Ila's Celebration of Life Video

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In loving memory of Ila Mae Dees Andersen

April 16, 1928 - March 27, 2020

Ila — beloved soulmate and wife to Alfred for 65 years; Mom to Kurt, Kris, Karl & Kara; and friend to so many who were blessed to know her — lived life in full color and in tune with the music and artistry of her soul.
With our love and so many smiles of the memories, we share this tribute to Ila. May the kind, generous, and creative life she lived so well inspire us all to do the same.

Kara, Kurt, Kris & Karl

Ila's Album

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TBME was the code word that Mom and I shared. I even had shirts embroidered one time: TBME for Mom and TBDE for Dad.

The Best Mom Ever. The Best Dad Ever.

When I’d tell Mom she was TBME, she’d smile and say that I didn’t have anything to compare with. But I did. I saw over my life countless examples of her being TBME – shown through her gifts from her heart as an artist.

Mom created. Mom was an artist. Her talent as a tailor (and I was the lucky recipient of her artistry as she made most of my clothes through high school) opened the door to her artistry as a quilter later in life, with an innate sense of color and design.

She was a masterful knitter – intricate patterns of texture and color. One of my fondest memories is coming up the stairs in the mornings before school and seeing Mom sitting in kitchen on cold winter mornings knitting, in between making breakfast for us four kids and Dad.

Not only did she make us breakfast every day, but every evening she created a nice dinner for our family of six. Only when I started making dinner later in life did I fully understand what an artistic creation this was.

Mom also created beauty from everyday things. I remember a set of placemats she made from leftover fabric with her signature bird appliqued in the corner of each yellow rectangle. She painted my metal school lunch box with a sunny scene of flowers and a bunny with a fluffy tail and long whiskers.

She added color to our lives in celebrating holidays – Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Valentine’s Day – with fun, handmade decorations. She marked the importance of celebration with her family.

I remember for one of my August birthdays when I was about 10 she set up a treasure hunt in the woods behind our stone house. My friends and I found the first treasure and a clue to the next, and we roamed up and down the hill collecting treasures. Another birthday we created paper crowns of construction paper, glitter, and doilies, turning us into Mountain Princesses for the afternoon.

Mom was a musical artist. She created music from her earliest days and it was her lifelong passion. After she majored in music at Stephen’s College, she moved to Denver. Not knowing anyone or having a job weren’t issues at all. She found a room in an Italian family’s north Denver home, and during the two years she lived there, she learned the art of Italian cooking. To this day, her marinara sauce recipe is still the best.

When Mom and Dad met, she created the artful home in their first tiny house after they married in 1953. Along the way, she raced their MGTD and was a force to be reckoned with in the MG Car Club. Her skill in hill climbs, time trials and rallies earned her lots of trophies. Mom was fearless – not in a brash or reckless way that in many people would actually be a coverup of deep fear – but in a confident “Why Not?” approach to life.

This groundedness led Mom to developing her signature style of chording with the Appalachian dulcimer. Starting from scratch and self-taught, harnessing her musical artistry, in a few years she was performing and singing all over town. I remember going with her to so many events, singing at schools and libraries and senior centers and more. And how very proud I was to carry her dulcimers and help her set up. And then I’d sit and listen as she began her sharing her art with the audience and connecting with their hearts.

Her talent was showcased at the Beaver Brook Lodge in Evergreen, where she played and sang on weekends for a few years. I remember going there a few times too, and because she played at night, eventually I’d get tired. She and Dad would tuck me into the corner booth in the bar area and I’d drift off to sleep listening to Mom playing and singing.

Mom and Dad both sang in the choir at Evergreen Lutheran Church from their very first years of joining the church in 1969. They both sang and performed with Evergreen Players and Evergreen Chorale.

Later in life, strange changes to Mom’s voice made her unable to sing. This was so hard for her. Singing was her passion. But she found other ways to continue sharing her art of music. When Mom and Dad moved to Ellsworth in 2011, she started playing dulcimer with a bluegrass group: bass, banjo, and autoharp. Mom didn’t sing but she loved playing again. Dad loved that she playing and was so proud. He shared often how he loved that they’d go play for the “old folks” at the nursing home and senior center – amused at a beautiful irony that Mom at 83 was likely older than many of the people they were playing for.

At their little Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wilson, Kansas, Mom played bells and the Orff instrument in the choir. I remember many Christmases in the choir loft with Mom, listening to the music they played.

In 1973, during the time Mom was performing at Beaver Brook, she recorded a professional album. Titled simply “Ila,” it captured several of the ballads and Civil War songs she loved to share, including one song she wrote about the women’s liberation movement at the time.
While she supported the importance of the ideals, she had found in her life true freedom and liberation.

The final stanza says it all: “I love being a woman. A lover, and a mother, and a wife. And I can’t think of anything that I’d rather do with my life.”

Into Mom’s life were woven the harmonies of the boundless love, support, respect, and admiration of her soulmate and husband. Her endless love for us kids. Her ability to see the good and coax out the light – and the art – in people and life’s moments.

Mom lived life in full color, over nearly 92 years, spanning octaves of expression through her music, her creativity, and her artistry in everything she did.

And her masterpiece, in my opinion, is how she loved Dad and our family so deeply. And how she created the beautiful, strong, safe, supportive place from which her artistry as a light in this world was nurtured and allowed to shine brightly. Through her light, she created the space for all of us to bring color and music to our lives.

TBME. That's my Mom.

Her art continues and her music plays on.

Kara Andersen Stewart