Gladys Irene Hightower Harris-Mandelko
Gladys Irene (Hightower) Harris-Mandelko passed away on March 28, 2020 in her home surrounded by her family and kindly supported by Partners Hospice. She recently celebrated her 90 years of life at a fun-filled church event where many memories were shared.
Irene was born March 9, 1930 to Gladys Rome Hightower and Lester Hightower in Hamilton, Montana. She had two brothers, Douglas and Wayne; and one sister, Maxine. She was raised in Missoula and attended school there, graduating in 1948.
In 1950, Irene met Gaynor Harris, who had recently served in the Marines and was working at Brest Market. They married in 1951 and moved to Gaynor’s native Iowa, eventually moving to the Harris family’s homesteaded property outside Akron, Iowa where they farmed and raised four children – Charles Evan, Howard Lester, Marcia Maxine and Marlin Gaynor. Irene’s dedication to her family was evident. Her passion for feeding and caring for others was a gift she lovingly shared. She was active in the United Methodist Church, Eastern Star, school and community activities as well as working at First National Bank. After 36 years of marriage, Irene lost Gaynor to cancer. Cousin Jon Harris and his wife, Lisa, moved onto Gaynor and Irene’s farm, raising their family and tending to the land.
Irene returned to her beloved Montana to selflessly assist in taking care of her mother. Not long after she moved, she met and married Neal Mandelko, a widower himself. Irene gained not only a new husband but was embraced by his four children: Nancy (John) Mason, Dan (Terri) Mandelko, Lee (Julie)
Mandelko and Lois (Rick) Steinberg and their families. Neal and Irene spent 25 years of marriage together before he died in 2013.
Irene was a woman of great faith and served her community when she had the opportunity. Her passions and hobbies kept her busy well into her 80’s and included cooking/baking, gardening, bowling, Griz athletics as well as volunteering many years with Meals On Wheels, her local food bank, and Ronald McDonald House. She also loved keeping up with her family and friends on a regular basis. She lived her faith daily and loved singing in the choir and bell ringing with her dear friends at First Lutheran Church. Many have been touched by Irene’s lessons on how to live, laugh, love and make memories. She was a cornerstone in many lives.
Irene was preceded in death by Gaynor Harris (husband), Chuck Harris (son), Wayne Hightower (brother), Neal Mandelko (husband) and Marlin Harris (son). She is survived by her sister, Maxine Searles, son Howard (Tamera), daughter Marcia, widowed daughters-in-law Kathie McClannahan Harris (Chuck) and Joyce Harris (Marlin), the beloved Mandelko and Hightower families, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren and many beloved extended family members.
Irene will always be remembered and loved. A private family service is being planned.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Grace Notes Bell Choir at First Lutheran, Missoula/Lolo Food Bank or Meals On Wheels.