On the Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, Gaelen Elizabeth Schell Curtis passed away at the wonderful age of 75 years. She was surrounded by love and passed on most peacefully. It was a beautiful and heartbreaking moment that felt unreal. She was an excellent big sister, a loving wife, a caring mother and grandmother, and a dear friend.
Gaelen was born on Sept. 8, 1946, at Brooks Army Hospital, Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, but grew up travelling the world. Being raised as an “army brat,” she lived in a myriad of places, including Taiwan, Japan, Greece, and Korea where she met the love of her life, Kicker Curtis. She married that “dashing, dirty rotten SOB” in 1970 and spent most of the next 49 rollercoaster years with him in the Hi-Line country of north central Montana. On that windswept prairie, she became an original Milk River Wagon Train outrider, heavy drinker, and teller of tales-some tall, but all entertaining. Her travels did not stop there, however. Ever seeking to enjoy new places, she would spend her life visiting such far-flung lands as Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, and Canada.
She received her education in a number of places as well. Although she would say that she went through the School of Hard Knocks, she actually graduated from the Fort Knox High School in Kentucky in 1964. She attended undergraduate studies at Ohio State University and completed them at The College of Great Falls in Art Education in 1971. She fulfilled a lifelong desire to complete a Master of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Montana in 2003, where she also became her daughter’s “best roommate ever.”
Gaelen kept her faith alive through a long-term association with the Malta Lutheran Church, serving in various and sundry capacities, including church council, financial secretary, Bible school, and choir. Not one to be known for her idleness, Gaelen joined Eastern Star in Malta, where she went through the chairs and served as Worthy Matron. She led the Phillips County CowBelles as a former president and acted as local co-representative for the Little Rockies Arts Association and Northeastern Arts Network, bringing world-class performances to the small but mighty stage at the Malta High School. Seeking to broaden the already endless Phillips County horizon, she ultimately helped found the People’s Socialist Committee of Landusky and was promptly deemed its official Matriarch by all three members.
Gaelen was an artist and she used the inspiration she gained from her globe-trotting life to not only create her own art but to spend 20 years instilling her passion into her art students at the Malta High School, so that they might learn to see the beauty that can be so often hidden in this world. Harkening back to an earlier time, Gaelen also taught in the one-room Phillips School on the Lloyd Knudsen place in 1971-1973. After her retirement from teaching, Gaelen served on the Malta School Board for nine years and as a former president of the Malta Education Association (the first year they tried to fire the wrestling coach for directing his team to stop eating red meat).
Gaelen lived life to the fullest and attained many achievements, but the one she was most proud of was living a clean and sober life for 34 years, during which time she led many other broken souls out of the shadows and into the light. Some of her other accomplishments include raising three children to survival and fluorescence, and nurturing and feeding innumerable veterinary interns from across the globe. She has also been known as a rowdy and raucous storyteller (much to her granddaughters’ delight); state champion skeet shooter; shrapnel collector and water buffalo wrangler in Taiwan; and underage drinker in Paris. As she would say, she had no bucket list because she had already lived it.
She was preceded in death by her brother, Rieder William Schell, Jr.; mother, Margaret Jean Bayha Schell; father, Col. Rieder William Schell, Sr.; and husband, Capt. Dr. Doc John James Jim Kicker Curtis. She is survived by her sisters, Caroline Jean Schell and Sharon Lee Schell Carpenter; children, Rieder William Curtis, David Lorenzo Curtis and Katherine “Katie” Jean Curtis; and numerous grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and so, so many friends.
During the last week of her life on this earth, Gaelen wrote a message that was discovered just one day before she died. A message she wrote knowing that she was dying. Perhaps her intended audience was the entire world. That message says this,
“Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
As the season goes on, I want to stress a problem (I’m hoping): Please try to mend all problems.
Life is too short to not share your life and your love.
Please think of this seriously.
I love all of you, I’ll always be in your hearts!”
Memorial services are planned for March 21 in Malta and Landusky, Montana--details will be announced at a later date
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