Irene Struxness Ulvilden Sawatzky, 1946

Fall 2022 (September 26, 2022)

Irene Struxness Ulvilden Sawatzky, born on Sept. 26, 1924, to Julia and Edward Struxness (LC 1906) in Nome, N.D., died on June 6, 2022, in Peoria Ill. Irene grew up in Belgrade, Minn., graduating from Belgrade H.S. in 1942. In 1946 she received a B.A. degree in English and Music from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. She had a beautiful soprano voice singing in choirs, small groups and as a soloist. Irene was Luther’s Homecoming Queen in 1944.

Irene married James A. Ulvilden ‘47 in July, 1946, after his discharge from the Navy. She taught in Spring Grove, Minn., and together they taught in Westby, Wis., until returning to college in Brookings, S.D.. Irene and Jim moved to Russell, Minn., in 1953, where Irene taught English and Music until she retired in 1973.

Irene was multi-talented, directing choirs at Russell H.S., Grace Lutheran Church, and participating in the Marshall Sweet Adalines Chorus and the Music Educators Chorus at Southwest State University. She also served as President of the congregation at Grace Lutheran Church, served on the school board as well as working with Jim at the Farmers State Bank of Russell. She became VP and oversaw operations of the bank after Jim’s death in Oct. 1979.

In Sept. 1980, Irene married Martin E. Sawatzky. They divided their time between Mesa, Ariz., and Russell, Minn., until a permanent move to Mesa in 2002. Irene directed the Mesa Towerpoint Mixed Chorus. She sang in Victory and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church choirs. Irene and Martin volunteered with the Boys and Girls Club of Phoenix, Valley Lutheran Hospital and in many capacities at Towerpoint Resort in Mesa. Irene became an accomplished artist in her retirement, enjoying oil painting, silver jewelry making, crafts work, and tap dancing.

Martin died in 2003. Irene relocated to Lutheran Hillside Village in Peoria Ill., in 2012.

Survivors include two daughters, Jennifer (John) Gregg, Peoria Ill., and Deborah (Tony) Anderson, SeaTac, Wash., and their children. Stepsons Doug (Mary) Sawatzky, Wilmar, Minn., and Mike (Karen) Sawatzky, Slayton, Minn., and their children.

Irene was preceded in death by her parents, five brothers and five sisters.

You may send a memorial to the Weston Noble Anniversary Scholarship, to benefit Luther College choral music students, at [email protected]. Scroll down, choose other, and type in the scholarship name in memory of Irene.

A family graveside service will be held at West Nidaros Lutheran Cemetery, Crooks, S.D., at a later date.

The Cremation Society of Mid-Illinois Co. Pekin/Peoria is assisting the family with arrangements. Online condolences may be made at