Vella Hougen passed away in Larimore, ND, on November 1, 2017, the day after the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther pounding his Theses on the door. As a lifelong Lutheran, she would have liked that.
A celebration of Vella’s life was held on Sunday, November 5, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Larimore.
Vella Caroline Thordis Olson was born to Martin Olson and Caroline Rygg Olson on March 21, 1927, in Langford. She was the outdoor girl on the family farm, and it made all the difference in her life. She spent her time with her father Martin—a bright, progressive, optimistic, generous, forward-looking man; and she lived her life in a way to make him proud. Vella graduated from Langford High School and went on to get an Associate Degree in Education from Northern State College in Aberdeen before starting her teaching career.
Vella’s cousin Richard Olson arranged a blind date for her on the last day of 1950. Her date, Jim Hougen, made the best decision of his life that night when he proposed only hours after meeting her. Not as impetuous as Jim, she waited a day to say yes. They were married on August 1, 1951, beginning the 60+ year “Vella and Jim Show.” Jim fancied himself the rock of the household; Vella allowed the deception, but he fooled no one but himself. Her death fell on All Saints’ Day, and anyone who knew Vella and Jim would fondly appreciate the coincidence.
Born to this union were seven children. Vella’s older children were amazed when they were dropped off with Mom at the farm in Langford for visits. If the only available vehicle was the grain truck, Mom hopped behind the wheel and double clutched down the gravel roads to visit family and friends. A grain truck was, after all, the first vehicle she drove. She remembered her dad sending her to the elevator in town with a full load when she was 10.
She was an exceptional mom. Among the seven kids, our collective memories of her being angry or short with us wouldn’t fill the fingers on one hand. Vella was a Lutheran who Luther would have liked. She epitomized the fruits of the spirit - love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, and lived her faith daily. She bore the suffering that life brings with stoic, Norwegian strength, modeling resilience and grace for her family. When Jim’s health declined, she went years without getting a full night’s sleep, caring for him and the household without complaint. Dementia took many of her memories in her final years but never took her personality. She was a gift from God to her family and all who knew her. While she didn’t always know her kids’ names or her grandkids, she always knew they were “hers.” She loved looking at pictures of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and delighted in their adventures.
She lived at the Good Samaritan Center in Larimore her last few years. Her family is grateful for the wonderful care she received from the compassionate staff. Hospice of the Red River Valley helped in her last days, attentive to her and her family’s needs.
After Jim’s death, their marriage lived on. To any “I love you, Mom,” her response was always, “We love you, too.”
Vella and Jim had seven children, John (Michelle), Jane, Ardis (Craig) Kraft, Charles, David, Paul (Stephanie), and Susan (Marty) Lieberg. They had 10 grandchildren; every one of them thought they were Grandma’s favorite: Meghan (Brandon) Fortman, Erik (Becky) Hougen, Rachel (Ryan) Galemore, Krysta Hougen, Luke (Krystal) Kraft, Caroline Hougen, Emma Hougen, Benjamin Lieberg, Sarah Hougen, and Kjerstie Lieberg. They also had 9 great-grandchildren; and she counted her many nieces and nephews as her own, as well as Dave Rustebakke.
Vella’s husband of 61 years preceded her in death, as did their sons, Charlie and Paul, losses she grieved with strength and dignity. She is survived by a brother Owen and sisters-in-law Marilyn and Sheila. Her sister Jermaine, and brothers Martin and Charles preceded her death, as did her in-laws Doris Shide, Lloyd Hougen, Bob Shide, and Margaret Tank.