Irene Hope Hedrick

May 4, 1920-June 7, 2015

If a life can ever embody the saying “make the world a better place”, Irene’s did so.

From humble beginnings in the industrial north of England and a childhood spent in the depths of the depression, she always found a way to put the need of others before her own. Countless people remember her generosity; a meal when they were hungry, a few dollars when they were down on their luck, a caring, understanding audience when things weren’t going so well at their homes, and a champion when they were unable to fight for themselves. Her empathy touched everyone she came in contact with and, as a result, her circles of friends were endless.

In those beginnings in Warrington, England, Irene showed a curious intellect that won her highest marks in her classes at school. Her school work of finding and identifying wild flowers stayed with her for her entire life and led her to painting decades later. At age 90 she could still identify almost every wild flower she saw. Although her school work was exceptional, English law limited secondary scholarship to only one member of a family; in Irene’s case her older sister Joyce. So, at age 14, with an 8th grade education, Irene began work at a Lever Brothers soap factory. She was quickly promoted from the factory floor to administrative assistant duties in the managerial offices. Her off work time was spent playing tennis, collecting wildflowers, and drawing.

With the onset of World War II, the Merseyside, where Irene lived, became a primary target of German bombers. Even in her later years, a look of concern would cross her face when she heard civil defense or air raid sirens. She was forced to relive the terrifying experiences of rushing to air raid shelters as her city was bombed, and sitting in those shelters, sometimes for days, until the all clear came. Her stories of being in the total darkness of the blackout and fog while being unable to find the air raid shelter brought the terror and harsh reality of war to those of us who heard her speak of those times.

The war brought the blitz, but it also brought the Yanks. Among them was a young master sergeant in the Army Air Corps, Raymond Hedrick, whom Irene fell in love with and married within a year. With World War II coming to an end, she was granted passage to the United States, and traveled alone by ship and train to Ray’s home in Polson, Montana. It was quite a cultural shock coming from the industrial north of England at the height of the British Empire, to a one room Montana cabin with no indoor plumbing. As always, she made the most of the situation by becoming an integral part of the community and making numerous lifelong friends.

On Ray’s return from the war, and after two children, the couple moved to Bozeman, Montana where Ray began graduate work in Dairy Science and Irene worked as a secretary to various professors at Montana State University. During this time their third child was born and Irene began to use her British wit, humor, and writing skills to enter and win several national jingle and contest competitions. Ray would come home from work to find a washer and dryer set, a refrigerator, a range, or cash that Irene had won entering contests.

In 1959, job changes took the family from the university community of Bozeman to the hardscrabble ranching, railroad, and oil town of Glendive, Montana, a place in America as far from Irene’s English roots as possible. Again, she took to the new challenge with aplomb, her devotion to literature, theatre and music allowed her to be a rarity in the hardworking community. As such, she became involved with the Association of University Women, and began playing competitive bridge, winning master points and becoming one of the premier players in Montana. During this time she worked as the secretary of the local Methodist Church, where she soon came to be known as a true charity worker who could help or find help for anyone from the most down trodden hobo to the local businessman. From Thanksgiving turkeys baked for camps of hobos to buying bus fare for a stranded cowboy, she always found time to help the needy. During the long Montana winters she immersed herself in religious writings and discovered the writings of Kahlil Gibran.

After a decade in the far eastern reaches of Montana, the family, sans the two elder children who were at college, moved back to western Montana and the community of Livingston. It was a time when Irene came into her own. She began speaking with Toastmasters and within several years became a regional champion, a national champion, and was a finalist in the world championship of public speaking. Her charity work continued with what was thought to be a great achievement; reading and recording college textbooks for the blind. Over a 10 year period,she read and taped over 50 college texts. In spite of being denied a high school education, she read books as diverse as Chaucer in the ancient English to beginning calculus to advanced physics, all with her perfect English diction and speaking talents. Having read more texts than most college graduates, at age 63, Irene decided to get her college degree and did so within two years. Amazingly, she accomplished this while working full time as business manager for a local mental health counseling center. As some of her charity efforts tapered off, she found time to get elected to the local school board and later run for state representative. She was also an accomplished painter, painting her beautiful flowers and the snow capped peaks of Montana. Dozens of her paintings adorn the walls of all of her family and the astute eye will see a few of her paintings around Corvallis.

In the later years of their retirement, Irene and Ray moved to Corvallis to be closer to family. Irene, of course, didn’t slow down; she started a business based on her paintings, Fantasy Florals As a one woman entrepreneur she made, produced, and sold her paintings, miniaturized on greeting cards. As that business matured and she couldn’t get out to see her customers, she returned to writing. At age 85 she had her first book published, Memories of A British Big Sky War Bride, followed by her second book, ‘Twill Be Alright Come Morning’, Luv at age 92. Throughout her life she was an avid sports fan, following tennis and basketball; with Wimbledon and the Trailblazers being her favorites. She was an active member of the Tea Sippers, the Writers Group and the Celtic Womans Group until her health began to fail in 2013.

Irene’s family will remember her not only for her writing, poetry, painting and speaking, but also for her devotion to them and assuring their paths through life were rich and meaningful. She is survived by her sons, Haydn of Great Falls, Montana, Dan of Corvallis and her daughter Hope of Spokane, Washington, along with 7 grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren and one great, great grandchild.

As her favorite poet Kahlil Gibran once wrote “And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation."

A celebration of her life will be held on Sunday August 2nd, at the Corvallis Hilton Garden Inn from 12 to 4 pm.

Irene would have wished that in lieu of flowers, those wishing to find a way to commemorate her life, would find a way to help a child.

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