Aileen V. Christenson

aileen christenson

 Aileen Vyonne Skarie Christenson

March 31, 1922 - July 10, 2010

Aileen Vyonne Christenson, 88, died as a result of a massive cerebral hemorrhage on Saturday, July 10, 2010 in Portland, OR where she had resided for the past three years. Aileen was born to George J. Skarie, Sr. and Mabel G. (Jorgenson) Skarie of Albert Lea on March 31st, 1922. An older brother, George J. Skarie, Jr. predeceased her in 1989. She graduated from Albert LeaHigh School in 1940. She was born to a first generation Norwegian/Danish mother and a first generation Norwegian father. She had a strong identification as a Norwegian all of her life. Her maternal grandmother, Berthe Gulbranson Jorgenson, a Norwegian immigrant, lived with the family for much of Aileen's childhood and had a great influence on her. Aileen was also surrounded by her mother's sisters and their families and many of them lived within a block of each other in Albert Lea. Her cousin, Gloria (Wolhuter) Carpenter of Decorah, Iowa and she agreed they grew up more like sisters than cousins.

The Depression years hit everyone in the working class town of Albert Lea, although with her father owning his own printing business, she probably didn't suffer as much as many of her classmates. One of those classmates, a year ahead of her in school, would become her husband. Elmer “Chris” Leroy Christenson and she met during a somewhat romantic high school play where she recounted him picking her up and carrying her off stage. They married during World War II in August of 1942 in Houston, Texas because, as Chris put it in a letter to his parents, they couldn't wait to be together any more. Their marriage lasted 60 years with the August anniversary celebrated with family on the Oregon Coast, and ended when Chris died in his sleep at age 81 on November 14, 2002 at their home in Centennial, Colorado.

During their married years, Chris's work in the radio and electronics field took them from Minnesota to reside in Idaho, California, Wisconsin, Iowa and, finally, Colorado. Aileen focused on homemaking, crafts and child rearing. The oldest child, Michael Allen Christenson, was born in Albert Lea in 1945. Gary Lee Christenson was born in Muscatine, Iowa in 1947. Terri Jo Christenson was born in Stillwater, Minn. in 1951. With their family complete, Chris made the decision in 1953 to quit his radio broadcasting career and work at Honeywell as an electronics engineer. The family then moved to St. Louis Park, MN where Aileen made many new friends. She worked at an ear mold laboratory and JC Penneys for extra money for household items. In 1962, the family moved to Littleton, (now Centennial) Colorado where Chris had been transferred by Honeywell. After the child rearing was complete, Aileen worked as a secretary and also as an office manager at a physician's office before her retirement.

Aileen had the ability to gather and maintain friendships from the many stages of her life. She continued contact with her best friend from her early school days, Barbara Jean Kleinpaste of Albert Lea, Minn., until her death. She had the ability to maintain close relationships with many people despite distances. Both Aileen and Chris made many friends in the neighborhoods they lived in, at their jobs, the churches they attended and during trips they made abroad in their retirement years. They were especially fond of the friends they made in their neighborhood on Briarwood Circle in Centennial, Colorado. In March of 2010, Aileen went back to Colorado to visit friends and family. Her Colorado neighbors and friends had a surprise 88th birthday party for her which delighted her. She also made many friends at her senior living facility when she moved to Oregon shortly after the death of her son, Gary.

Aileen and her husband were very active in the Fjelldalen Sons of Norway in Denver

and were editors of the newsletter for many years. They made many trips in the U.S. and abroad and visited the childhood home of her great grandmother in Norway. Later she painted a picture of the homestead, “Thomsleven” , and gave prints to many of her family members.

Self reliance and creativity were values Aileen held dear. Perhaps these values were formed during the Depression when, she recounted, toys were sparse and she and her friends would use acorns and pretend they were people, putting their hats on and off with dialogue during their improvised play. She was an expert seamstress like her Norwegian grandmother and made clothes for her family, even sometimes making her own patterns. She learned to make hats, upholster furniture, refinish furniture and bake professional looking cakes. She learned to do rosemaling (Norwegian painting), hardanger (Norwegian fabric decoration) and to speak basic Norwegian. Most of all, Aileen enjoyed cooking, baking and painting in watercolor.

In her later years, Aileen dedicated herself to learning many techniques in watercolor. She attended classes at Judi Patti's studio and classroom for many years in Littleton, CO. When she moved to Oregon, she took a year of art classes at the MultnomahArtsCenter. She also continued to bake and cook and in 1997 was a proud tester and contributor to “Across Colorado: Recipes and Recollections” by the Volunteers of the Colorado Historical Society (1997).

Aileen faced challenges in her life as well. She had many health challenges and was close to death many times in her adult life. She weathered the sudden loss of her husband in 2002. It was a more difficult challenge to anticipate and then experience the death of her son, Gary, in 2006 after a failed lung transplant. She then felt challenged by the diagnosis of her daughter with the same lung disease, Familial Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, and didn't feel she could survive another loss of another child. Aileen faced these challenges by calling upon her deep faith in God and her religion as a Lutheran. She called upon the support of her pastor , her religious community and her friends.

Aileen is survived by her son, Michael Christenson (Patricia Osborne) and daughter, Terri Jo Christenson (Les Busch) of Portland, OR. Her son, Gary Christenson of Parker, CO preceded her in death in 2006. She is survived by her daughter in law, Jan Christenson of Parker, CO., grandchildren Holly (Eddie) Dowdle of Colorado Springs, CO, Bradley Christenson of Parker, CO, Elliott Thomas Christenson Williams of Lake Oswego, OR and Eric Osborne of Portland, OR., She was a loving and very proud great grandparent of Autumn and Mason Dowdle of Colorado Springs, CO. She is also survived by her neice, Sandi Skarie Widmer of Sacramento, CO, and cousin, Gloria Carpenter, of Decorah, Iowa, whose husband of 60 years died on the same day as Aileen.

Aileen leaves us with the lessons of resilience in times of challenge. To follow her example we would turn inward and focus on our spirituality during times of loss and turn outward with friendly and loving eyes towards others, everyone a potential friend. The family would like to thank the staff at St. Vincent's MedicalCenter in Portland for their compassionate caring of Aileen during her final hours. The family is also grateful for the staff and residents at The Courtyard at Raleigh Hills who helped to make Aileen feel welcome and cared for when she moved to her apartment in Portland and helped the family conduct a Celebration of Life on August 6th. The family would also like to thank Patricia Newton, MD and Thomas Pitre, MD for the fine medical care she received in Portland.

A funeral service will be held at the HolyTrinityLutheranChurch, 6322 S. Lakeview St. in Littleton, CO on Sunday, September 19th at 1:30. Refreshments will be served in the church basement following the service. Aileen's ashes will join her husband's at FortLoganNationalCemetery September 20th at 11 am. 

Donations can be made to the memory of Aileen Christenson to:

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 6322 S. Lakeview St., Littleton, CO 80120


Vesterheim Norwegian-AmericanMuseum, 523 W. Water Street, Decorah, Iowa, 52101 or

National Jewish Health,

Attn: David A Schwartz, MD,

Center for Genetics & Therapeutics

(as a restricted contribution to the Familial Pulmonary Fibrosis Research)

1400 Jackson, Denver, CO 80206


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