Linnea Ghilardi, 75
Linnea was born on Jan. 30, 1945, in Chicago to William Phillip and Doris Bartelt Phillip. She was raised in the near west village of Riverside, designed by the landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstad.
Linnea passed away on Thursday morning, 1:30 a.m., Aug. 27, 2020, with her husband of nearly 40 years holding her hand and watching her take her last peaceful breaths.
Linnea had an idyllic childhood attending schools in Riverside and then graduating at the top of her class from Riverside-Brookfield High School (R-B). She excelled in her studies. She took to writing very early on in life and it became her lifelong passion to continue writing, even editing the school yearbook for several years. She wrote her own autobiography in eighth grade and had an article published in the Chicago Tribune while in grade school.
She was athletic and at one time was ranked in Illinois as among their best competitive swimmers.
Her parents owned a “cottage” in Green Lake, Wisconsin, and thus began Linnea’s affection and need with living on or near a lake, something that would occur even in her later years.
Linnea was accepted to Northwestern University, where she once again excelled in her history major. She was required to learn both German and French for her history major and she mastered both. She was able to enjoy an art history tour of Europe, which grew into a love affair with all that Europe had to offer.
She graduated in 1967 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, and within a few months, earned her Master of Arts degree, becoming the first of her cohort group to earn an MA degree.
Linnea was looking forward to either pursuing her doctorate degree or teaching in a high school in London, but fate had a different calling. She met Larry Ghilardi and they were married in 1967.
Rather than remain in the USA, they decided to take a lengthy tour of Europe in their newly purchased VW camper. They traveled throughout Europe for over six months, a trip that would have a lasting impact on them.
They returned to London for Christmas on multiple occasions and continued their travels not only in Europe, but also the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand.
They also traveled extensively in the USA in the 1970s.
Of course, there had to pay a way for pay for all of this. Linnea secured a teaching position at Glenbrook North High School, at that time ranked among the best high schools, not only in Illinois but also the USA.
Linnea further obtained a part-time teaching position at De Lourdes College, which was both a college for order’s sisters and a four-year college for women. Linnea’s class was a room full of nuns dressed in their habits. This experience would have lifelong ramifications in Linnea’s spiritual evolution.
She was a very creative teacher and had students engaged in active learning. She took field trips to plays and other cultural events in downtown Chicago.
She became actively involved with the Illinois Council for the Social Studies, editing their newsletter for a number of years. She also mentored new teachers entering the profession.
She felt that teaching was a calling and that teachers should have a passion for the subject matter and a passion to guide students to be become better thinkers and to be precise in their writing. This would come back to her 20 years later as you shall read.
In one of Larry and Linnea’s drives around the country, they “discovered” Bigfork in 1975, staying at a fishing campground called Elm Resort near the steel bridge. Those were the days when the kokanee salmon limit was 35 fish per day. She enjoyed canning both salmon and Flathead cherries.
In Linnea’s mind, she had found her home in Montana and she spent the next three years making it happen.
They obtained teaching positions in the Helena school system, with Linnea at Helena High School teaching World Cultures and American government.
She took world cultures to another level by starting an Honors World Cultures course, one that became highly successful. Her program was so unique that the publisher of the textbook used in teaching world cultures around the nation hired Linnea to write the teacher’s guide.
Linnea met Steve Armstrong in 1979 when he arrived at Helena High. They were married in 1981.
They enjoyed team teaching many courses and sharing many of the same students. Linnea would have them as freshman and they would enter Steve’s AP and regular American history course as juniors.
In the fall of 1980, Linnea created a week-long simulation of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. This placed incredible demands on that freshman class, as they had to have exact discipline and obey commands.
While some in the community, even some of her colleagues, thought that Linnea was teaching “communism,” in fact, she was doing the exact opposite. Her lesson was on the deleterious effects of blind obedience and blind following of one leader and one supposed cause.
When Linnea had a student who was deaf, she wrote a grant to fund all of the teachers of this girl to learn American Sign Language.
She enjoyed sharing the study of local and Montana government, having the students participate in City-County Days, where students would follow city leaders and learn how a city operates. Field trips to the legislature were regular fare.
Several of her former students now have leadership positions in local government in Helena and in Montana state government, including current Gov. Bullock.
Linnea and Steve coordinated Helena High’s Close-Up program, taking students on week-long study trips to Washington, D.C.
Linnea became active in a distance learning program in the late 1980s, which was experimental and in its infancy. She had students in remote areas of Montana and even students in Alaska, all connected via a 300k modem!
Linnea was an avid outdoorsman. She enjoyed hiking ranches in central Montana seeking the elusive prong-horned antelope. She enjoyed fishing in Flathead Lake. She delighted in hiking in Glacier Park and other trails in the Flathead Valley. Her waterskiing skills could put others to shame.
Linnea was supportive of and enjoyed Steve’s music, often sitting behind the trombones while Steve performed with the Helena Big Band. She also followed Steve on his numerous gigs in several locations in and around Helena.
She became politically active in Helena, winning a seat on the Helena Citizen’s Council, an advisory group to Helena’s City Commission.
She and Steve also continued international and USA travels, visiting China, Japan, Russia and a safari in Kenya. They also returned to Europe on an “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium tours.”
Another highlight was a journey to the Holy Land (Israel) and Egypt at a time when there was a modicum of peace in the region.
She delighted in a trip to Alaska to Prudhoe Bay following the Alaskan pipeline, as well as a journey on a paddle boat down the Mississippi River.
Linnea and Steve took numerous driving trips throughout the USA, exploring both the southeast and the southwest regions of the country.
By the early 1990s, in only Linnea fashion, she decided that it was time to return to the greater Chicago area.
She was hired in an administrative position in a suburban school district, a position she held for two years.
After that time, she began to pursue her lifelong dream of earning a doctorate degree and writing a dissertation. As you read earlier, Linnea believed that teaching was a calling, and her research was directed at showing how some of the most inspirational teachers she knew had that calling.
Her dissertation was 450-pages in length, and with exacting research and dynamic observation, she earned her a doctorate degree in 1999.
She decided to retire from education and begin a quest for other intellectual joys.
Linnea was a member of the American Mensa Society, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Society of Mayflower Descendants. She enjoyed her research into her family history and proving her connections to her Plymouth Colony ancestors Miles Standish, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.
Linnea’s spiritual journey was extensive. She was raised Christian Science as her mother was a devout CS. A medical emergency in 1965 had Linnea admitted to a hospital for surgery. She was on the critical list for several days, but medical intervention saved her life.
Her next journey was to become a member of the Episcopal Church when she married Larry. Linnea and Larry then sought a new faith in the Baha’i religion.
In the 1980s, all of her spiritual study came to fruition when she began attending Masses at the Helena Cathedral. She enjoyed the Masses and the ceremony of the Catholic Church, especially at the Cathedral. When Steve and Linnea drove to their condo in Bigfork, Linnea attended the Catholic church there.
Linnea started her Catechumen program in 1985 and was confirmed, baptized and took Holy Communion during Easter in April 1986.
She felt that becoming a Catholic was her true calling, a destiny really. She enjoyed attending Masses and working with other women in the Catholic faith. Her personal vow was that she would never let politics interfere in her beliefs or her faith in the Catholic Church.
Her evolution took her from her Sunday School Bible study with the Christian Science Church to becoming a full Catholic.
She found her spiritual home.
Linnea and Steve returned to Montana full-time in 2013, settling in Bigfork, where they had maintained a part-time home since 1982. They knew that they were going to get older and were fortunate to find a single level home.
Those who knew Linnea really well were aware of her journey these last few years that lead us to her passing. There are so many to thank who assisted us through this process. The hospice staff at Kalispell Regional Healthcare were truly exceptional this past week. I have never witnessed such a group of devoted and caring professionals and I am grateful for their kindness. I was deeply saddened to learn that that the hospice wing on the second floor is being forced to move.
The staff at Riverbend PT in Bigfork helped Linnea in so many ways. All of the staff played a role, but Carly, Ashley and Kacie deserve special recognition.
When returning to Montana, we searched for a family doctor. We found Woodland Clinic and are fortunate to have Dr. Kelly Redfield as our doctor. Kelly was a former student of ours from our Helena High days in the 1980s.
Dr. Kurt Lindsey played an important role in Linnea’s journey. We were grateful when he came to visit Linnea in the hospice wing several times in her last days. She recognized his voice and would try to smile.
Linnea met a whole new group of friends through the Rock Steady Boxing program. What a delightful and inspirational group of people. We enjoyed all of our new group of friends at RSB. Marjory, Fred and Lynelle were very special to us.
Linnea was predeceased by her parents, William and Doris Phillip, her Ghilardi father and mother-in-law Si and Louise Ghilardi, and her Armstrong father and mother-in-law, Lewis and Nadine Armstrong. She also was predeceased by all of her aunts and uncles and by several cousins.
Leaving to grieve her death and also to celebrate and remember the remarkable woman that Linnea was is her husband of nearly 40-years, Steve Armstrong. Linnea was grateful that she remained friends with her former husband Larry and his wife Cheryl.
Also mourning her loss is her cousin Grant Macomber. Their ancestor George Macomber served in the Revolutionary War.
Linnea maintained a close network of friends over the years, including Barb and Dan O’Heath of Illinois. Barb was one of Linnea’s students at DeLourdes College. Barb left the order and Dan left the priesthood to get married.
There are so many special friends that Linnea had and I will mention a few. Bob and Deb Chance were just so very special to Linnea. She had a large extended group of friends both at Bigfork Harbor and Eagle Bend North. We are grateful to have Ann and Paul, Lloyd and Bonnie, Frank and Kathy, Jim and Mary and so many more in our neighborhood. She had an enjoyable friendship with David Roberts of Western Mountains Property Management and Denise Hamilton of Bigfork Harbor HOA.
Linnea’s lasting legacy are in endowed scholarships in both Steve and Linnea’s name at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and music scholarships at the University of Montana.
Among Linnea’s favorite local charities is the Wreaths Across America program at the Montana Veteran’s Home in Columbia Falls. Steve and Linnea coordinate this annual celebration for our nation’s veterans. Each donated wreath costs $15, two wreaths cost $30, etc.
If you wish to contribute to this worthy cause, please make your check payable to Wreaths Across America and mail your check to Steve Armstrong, 439 Grand Drive, No. 170, Bigfork, MT 59911. Steve will complete the donation form and mail your check to the Wreaths Across America National HQ in Columbia Falls, Maine.
Linnea’s graveside service is Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 10:30 a.m., at the Bigfork Community Cemetery.
Johnson-Gloschat Funeral Home https://www.jgfuneralhome.com is assisting Steve with the arrangements. Please visit Linnea’s tribute wall to leave a memory, or please mail your memory to Steve’s mailing address noted above.