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Richard John “Dick” Willems

August 29, 1932 — October 19, 2018
Thursday, October 25, 2018

With “Momma” and his girls at his side, Richard John (Dick) Willems let go of “Momma’s” hand on Oct. 19. After 86 years of life, his body wore out way before we were ready to let him go.

Dick was born in Hedgesville, Montana to his Dutch immigrant parents, John and Hannah Willems, on August 29, 1932. He joined his brother, Dutch, and sisters, Mona and Bette, at the family home and later helped welcome another sister and brother, Fran and Don. When Dick was eight years old, the family moved to Harlowton where Dick graduated from high school in 1950. He enlisted in the United States Air Force (USAF) serving as a tail gunner and boom operator from 1951 through 1955, refueling B-29s in flight during the Korean War. Dick was always proud of his service to his country, but, like many, was not one to talk about it.

During Dick’s time at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, he started to date Anna Mae Hagberg. Ann and Dick married on July 1,1955, and Dick referred to Ann as “Momma” for the rest of his earthly days.

After serving in the USAF, Dick attended Eastern Montana College in Billings, earning a bachelor of science degree in education. Dick and Ann celebrated the birth of each of their four girls while Dick attended college as he worked full-time at a service station. By the time he earned his degree, his family filled their small trailer house to near bursting! His first teaching assignment from 1962-1964 was at Columbus High School. He began his tenure at Sweet Grass County High School in Big Timber in the fall of 1965. He taught chemistry, physics and math through 1987, a span of 22 years that touched two generations for many Big Timber families. Students returned each year from college to thank Dick for preparing them so well for their advanced studies.

Dick was a man of many, many talents. He was a carpenter, building his own garages, including wiring, plumbing, concrete and helping numerous others with their projects. He could fix anything from lawnmowers, appliances, bicycles, vehicles - if it was broke he could fix it. As an example, Ann still uses an electric skillet that they received as a wedding present!

Dick started working with cars when he was 14 years old at a service station in Harlowton. His mechanical abilities, developed over many years of wrenching, culminated in the restoration of a 1967 Ford Mustang. He and Ann took that flashy car for a spin, all the way to California.

For a decade, Dick played clarinet and later the alto saxophone in the Community Band. Music always brought him great joy. Dick and Ann belonged to Dance Club for many years. They moved beautifully together on the dance floor.

Another of Dick’s passions was woodworking. The products of his woodworking talent were cherished by family and friends. He was a craftsman, meticulously crafting furniture, jewelry boxes, Christmas ornaments, picture frames (his least favorite) and many special request items.

One of his greatest talents though, was giving hugs. The kind of hugs that nearly squeezed the breath out of you! He gave them readily, often times with a smart comment, but usually with a kind word or two, and always when you seemed to need them most. Those smart comments? They came readily too!

Dick reserved his greatest love for his family. His legacy lives on through his life mate, Ann, and his daughters and their families: Michelle Mendenhall (son-in-law Tim, granddaughter Amber, grandson Anthony), Kasson, Minnesota. Pattie Myers (son-in-law Shane, grandson Cole, granddaughters Kiley Anderson and Kirby Watkins), Laurel, Montana. Judi Mataisz (son-in-law John, granddaughter Maddy) Laurel, Montana. and Kathy Rue (son-in-law Lloyd, grandsons Austin and Dayton), Clancy, Montana. Also remaining behind are four great grandchildren: Jayson and Hailey Mendenhall and Jayden Ateka of Kasson, Minnesota and Harlo Watkins, Kalispell, Montana. Dick is survived by his brother, Don, and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

Please join us in a celebration of Dick’s life at 2 p.m., Friday, Oct. 26 at American Legion in Big Timber. Come prepared to share a story, and, of course a cup of coffee!

The Willems family would like to say a special thank you to the community for embracing us in our time of loss, in particular the staff at the Pioneer Medical Center. We have called Big Timber “home” since 1965, and Big Timber has once again defined “home”. With that in mind, in lieu of flowers we would like donations made to the Senior Citizens Center, Box 298, Big Timber, MT 59011, or any charity of your choice connected to Big Timber or Sweet Grass county. Condolences for the family may be made at www.stenbergfuneralhome.com.

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