Ethel Thorlacius, 91
Ethel Thorlacius, 91, of Stephen, Minn., died on Wednesday, April 26, 2023, in North Star Manor of Warren, Minn.
Ethel Steinun Halldora Byron was born on June 25, 1931, in Hensel, N.D., to Kristjan “Chris” and Snolaug Maria “Mollie” (Hillman) Byron. Her Icelandic roots ran deep, and her family fostered a love for history and ancestry that she carried though her life. The Byrons moved around often, taking her throughout northeastern North Dakota (rural Hensel, Mountain) before she graduated from Cavalier High School in 1951. On Nov. 19 of that year, Ethel was united in marriage to Harlan Thorlacius and continued to move about (Edinburg, Munich, Walhalla, then Stephen).
In addition to raising her children, Ethel was the K-12 Secretary for Walhalla Public School from 1965-1972, an aide, then activities director and ombudsman at Kittson Memorial Nursing Home in Hallock, Minn., from 1972-1993. Ethel also owned and operated Grandma’s House Bed & Breakfast between 1991-2000.
With Ethel’s mother having died young, Ethel and her sister Ollie, both still in high school, faced raising their three youngest siblings, Chris, Jim and Betty. Ethel and Harlan and their first four children soon lost Ethel’s father to a tragic accident as her first family faced high school graduation and college years. With a grit common in the upper Midwest, Ethel’s first family, then her second family succeeded with honors. In addition to raising their children and teaching Sunday school, Ethel strived to add her leadership gifts wherever needed. One gift was her love of writing, starting with Chicken Supper News as a high school student, through her senior years with multiple weekly columns, including “Gramma Sez.”
She pursued her passion for history in many ways; for example, Ethel served as the director for Marshall County Historical Society (Warren) for 11 years beginning in 1997; founded and served on the board of the Minnesota Historic Northwest organization; created an index that listed information on all the headstones within Marshall County cemeteries; and volunteered at the Old Hometown Museum, O.H.T. (Stephen). Area grade schools enjoyed her Living History character “Johanna,” an immigrant grandma who shared her experience of coming to and settling in America in the 1880s.
In addition, Ethel participated in tourism activities in northwest Minnesota including working on the designation of U.S. Highway 75, the King of Trails. Her goal was to have northwest Minnesota seen as a tourism destination. Ethel’s love of her roots extended to her faith. As a lifelong Icelandic Lutheran, Ethel was a devoted member of the First Lutheran Church of Stephen and was active in the Martha Ruth Circle and Quilters group. Other activities included supporting many through Al-Anon, knitting hundreds of slippers for Marshall County’s holiday efforts, and supporting literacy through work on the Literacy Council. All of her efforts led to her receiving the Marshall County Senior Citizen of the Year.
She is survived by her brother, Arnold “Jim” (Jean) Byron; sister-in-law, Cecelia Byron; children, Julia Douglas, Virginia “Nina” Thorlacius, Eric (Emma) Thorlacius, Donald (Kris) Thorlacius, Marilyn (Jon) Gregoire, and Emily (Rolland) Thorlacius Curry; 14 grandchildren: Nathan and Matthew Douglas; Jessica, Brian and Shelby Thorlacius, Eric Goulson; Daniel and Kristjan Thorlacius; Adam, Ben and Jennifer Gregoire; Lincoln, Laura and Lonna Nybladh; 25 great-grandchildren; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
In addition to her husband of 27 years, Harlan, Ethel was preceded in death by both her parents; four siblings, John, Olive, Chris and Elizabeth (Jensen); and a grandson, John Thorlacius.
Ethel instilled a generational love of writing, singing, history and community. She was a pillar in her community, and the loss of her stories, wisdom and drive will be long felt.
In lieu of flowers, donations are preferred in memory of Ethel to the Old Home Town Museum (O.H.T.) – PO Box 161 – Stephen, MN 56757.