Virginia “Jean” Ellis Reber passed away peacefully on Friday, January 11, 2019, in Kalispell, Montana. She was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, and friend, and will be deeply missed.
She was born in Blackfoot, Idaho on March 15, 1926, to John and Blanche Ellis, and was the fifth of eight children. After high school, Virginia attended Columbus School of Nursing in Great Falls, Montana, where she graduated President of her class in 1947. She married Donald (Don) B. Thomas that year and they had two children, Marilee and Kevin Wynn. They lived in Butte for the first few years of their marriage but later moved to Missoula. On May 13, 1953, Don was killed in a fatal traffic accident in Kalispell. In 1954, Virginia met and married her husband of nearly 59 years, Duward (Dewey) A. Reber, and the following year Curtis Dean was born.
In the years that followed, Virginia and Dewey lived in southern Idaho for a short while but established their long-term home in Polson. Dewey retired from his work as a logging contractor, and Virginia launched a successful and inspirational career as a nurse in Lake County. Between 1976 and 1991, she established and developed a series of important public health and wellness services for Lake County residents. She served as the first Public Health Nurse and Director of the Lake County Public Health Department; was instrumental in setting up the first Home Health Agency for the elderly; and she reached out to schools, worked with tribal counterparts, and mentored new public health workers. She was a visionary who fought for growth and resources for the county’s health department, leaving a legacy that will not soon be forgotten. Since 2010, the Lake County Board of Health has designated an annual recipient of the Virginia Reber Public Health Award, which honors a county resident or entity that has furthered public health principles in Lake County or the Flathead Reservation. Virginia was named the Montana “Woman of Achievement” by the state’s Business and Professional Women membership, and was a member of the Montana Public Health Association, Teen Task Force, Order of the Eastern Star, and several health-advisory boards.
Virginia and Dewey’s home was a refuge and getaway for many. For 35 years, they lived on the west shore of Flathead Lake, where they hosted frequent gatherings. Laughter and good food fresh from the garden or Dewey’s oven were always enjoyed. In 2013, Dewey passed away at the age of 89, and Virginia later moved to Kalispell.
Throughout her life, Virginia believed family and friends were most important. When her children were young, weekends were full of interesting and fun outings to “the woods,” and the family spent many hours at their King’s Point cabin on Flathead Lake. She always made time for loved ones and those in need, taking a keen interest in others’ lives and circumstances while being as supportive as possible. Often, they viewed her as their sanctuary, as she would listen to their problems without judgment and provide possible solutions. She said she tried to live her life with “Tolerance.” The plaque on her wall defined it as”…the vision that enables one to see things from another’s viewpoint. It is the generosity that concedes to others the right to their own opinion and own peculiarities.” Her sound wisdom, advice, and encouragement will be greatly missed. She had a wonderful sense of humor, integrity, and enjoyed life. Virginia also loved to read, tend to her plants and flowers, play bridge and other card games, and travel.
In June of 1999, her son Kevin passed away from complications of juvenile diabetes. Virginia is survived by her brother Jake (Linda) Ellis of Pocatello, Idaho; daughter Marilee Wood of Kalispell; son Curtis (Barbara) Reber of Proctor; grandchildren Jeff (Rosa) Server of Columbia, Maryland; Sara (Joe) Friar of Kalispell; Kristina (Alejandro) Server of Washington, DC; and Marisa Reber of Watford City, North Dakota. She also had five great-grandchildren (one deceased), and an extended family of nieces, nephews, and friends.
The family extends its special thanks to the staff of Home Options Hospice and Brendan House for their care and support in her last months.
Memorial services will be held on Friday, February 8, at Epworth United Methodist Church at 2:00 pm in Kalispell with a reception afterwards. In lieu of flowers, a charitable contribution may be made to a charity of your choice.