WHITEFISH — June 2, 1953 – March 30, 2018
Gordon Opel, of Whitefish and formerly of Missoula, 'earned his wings' as the Blackfeet say, when he passed away on March 30. He died in his home surrounded by his loving children, Fraiser, Ellie, Marshall and his wife and primary adventure partner of 34 years, Jessie.
Gordon endured a three day Heart Butte Sundance this past summer, a spiritual path he chose to take, earning the respect and brotherhood of the Blackfeet community. He fought brain cancer like a courageous warrior, never giving up hope to live and witness his children embracing their lives to the fullest. They were his greatest joy. Sadly, this was not to be and though cancer robbed him of his longevity, the life he led was exemplary. Gordon loved and was grateful for his friends, family and a lifestyle that kept him close to nature. He loved the four seasons of Montana. In the spring, he was never happier than manning the oars of his drift boat on Montana's trout filled rivers through mayfly hatches and caddis storms and running the hills above Missoula at twilight with his children and golden retriever. In the summer, he loved packing up the canoes for multi-day trips to the northern reaches of Saskatchewan with his family. In the fall, harvesting 'buckskin' larch and chopping wood for the colder months ahead and in the winter, waxing up for nordic ski races. No matter the season, he always enjoyed relaxing at the end of the day with a feeling of accomplishment, gratitude and bliss. Life was to be lived through adventure and in the precious moment.
Born in Elmhurst, Illinois and raised in New Ulm, Minnesota, Gordon was drawn to experiential learning and the creed of Outward Bound — "To serve, to strive, and not to yield". Little did he know, he would meet his future life partner Jessie, a fellow Outward Bound instructor, in the Minnesota Boundary Waters.
Having lost his father at an early age to heart disease, Gordon felt compelled to advocate for health and help prevent diseases from affecting others, so launched his 30+ year career in health and wellness. After receiving his master's in health promotion and exercise physiology, Gordon directed the Wellness Program at the University of Montana. He pioneered new and innovative programs that were inclusive and educational about the value of preventative health care and healthy living not only for the University but for the community, local businesses, and hospitals.
After twenty years in Missoula, Gordon felt the call of the northwoods and moved his family to Whitefish. The Summit at Kalispell Medical Center was lucky to him as their supervisor of health and fitness programming. For the past ten years, Gordon created health promotion programs which included bringing well-coaches to the Summit, a holistic approach that has been nationally recognized. Aside from his insatiable desire to improve upon anything he could and to always ask the hard questions, he listened to and cared deeply about his employees. He was always encouraging, motivating and personally supporting others on their own journeys. As someone who Gordon mentored wrote, "Every once in a while, we all come across incredible people in our lives that, like Gordon, have the ability to change the course of our lives for the better. Make the most of it!"
Gordon is survived by his wife, Jessie, his children Fraiser, Ellie and Marshall, all of Portland, Oregon, his brother Craig of Eagan, Minnesota and sister Roberta of Waconia, Minnesota.
In lieu of flowers please send a donation to The Foundation for Metabolic Therapies, 3213 West Main St., Rapid City, SD, 57702. All donations will go directly to fund low-cost metabolic therapies for cancer. Austin Funeral & Cremation Services in Whitefish is caring for the family.