Leila May Renfrow Samuelson left this world on Saturday, June 29, 2019. She was preceded in death by her parents, Clyde Merlin Renfrow and Ruby Robison Renfrow, older brothers Dean and Leo, her twin brother Lyle, and on Oct. 9, 2012, by husband James N. Samuelson.
Leila and her twin brother Lyle were born during the Great Depression on the family farm near Oneida, Iowa. She always referred to herself a farm girl, and shared dozens of stories about her happy childhood on the farm. She was a star center for her high school basketball team when girls were allowed to play only half-court ball. Lee graduated from high school in 1942, then entered Upper Iowa University, earning her two-year teaching certificate in 1944.
Meanwhile, Leila was courted by Jim Samuelson. They married on Sept. 23, 1944, just a month before Jim entered the U.S. Army during WWII. Following his discharge Jim returned home to Maynard, Iowa, where Leila was teaching. The couple moved to Readlyn, Iowa. Jim managed a lumberyard and Leila continued teaching. The couple had a daughter, Terri Lee, in September 1947. Sister Roxana Jo was born in April, 1950.
The family relocated to Columbia Falls in 1956, and Jim entered the custom cabinet business with Leila’s brother Leo Renfrow. Leila was hired by School District 6. Her fellow teachers called her “Lee” and the name stuck.
Lee and Jim’s lives in Columbia Falls centered on community, church and school events, as they followed their daughters’ many activities. Lee was renowned for her sewing and knitting skills, and she managed to juggle sewing and knitting for others while being a proud mom who enthusiastically supported her girls’ activities, all while teaching school full-time.
Teaching was Lee’s passion. It was her lifetime thrill to be instrumental in young people’s learning and growth. She brought her considerable skills and talents to her classroom, working hard to provide rich learning experiences while engaging her students in exciting and unique art and crafts projects. Lee earned great admiration from students who remember her for her caring and kindness.
As her girls grew up, Lee vowed to complete her four-year BA degree before her first daughter entered college. As usual, she accomplished what she set out to do, earning her BA from UM, Missoula in the summer of 1965. After 35 years of teaching, Lee retired in 1983.
During their life together, Lee and Jim built four houses. As a retiree, Lee took painting and cake decorating classes. She made scores of dolls. She was an active member of the PEO for over 50 years. Jim and Lee enjoyed motorcycle touring and RV trips around the U.S., Canada and Mexico. They wintered in Yuma, Arizona, and worked summer jobs in Estes Park, Colorado; Arkansas; Ponderosa Ranch, Nevada; the Grand Canyon; and Silver City, New Mexico. In later years they summered in Montana.
Lee was known for her creativity and talent, her can-do attitude, her energy and her boundless generosity. She looked for people to give to. Her sewing and knitting skills are legendary. She is one of the first people to own an automatic knitting machine in the Pacific Northwest. It’s impossible to calculate the number of people who have felt Lee’s love through the handmade gifts she gave them. Lee possessed the Renfrow wit, but thankfully, in a gentler form than that of her three brothers!
Lee is survived by her daughters Terri Lee (Dev) Hill and Roxana Jo Hessman; granddaughter Erin (Kevin) Sahotsky; granddaughter Kristin (Mike) Campbell; great-grandsons Bryan and Cody Campbell; numerous nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews; and all who loved their Aunt Leila.
Lee’s remains will rest with her mother in Maynard, Iowa. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m., Friday, July 12, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Columbia Falls.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Lee Samuelson Art Fund. Checks payable to School District 6. Indicate SAMUELSON ART FUN. Mail to Finance Director, PO BOX 1259, Columbia Falls, MT 59912.
Columbia Mortuary is caring for Leila’s family.