywood. In 1949, she married Ed Nikolaisen, who had also grown up in Egeland, North Dakota, in Grand Prairie, Texas. A trip to visit relatives brought them to the Flathead Valley, where Polly’s great-grandparents had settled in the early 1900s, and Polly and Ed moved to Kalispell in 1951.
Polly was a homemaker when daughters, Corlis and Julie, were growing up. She gardened, canned & preserved food, sewed all the girl’s clothes, and was a 4-H leader for 15 years, teaching many girls how to cook and sew. Polly enjoyed sewing throughout her life, especially making baby quilts and “crazy” quilts. She called her quilt making “out the door”, and her beautiful creations were given to families with new babies and any family member, friend or stranger who needed a warm quilt.
When Polly’s girls were older, she returned to work, and in 1976 was named the Director of the Area Agency on Aging, where she was in charge of aging programs for 7 counties and the Salish and Kootenai tribes.
After her retirement and Ed’s death in 1986, she continued her work as an advocate for Sr. Citizens in Montana. She spoke to legislators in Helena about aging issues, attended National Silver Haired Congresses in Washington D.C. and was appointed by 3 governors to White House Conferences on Aging. She worked tirelessly as a court appointed guardian for several elderly and disabled people in Kalispell, including her aunt and uncle, Elmer and Eunice Odegaard, and Bobby Ward (for 25 years), and lovingly gave of her time and energy on their behalf. She served on many committees and boards of organizations in the Flathead Valley, including the Immanuel Lutheran Corporation board when Buffalo Hill Terrace was built. Polly and Montana Governor, Ted Schwinden, turned the first shovelful of dirt for the groundbreaking of the Terrace. Polly was a person of integrity, who stood up for what was right, and spoke for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.
Polly was a long time member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church and had a strong faith in God that never waivered. Family was very important to her, and she traveled frequently to attend family gatherings and grandchildren’s special milestones.
Due to health issues, in recent years Polly spent more time at home in her apartment at Buffalo Hill Terrace. She found a new focus and a way to continue to help others through her Sons of Norway lodge. Polly collected, sorted and trimmed stamps gathered from local businesses and friends from around Montana and the U.S. to send to a Norwegian organization called Tubfrim. Tubfrim sells the stamps to collectors to raise money for tuberculosis research, as well as to help disabled children. Polly worked on the stamps daily, and sent many pounds of stamps to Norway.
Senator Conrad Burns honored Polly as Montana Woman of the Year 2004 and said, “It is an honor to acknowledge a woman who always goes the extra mile for her friends, her family, and her community. The Montana Woman gives more of herself than is ever expected and seeks nothing in return.”
Polly is survived by her children, Corlis (Ron) Schellberg of Boise and Julie (David) Metzger of Seattle, 4 grandchildren – Emily Harris, Zeke Schellberg, Zachary and Christopher Metzger, and 1 great-grandchild – Ingrid Harris. Other survivors include her sisters – Doris “Dorie” Johnson of Cando, North Dakota, Lucille “Lucy” Gau of Fargo, North Dakota, and many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her husband, Ed, in 1986, and brothers and sisters – Florence (Sam) Nikolaisen, Louella Schaeffer, Anna Mae (5 years old), Alfred “Bud”, Howard “Dutch”, Everette, Don, Al, Bill, and 3 day old Robert.
Our family sincerely thanks the staff and residents of Buffalo Hill Terrace who have been Polly’s family since 2001. Also thanks to our friends, Gordon and Linda Alsberg, Polly’s great-niece, Amy Odegaard, and others who have been by her side when her family couldn’t be.
A graveside service will be held at 11 am on Monday, August 31, at C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery. All family and friends are welcome, and attendees are asked to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Resident Christ Care Fund at Immanuel Lutheran Home Communities, Bethlehem Lutheran Church or Ray of Hope in Kalispell. Johnson-Gloschat Funeral Home and Crematory are entrusted with arrangements.
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