Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Kenneth Riley, 99

| March 31, 2024 12:00 AM

Kenneth John Riley, 99, of Columbia Falls passed away peacefully at his son’s home in Gilbert, Arizona, on March 25, 2024. He was just one month shy of his 100th birthday. 

Ken was born on April 22, 1924, in Casselton, North Dakota. As a child, his family moved to Bemidji, Minnesota where he spent his formative years. As one of nine kids, hunting and fishing weren’t just fun, they were a way of life, providing the primary food source for the family. He often recalled breaking horses, trapping wolves and working on the farm. His wolf money was so good that he was able to pay cash for a brand-new 1938 Lincoln Zephyr. That was the one car he always regretted selling. As World War II broke out, Ken enlisted in the Navy and spent his tour of duty throughout the Pacific. 

In 1951, Ken met the love of his life, Dixie Joan Wegner (Beebe). They were married a year later at Salem Lutheran Church in Turtle River, Minnesota. Together they moved to White Sulfur Springs, where he worked in the woods, then to Columbia Falls, where Ken was a heavy equipment operator at Plum Creek Lumber Co. Ken and Dixie attended Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, where they were charter members. In 1953 they were blessed with a son, Harold John, followed by Tammi Jo in 1960. The family lived on Riley Lane in a house that Ken and his brothers built, using a Cat borrowed from Plum Creek to clear the land, and lumber purchased with his employee discount. His “DIY, can-do” spirit remained with him always. 

Ken was an avid hunter and fisherman, he loved woodworking and working on engines. He could build almost anything out of wood or metal and spent many hours working in his shop, well into his 90s. His love of the outdoors also meant many camping outings for the family, beginning when the kids were little, and lasting until his last year of life when he again was camping with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He taught them to work with wood and shared his recipe for making the world's best pancakes.

After nearly 70 years of marriage, Dixie, "Bunny," preceded him in death in 2021. He leaves behind his two children Harold Riley (Reinhilde) of Gilbert, Arizona; and Tammi Hull (David) of Woodinville, Washington; five grandchildren (Kevin, Katrin, Karolin, Kelsey, Kellen) and nine great-grandchildren (Anika, Torsten, Finn, Svea, Lorelei, Lena, Quincy, Reese and Waylon). He is also survived by his brother Jim Riley of Columbia Falls.

Gramps was a character who lived a remarkable life. He was always in “Tip Top Shape and Bubbling Over.” We miss him already!

A celebration of life will be planned for this summer in Columbia Falls when we bring Dad home to be with his “Bunny” in Woodlawn Cemetery. To send online condolences to Ken's tribute page please visit www.columbiamortuary.com.

Columbia Mortuary in Columbia Falls is caring for the family.