Irene Lythgoe Belue died April 25, 2008, in Billings at age 87. She was surrounded by her loving family. Irene was born April 12, 1921, the daughter of Thomas Lythgoe and Eliza Rosetta King Black, pioneers who settled Cowley, Wyoming in 1900.
She was raised in Cowley. She loved her life there as a child in a small town near a farm. She was a bright student, excelling in math, geography, history, and government studies. She graduated valedictorian of her class from Cowley High School, May 18, 1938. She was also very athletic, excelling at ice skating, softball, and basketball—long before such became things for girls to do.
She met her future husband, Travis Belue, at a Cowley dance. She was 15, he 17. He had left the dust bowl of Oklahoma and came to Deaver, Wyoming at 16, to join the Civil Conservation Corp. He earned $25 per month, sent $20 to his parents, and spent the remaining $5 on Irene, his beau. They fell in love and decided to marry. This teenage marriage started here in Billings, June 8, 1937. He was 18; she was only 16. Of the day this mere child married, she said, “I was so frightened, I felt like I could not walk. We [Travis and I] had to walk down stairs at the [Old Yellowstone County Courthouse where we were married] and I didn’t think I would make it.” For her honeymoon she and her groom went to the movies in downtown Billings. Then they retired to the Grand Hotel at the corner of First Avenue North and North 27th Street. Her account of the Billings honeymoon was: “After the show and staying all night at the hotel, we drove back to Cowley, and so our life began.”
This marriage that began at the Grand Hotel in Billings in 1937 was a teenager marriage, which, if judged by the divorce statistics, would have lasted about three days. It would have been washed away in the Great Billings Flood of 1937, which put over three feet of water on the floors of the Grand Hotel—June 11, 1937—just three days after Irene’s honeymoon.
But, Irene was a lot stronger than flood water. She built an eternal marriage for over 65 years, until Travis died in 2002. She weathered much more than floods—she overcame many, many disappointments, sorrows, losses, and deaths—which she would not want me to mention, because that is not what she liked to talk about, or what she thought about. Her thoughts were upon her smiles, and her words were always cheerful—even funny and colorful. Her happy outlook was so strong that it even caused her to sometimes refuse to tell the whole truth—especially when to do so would hurt another. In fact, when you talked to Irene, you often walked away wondering what really happened, because you knew she was covering over to make things sound a little better—more like happiness than they were really were. When life was hard or unbearable, she simply spoke of other things—things more soft, more cheerful.
She worked hard at all she did. As she said, “[My father and Mother] taught me to enjoy work. My father tended his animals with love and care and he fed them before he ate his breakfast, or lunch, or dinner.” So, Irene too, loved work, and her most important work was that which she did to provide a good home and raise five children born of her marriage: Travene (deceased), Clarence Thomas Belue of Billings, Bonnie Belue of Denver, Ina Rae Belue of Billings, and Brenda Belue of Billings. In addition to the children, she and Travis have 14 grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren.
Irene’s love for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren is best demonstrated by describing how she reacted to her loss of Travene—her first child, who died in 1982.
As her name implies, Travene was half Travis, half Irene. When she died Irene’s heart was so broken, it never quite mended. From then until her own death a few days ago—a span of 26 years—Travene was never out of her mind. In every room, or every place she spent any time, there was some little picture, or object—something that suggested—Travene. Travene loved music, and played the clarinet and piano. Any time the grandchildren or great-grandchildren would play any kind of music, Irene would get a special twinkle in her eye, and then a tear—and then we all knew she was slipping back in her mind to Travene.
Of course, Irene had other interest besides her family and they ought to be mentioned. First, it has to be said—and this has to be said plain and simple—Irene Belue was a patriot, a registered voter, and a Democrat—spelled with an extra large D, and not third in order of importance. She loved Hillary and Bill, so much so, that last week, as she lay dying—more or less comatose—her granddaughter, Julie Whitworth said she thought Hillary might come back to campaign in Montana. At this, Irene reached up out of her pain and unconsciousness—gained a new burst of energy—and said, like a kid in the candy store—“Do you think we could get tickets so I could go see Hillary and Bill?”
Another interest she had was her work as a waitress. Many will remember her from her days at the Northern Hotel, the Petroleum Club, the Hiland Golf Club, and other places where she served. The hallmarks of her work, again, were her smile and cheerfulness. She once said, “I have had some wonderful friends in my life.” Many of her friendships were made at her work. She had friends because she was a friend.
Irene was a life long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She first attended the Church in Billings in 1950, when it met at the old Billings Business College on 3rd Avenue North—when there were fewer than 50 “Mormons” in Billings. She taught Primary in Billings when the children met in a railroad car converted into a small building on Division Street, downtown. She was a temple worker, and many will remember how, as a visiting teacher, she made a special point to know and lift up each and every sister she visited.
The list of her interests must include her writing. She wrote lovely and touching notes and letters to friends and family. She didn’t really keep a journal, but if you ever went to her house, one the places you had to see was the kitchen table—littered—not with dirty dishes, but with papers, pencils, tablets, and notebooks, full of little thoughts she had put to paper, reminances, and stories she decided to write about. Her greatest achievement in this area was the book she published called “Heroes and Heroines of World War II”, stories and memories she compiled of the brave men and women of Cowley who helped win the war and preserve our freedom. She was especially proud of this little book. And so was Cowley. The leaders of the town selected her as the woman of the year of Cowley in, I believe, 2001, the year she wrote her book.
But, as important as politics, and waitressing, and writing, and skating were to Irene, this writing—to approach an accurate symbol of her life—has to return to what meant most to her—to her family.
In her later years Irene spent most of her time with Brenda’s children, Ashley, Sheila, and Markus. She loved them with all her heart. When they called needing a ride somewhere, or needed help of any kind, she got in the car—an old white Chrysler—now owned by Sheila—and even if she could barely walk, she would drive to their aid—helping them, listening, meeting their needs.
This ends where It began. The last child born to Tom Lythgoe and Eliza King was a beautiful daughter—named Irene—named after Eliza’s cousin and best friend during her college days. And like her namesake—Irene Lythgoe Belue was also a friend to many—to her good parents, her devoted husband, her beloved children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, church members, fellow workers, people of Cowley, Billings, and many other places.
Good night Irene, Good Night. We will see you again—but not quite yet.
The family would like to thank the kind people at Big Sky Hospice and Dr. Deric Weiss for their loving care of Irene.
In lieu of flowers, please give to the Mental Health Foundation, 1245 North 29th Street, Billings, Montana 59101. www.mhcbillings.org
Visitation will be held from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., on Thursday, at Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary and one hour prior to the service in the relief society room. Funeral Services will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, May 2, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 6th St. W and Ave. D. A reception will follow the service and burial will be in Cowley, WY later in the afternoon.
I will always love your mom, my aunt Irene. She first took Travene and me to school at BYU in 1956. It has been hard to let her go the last few years, but I knew she was in a safe place with her family so close to her. She wrote long letters when she still could telling me about all of you. I will miss her and her love so generously given to me. She was certainly a great lady–the end of the generation of that Black-Lythgoe family. I love you all. Evetta
Dear Ina Rae, First, let me say that I was very sorry to learn of the loss of your remarkable mother. Secondly, you and I went to Senior High School at the same time, and although I was a year or two ahead of you, I remember you well. As I read the beautiful obituary written about your mother, it seemed to me that you possessed many of your mother’s qualities. (Now this is a legacy worth being left!) I will never forget Irene Belue’s graciousness. She had a genuine sweetness about her! Truly, she was deeply admired for being such a strong and wonderful woman, and clearly a survivor. I remember her best during the years she worked at the Hilands. Everyone loved Irene. She was so pretty and always such a premium lady. I don’t believe I ever saw her or heard her showcase any bitterness with regard to the disappointments she encountered in her lifetime. It’s a fact that your mother was an amazingly independent woman – well ahead of the times, for sure. What a role model you had! Certainly, you also have my most sincere sympathies at this time, for I know how much you will miss her. I hope that you will take comfort in knowing that you had the gift of having a mother who was extraordinary, and I’m confident that your memories of the life you shared are equally as extraordinary. God bless you and all of your family, Ina Rae.
Sincerely, Mary (Barovich) Fitzgerald
What a remarkable lady! I enjoyed visiting with her at the the Tender Nest Assisted Care Home. May you be blessed with peace as you reflect on her wonderful life and your beautiful memories. Carol Camp
To the family of Irene Belue,
Irene has been a client of mine since 2002. I always enjoyed seeing her when she came down to the office to discuss business or whatever else was on her mind at the time, and missed her visits when she could no longer drive. I am thankful that she was part of my life during that time. My sypmpathies go out the the family and I wish everyone the best in celebrating her life.
Jason Wise, Financial Consultant, RBC Dain Rauscher
I wanted to pass my thoughts to the family of Irene Belue. She was in both Pioneer and West Park Wards with my family. I use to love hearing her get up and speak, either in testimony or talk. What a wonderful, stalwart person she was! She had such determination and strength. I am thankful to have been acquainted with this great lady and her husband, Travis.
I was sorry to learn of Irene’s passing. I remember her as always being fun-loving and a happy person. She was the last of the Black-Lythgoe siblings and we will miss her. The last time I saw her was when she came to Utah for Vida’s 98th (I think) birthday party. We had an enjoyable visit at that time. Our sympathy goes out to all the family. Love, your cousin, Velna Blood