Elmer Norman Drange passed away on Wednesday, April 3, 2013, at the age of 92. He was one of the good guys in this world. A longtime Billings resident, he had resided at St. John's Lutheran Home since December 2008. He and wife, Paulean, made their home on 12th Street West, the center of their activities for friends and family for nearly 60 years.
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Elmer was born Sept. 1, 1920 to Scandinavian immigrant parents, Hans Christian and Marie Brigetta Jensen Drange. The family acquired land in Shepherd to establish the Drange farm where nine children were raised. A home, barn, corrals, fences and fields were built by the family and operated as a productive farm. In recent years, driving to Shepherd to see the place and follow the roads that outlined the Drange property gave Elmer a sense of happiness and comfort.
Shepherd school offered education only up through eighth grade and rather than go to Billings to attend high school, Elmer worked with his dad and brothers on the farm, and later at Carter Oil, until joining the U.S. Army Air Corps on June 19, 1942. His Army induction papers listed his occupation as "Farmer with horse team and tractor." He was stationed in England and served in a unit that, among other things, retrieved and rescued downed pilots on the continent. He was proud to have served his country during World War II and displayed a high sense of patriotism throughout his life.
Elmer returned from the war in November 1945 and married his pre-war sweetheart, Paulean Burton, Jan. 3, 1946. They had met when she was 15 and he 19 and their love grew during his absence. She saved his letters and she often reflected on waiting patiently for his return from the Army. They lived a happy married life for 65 years and served as a role model for many because of the obvious love they showed for each other. They will be remembered for frequently holding hands, something that came so naturally to them.
Carter Oil rehired Elmer upon his return from the Army and he, sometimes with Paulean, drove a gas truck around the area and over the Beartooth Pass to Cook City. He attended Billings Business College and had a 38-year career with Farmers Union Central Exchange which became CENEX. His responsibilities included managing rail tank cars and trucks that traveled throughout the U.S. He tracked each one with telephone, paper and pencil, never entering the age of GPS locaters and computers. He retired as CENEX Refinery Distribution Manager in 1984, having commuted from Billings to Laurel for many years. He was well respected as an employee, supervisor and colleague throughout his career.
Elmer was a founding member of Valley Credit Union and took out the first loan to establish this business in 1946. That loan and the washing machine he bought with the borrowed funds formed a story he told kids and grandkids alike. He later served on the Board of Valley Credit Union, reflecting his values and commitment to conservative business practices, ethics and customer service. If you saw him in the later days of his life, he would have been wearing his Valley Credit Union ball cap.
Elmer was one of the early members of American Lutheran Church, where he and Paulean raised their children and welcomed grandchildren to the familiar surroundings of the family church. He was a devoted man and lived his faith by honoring the Lord and loving and serving others. He and Paulean delivered food gathered at the church, to the food bank every Monday morning, for years. Elmer attended Men's Bible Study, built odds and ends for various projects and helped anyone who needed a ride, a hand or something fixed. Church was a part of life for the Drange family and a particular pew in the church was where you could find them most every Sunday.
The Billings Rock and Gem Club provided Elmer with a perfect place to look for, admire and talk about rocks, although he was often more fascinated by the interesting things he found while looking for rocks. He'll wear a hand crafted rock bolo tie at his funeral.
Working in the yard or on nearby family ranches, as well as outdoor activities such as hunting, hiking, fishing and camping were favorite pastimes, especially when shared with friends or family. Driving on a gravel road and stopping to see a herd of deer, a flock of ducks, a flowing stream or a unique rock formation made Elmer's life one of appreciation and wonder. He loved Montana. A parade would always have Elmer and Paulean appreciating each entry. It was best when the red van was full of his kids and grandkids. All were eager to hear him say, "howdy," a word that was his and meant "welcome, sit and I'm glad you are here."
Elmer was preceded in death by his wife, Paulean Burton Drange and his siblings, Vera (Sam) Wilhelm, Shalla (Roy) Bru, Gladys Mongrain, Harold (Dorothy), Clarence (Lakota), Helen (Leo) Baker, Raymond (Charlotte) and Clara (Nick) Janich.
Elmer is survived by three children and their families: Terry (Kathy) Drange of Billings and their children, Kari from Shepherd and Tory from Billings; Jaynee (Rolf) Groseth from Bozeman and Billings and their children, Peder (Jess) and Anders, both of Bozeman; and Judy (Jay) Berg of White Sulphur Springs and their children, Eric of Gillette, Wyo. and Anna, Josie and Alissa, all of White Sulphur Springs; sisters-in law, Willena Burton of Seaside, Ore. and Pearl Burton of Mussellshell; and many nieces and nephews from both the Drange and Burton sides of the family.
Funeral services will be held Saturday, April 13 at 11 a.m. at American Lutheran Church, 5 Lewis Avenue, Billings, MT. A luncheon will be served after the service and interment is scheduled for Mountview Cemetery following the gathering.
Memorials may be made to American Lutheran Church in Billings or to a
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Apr. 9, 2013