IRILENE AND NELSON DENNEY
Irilene Denney was born on the easily-remembered date of April 19, 1919. She was born before women had the right to vote and lived long enough to have the opportunity to vote for a woman for President. Nobody will know for whom she voted but the point is that she saw some incredible changes during her long life.
She was born in Worth County, Missouri to Alma and Rex Rowe. She grew up in the very small town of Redding, Iowa where she attended school until she returned to Missouri to graduate from Northeast Missouri State Teacher’s College. After that she taught Home Economics in Silver City, Iowa. In 1941 she married Nelson H. Denney, also from Redding, Iowa.
It wasn’t long before Nelson was off to serve in World War II and Irilene found herself doing what all women did during that time: keeping the country together. She was able to follow Nelson around the country until he was deployed in the South Pacific. During this time their daughter Thelma Sue was born in Laughton, Oklahoma. Now Irilene had additional responsibilities but was able to teach home economics and calculus in Hopkins, Missouri. With this income and what Nelson sent home she was able to build a nest egg for a fresh start after the war.
The family moved to Fort Collins, Colorado where Nelson built their first home and Sue grew up. Irilene became a valuable member of the community where she was a substitute teacher, 4-H leader, square dancer and good mother (ask Sue for her buttermilk pancake recipe).
As time went on Nelson built a cabin at Redfeather Lakes and Irilene learned to fish and golf. On a fishing trip to Alaska she caught “the fish of the day,” a ninety pound halibut (a real achievement since she never weighed more than about 110 pounds) and in a golf game in California she got “the shot of the day,” a hole-in-one.
By this time most of the Iowa family was living in Fort Collins and Irilene supervised lots of pot lucks and holiday celebrations.
By 2002 Irilene and Nelson decided to move to Washington since most of their Colorado family was now living there. A notable exception was her beloved cousin Ramona Parker from Fort Collins, who called her daily. They wanted to live in the mountains and found that Leavenworth was like Colorado with a Bavarian flavor.
In 2010 they moved into assisted living at Mountain Meadows where Irilene was able to enter a quilt in the Leavenworth Quilt Show. She had been working on it for 10 years and it paid off—Best in Show.
Irilene was a member of the Methodist Churches in Fort Collins, Mesa Arizona and Leavenworth. She also helped found the Chapel in the Pines in Redfeather Lakes, where she ran the Thrift Shop.
She will be missed by all her friends at Mountain Meadows and every other place where she brightened days. She is survived by her husband Nelson, daughter Sue and her husband Jim, from Ellensburg, Washington, Grandson Jay Briggs and his wife Roxie from Ellensburg and Granddaughter Amy Maher and her husband Bob from Kirkland, Washington. Irilene has four great grandchildren (Jake Briggs, Julia Maher, Madison Briggs and Andrew Maher) with whom she played many card games and fixed many pancake breakfasts.
Nelson Denney was exactly who Tom Brokaw was writing about when he published The Greatest Generation. He was born on September 3, 1919 at his home farm in Redding, Iowa. He was a teenager during the Great Depression and developed the Middle American values that sustained him throughout his long life.
He was educated in the country schools near Redding and attended senior year of high school in nearby Mount Ayr, Iowa. He went there was because they had basketball and baseball teams and Nelson loved sports. His 15 minutes of fame came at Mount Ayr when his baseball team played for the state championship. They were defeated but as Paul Harvey, one of Nelson’s favorite radio personalities, used to say this is the rest of the story: The other team had a pitcher by the name of Bobby Feller, who went on to Hall of Fame glory with the Cleveland Indians. So the loss became an element of pride. After graduating, Nelson attended Maryville State Teacher’s College in nearby Missouri.
But the greatest test for the Greatest Generation was about to begin. Nelson must have known war was in the wind because he enlisted in the Iowa National Guard in December, 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor. He was on active duty until 1946 and during this time he married Irilene Rowe from his hometown on October 24, 1941. Their daughter, Sue was born on April 12, 1943 while Nelson was stationed at Fort Sill Oklahoma.
The Iowa National Guard, along with the Minnesota National Guard was the first American Army unit to see action in North Africa and there were terrible casualties as the troops learned the art of warfare. Nelson, however, missed this because he was attending Officers Candidate School when they deployed. Upon receiving his commission he served as an artillery instructor and later deployed to the Island of Kauai in Hawaii. The job of his battery was to prevent the enemy from occupying Nawiliwili Harbor. After the war, Nelson served on the occupation force in Japan.
After the war Nelson and Irilene decided to live in Fort Collins, Colorado where one of Irilene’s uncles had homesteaded. This was better for Irilene’s hay fever than the farmland of Iowa. Nelson built a house and attended Colorado A & M College (now Colorado State University). He worked for the Fort Collins Post Office while a student and they offered him a full time job. He made his career at the Post Office, working his way up to Assistant Postmaster.
Nelson stayed in the Army by joining the Colorado National Guard, retiring in 1965 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He used his leadership skills in all areas of the community, notably helping to build Chapel of the Pines.
Nelson was able to exercise his love for building by constructing and renovating homes in Fort Collins, Red Feather Lakes, Iowa and Arizona. He also built a large addition and a complete home for Sue and her husband, Jim in New York.
Nelson loved to hunt and fish and had an old black jeep which became his field office. Nobody knows how many fish, deer and elk were transported in “Blackie” but the number would be impressive.
Nelson’s other passion was golf. It was on a golfing vacation to Kauai to revisit his earlier experiences, that Nelson and Irilene bought a two-week timeshare. They returned every year thereafter and generously took family and friends along and gave them some memorable golf experiences. Nelson had two holes-in-one during his career and the two trophies, along with Irilene’s made an impressive mantle display.
After retiring, Nelson and Irilene bought a place in Mesa, Arizona and became golfing snowbirds, alternating between Red Feather Lakes fishing and Mesa golfing.
In 2002, they moved to Leavenworth, Washington to be closer to family, nearly all of whom were living there by then. There was a golf course there but the fishing was much more complicated than casting a fly in the front yard in Red Feather. But Red Feather didn’t have world class bratwurst and a Christmas light show for the ages.
Nelson is survived by daughter Sue and her husband Jim, from Ellensburg, Washington, Grandson Jay Briggs and his wife Roxie from Ellensburg and Granddaughter Amy Maher and her husband Bob from Kirkland, Washington. He has four great grandchildren (Jake Briggs, Julia Maher, Madison Briggs and Andrew Maher). Nelson survived Irilene by only 63 days. They are now reunited in eternity and provided a living example of the Greatest Generation.
Graveside services will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 23, 2017 at the Redding Cemetery at Redding, Iowa with Rev. Skip Rushing officiating. The Iowa Honor Guard and Ringgold Post #172 will provide the military rites.
Memorials are established in their names.