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Longtime Havre couple plan move

 


A longtime Havre couple will leave their friends, home and rich history behind when they move to Helena this month.

Bob and Helen Kiesling, Havre residents for the better part of a century, plan to move to a retirement home this summer, the couple said. They leave behind a legacy of service and involvement.

Bob, the longest running Rotary member in this area and a former American Red Cross chairman, operated a well-known newsstand in the Heritage Center for almost two decades. His wife. Helen, who is close friends with former state Rep. Toni Hagener, started the associate degree nursing program at the former Northern Montana College, now Montana State University-Northern.

The couple said they will miss Havre, but look forward to being closer to their family. Four of their five children now reside in Helena, along with a number of their grandchildren.

"We're going to miss our friends, and our church, our house and this community," Helen said. "But we have a neat family to go down to."

Bob was born in Havre in 1921, and graduated from Havre High School in the spring of 1940. He was a star track participant and was part of the 1940 state champion basketball team.

He entered Northern Montana College in the fall of 1940 as a premed major. While there, he met Helen, who was a nursing major from Spokane, Wash. The two were regarded as a hot item, she being voted campus queen, and he being elected as president of the sophomore class.

"Of course the college was a lot smaller back then," Helen said with a laugh. "We only had about 350 students, and didn't have much of a campus."

Bob received an associate degree in premed and transferred to the University of Washington, where he was drafted into the service during World War II. He achieved the rank of master sergeant in the 9th Army Air Force, and participated in the D-Day invasion. He was stationed in France during the latter part of 1944 before being injured during a bombing raid that left him permanently blind.

After Bob spent two years in military hospitals recovering from his wounds, the couple moved to Bozeman to attend what is now Montana State University. Helen would ultimately obtain both bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing. She accepted a teaching position in Billings and was later assigned to lead the nursing program at NMC. She held the position for 25 years until her retirement in 1987.

Shortly after the war, Bob became involved in a veterans' program that helped him establish a successful newsstand business in what is now the Clack Museum at the Heritage Center. He joined the Rotary Club and was selected as the first chairman of the American Red Cross chapter in Havre.

Bob recalled having good-natured competitions to see who could donate the most blood. The veteran contributed more than 12 gallons of blood during early drives, he said.

One of the more memorable years for the couple was 1959, they said. They had their fifth child, their only daughter, they built their house, and Bob was selected to head a committee to rebuild the Methodist church, which had burned down.

"It was a busy year," he said.

The couple's house was designed by former architect Ray Kurh, and was built specially for Bob's blindness. The entrance to their house, near MSU-N's campus, is on the lower level near the garage.

"All the other houses on the street have steps up the front, but Ray said I probably didn't want to have to shovel snow every winter, so he put the steps on the side of the house," Bob said.

The house itself is very reflective of the Keislings and their adventures. Resting in the garden in the front yard is a 65 million-year-old piece of petrified wood discovered by Havre pillar Louis Hagener. Hagener is credited with building Northern's science program, and is honored by a campus building named after him.

Iron sculptures made by local artists adorn the interior of their home, as does a cuckoo clock the couple purchased in Germany. During their extensive travels, the couple specially ordered the piece, which was shipped to the United States unassembled.

"It came with the instructions written in German, so they didn't help very much," Bob said. "But somehow we managed to put it together."

With the Hageners, the couple traveled the world, touring Europe, Africa and the Caribbean.

"We were lucky that we all liked to walk," Helen said. "Every day we walked as far and as fast as we could. We wanted to take it all in. We covered a lot of the world on our trips with (the Hageners). It was fun."

Bob sought adventure at every turn, trekking down the Grand Canyon and accompanying his son on a fly fishing trip in Alaska. His many contributions to the Rotary Club were recognized last year when he received a lifetime excellence award.

The couple said they have accomplished many things during their time in Havre, and will very much miss the community they call home. Age has brought some burdens that require them to move, they said.

"In many ways we are sad, but it is just time to go," Helen said.

 

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