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Irene J. Hillstrom, 62

Irene Joyce Hillstrom, age 62, died quietly in her sleep Monday, March 30, 2009, at the Golden Living Center in St. Louis Park.

She was born in New Prague, MN Feb. 13, 1947, moved with her family to Royal Oak, MI, and then to Cokato in 1951, where her father developed a broiler business and then, the Hillstrom Research Farm, a mile north of town.

Irene graduated from Cokato High School in 1966, worked in Detroit, MI, where she earned a receptionist certificate from the Detroit Business Institute; in South Bend, IN, where she held clerical positions with an insurance company and a newspaper; and then moved to Minneapolis, where she completed the nursing assistant-long term care program with the State Department of Vocational-Technical Education in 1980, and worked with Tasks Unlimited for several years.

Multiple health problems necessitated her move to the Golden Living Center in November 2003. Over the years, from open-heart surgery at the age of 31, to her death at age 62, Irene endured many serious health problems, always fighting back with patience, strength, and courage, until succumbing to congestive heart failure. She had made several remarkable recoveries from physical crises, to the astonishment of many medical professionals, and she demonstrated the power of “sisu” to countless individuals.

Irene had a strong Christian faith and often spoke of her love for Jesus. After surviving a recent medical crisis, she remarked, “The Lord will come for me when He wants me, but I guess he doesn’t want me yet.”

Irene’s warm smile and uplifting, independent spirit spread joy and humor among her family, her friends, and the many care-giving professionals, staff members, and volunteers that she encountered. She was dearly loved and will be missed by her family and friends.

At the Golden Living Center, Irene was active in many activities and lived a full and meaningful life. Having adopted the butterfly as her favorite and personal symbol, she became known as the “Butterfly Lady” and enjoyed sharing her lovely colored butterfly pictures and projects with family and friends. 

Irene was preceded in death by her parents, Hugo F. Hillstrom and Lempi “Goldie” Anderson Hillstrom; a sister, Betty; and brothers Delano and Hugo.

She is survived by four sisters: Ainie Busse of Cokato, Cal Brooks of Tuscaloosa, AL, Ellen Chmaj Hillstrom of Venice, FL, and Grace Dawson (Bill) of Granger, IN; a brother, Floyd Hillstrom (Sandra) of Venice, FL; nine nieces; 13 grand nieces; one grand-grand niece; nine nephews; and 17 grand nephews; as well as her very special friend, David Guffan.

A memorial service took place at the Golden Living Center Friday, April 3, officiated by the Center’s pastor, Nancy Santiago, a good friend whom she loved. At Floyd’s request, Pastor Nancy sang “I’ll Fly Away,” which proclaims that “Some bright morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away to that home on God’s celestial shore,” a most appropriate hymn for the “Butterfly Lady.” Pastor Nancy also sang the Butterfly Song, her own composition, which she had sung to Irene many times.

Irene’s family, along with Center staff members who had grown to love Irene, participated in the service. Interment was at the Cokato City Cemetery.

Arrangements were by Swanson Peterson Funeral Home of Cokato.