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Warren Victor Skillicorn

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1908 - 2005

WOODWORTH - Warren Victor Skillicorn died peacefully at his home on Dec. 12, 2005, in Skillyville, near Woodworth, after a remarkable 97 years of active living.

Warren was born March 21, 1908, in Glenwood, Iowa. At the age of 2 he came to Montana with his parents, Robert and Myrtle, and six brothers and sisters; they homesteaded within a stone's throw of Upsata Lake northwest of Ovando. Here Warren's life was molded and cast by hard work, making do with what little you had, and creating your own entertainment. These were hard times punctuated by a tough environment, but the family persisted until 1919 when they moved to Billings.

Ten years later, they returned to purchase the 40 acres known today as "Skillyville." Here Warren helped run a sawmill, milked cows, hunted, fished and trapped.

As the Depression deepened, money was only obtained by utilizing the resources the land provided. He sold fur, firewood, conks off trees and cubes of ice for summer use. Finally a work project - the Works Progress Administration, or WPA - was started that utilized available men for building a road to Cottonwood Lakes using crosscuts, teams of horses and dynamite. Warren was one of these men and had many humorous stories about the project.

There was no real single profession for Warren. He worked for the county building roads and plowing snow, for Pyramid Lumber Mill in Seeley Lake, for the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. burning brush and logging and other part-time jobs.

What personified the man everyone knew and loved was his gift as a musician. Self-taught, Warren played the piano, steel guitar, saxophone, keyboard, mandolin, trumpet, mouth harp and, lastly, his most loved instrument - the banjo.

Warren entertained thousands of people from the 1920s until last week, playing at bars, restaurants, dances, community events and birthday parties. Along with his siblings, they played as a band called "Skilly's Yellowjackets" from Billings in the '20s, to Condon in the '40s. For 75 years Warren played at the Kozy Korner Bar and Restaurant near Woodworth, being a most recognizable fixture that patrons had come to expect and delight in.

One only had to witness Warren strumming the banjo and singing to a room full of people once to see the pure, unadulterated love he had for doing so. His love for his music radiated from his face and eyes. Making music was his reason for living and it didn't matter if the audience was 100 strong or one small boy, he played with a zeal unequaled by professionals.

Warren's life - one that almost eclipsed a solid century - saw him as a boy witness Salish Indian families traveling by horseback and dragging travois returning home after a hunt in the South Fork country, to as an adult seeing a man in a spacesuit leaping effortlessly on the moon. But technological change, to him, was a sour thing if it meant you ignored your neighbor and substituted being in the mountains for a seat in front of a television. He often said, "I'm glad I was born in 1908. We had more fun then."

Two years ago, Warren authored a book of his life entitled "From Four to Ninety-four." It is an eclectic mix of tales that includes everything from hunting does with horns, to raising a bear cub, to playing for dances in the '30s, to watching it snow four feet in a night. The many rich stories are all spent in Montana's youth, a time when Warren and others relished the adventures the state had to offer.

Warren touched many lives in such a positive and loving way. He laughed easily - having much practice. He always told the truth. He respected those who made do with little by trying harder and he lived life to the fullest. Despite being almost blind and suffering from other age-related problems, Warren continued to entertain us with his banjo, his wit and his genuine love for people. It brought him such joy that it acted as a source of fuel for his life.

Preceding Warren in death were his parents Robert and Myrtle; his brothers, Manx, Doug and Murray; his sisters, Dolly, Mona and Nellie; and his wives Jeannette and Hilda.

Warren is survived by his brother, Donald (Jeanne) of Skillyville; his daughter, Donna Thiel of Bozeman; grandsons Charles and Chester Thiel; his special niece, Dorothy Sandberg; as well as nephews and nieces to the third generation.

Warren made our lives fuller and richer with his music, his sense of humor, his stories and his will to live life to the max, but it was his mountain-sized soul that we will never forget or cease to love.

"For the happy heart - life is a continual feast." - Proverbs 15:15.

There will be a celebration of Warren's life at 1 p.m. March 19, at the Kozy Korner Bar and Restaurant.

The family requests that donations in memory of Warren be sent to the SLE Music Department, Seeley Lake Elementary, P.O. Box 840, Seeley Lake, MT 59868.

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