Born March 10, 1925, on the Home Sweet Home Farm in Strasburg, North Dakota, Irene Marie Wester was the youngest of the 11 Nieuwsma children. She worked alongside her siblings on the farm and, in 1942, graduated as valedictorian from Strasburg High School with a full scholarship to Jamestown College, where she entered the nursing program. With the beginning of World War II the college was overtaken by the United States Army, changing the direction of Irene’s education and goals.
Irene returned home to the farm and began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Emmons County, and eventually married her high school sweetheart, Willis Peter Wester. Five days after their wedding, Willis, an ROTC and pre-med student, was drafted into the war and shipped overseas to serve in the Pacific Theatre for the next three years.
Reunited in 1947, Willis and Irene moved to Washington, D.C. where they lived with Irene’s brother, Maurice, while Willis attended Bliss Engineering School and Irene worked at AT&T to help Willis through school. Eventually, after reevaluating their goals, the couple returned to Jamestown College where Irene worked as a business manager at Jamestown Hospital and Willis continued his education in the medical field.
Upon Willis’ graduation, they relocated to Kansas City, Missouri, where Irene obtained her degree as an engineering assistant while Willis attended dental school. With her education, Irene became a strategic partner in the installation of early telephone cables throughout the United States and abroad.
Willis and Irene finally settled The Dalles, Oregon in 1956, where they began a dental practice together which spanned 40 years. Irene became her husband’s dental assistant and business manager. They were blessed with three children during these years; David, Ken, and Julie, and were active in pioneering Gateway Presbyterian Church as original founders.
They were actively involved in several ministries during their family years, and when Willis retired they pursued their long-awaited dream to become missionaries overseas. They joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in the late 1980s, and spent many years traveling back and forth to Papua, New Guinea, Peru and Israel providing medical and dental services to missionaries and various indigenous tribes.
In the late 1990s Willis was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and Irene cared for him full time until it was necessary for him to have extended care at The Dalles Veterans Home. Irene faithfully attended to his needs daily there for the next five years.
In her remaining years, Irene continued to be active on the mission board at her church, involved with women’s Bible studies, and a volunteer at Mid-Columbia Medical Center.
Irene died at home on April 21, 2017. She is survived by her brother, Ralph; her children and their spouses, Dave and Sue; Ken and Susie; Julie and Todd; her grandchildren, Joshua, Elijah and Annie Luna; Ashley Hawkins and Dr. Jacob Wester, and great-grandchildren; Hailey, Mason, Fisher and Aydra Hawkins.
A Memorial Service for Irene will be held at Gateway Church in The Dalles on May 20, at 2 p.m.
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