MISSOULA — With his loving family by his side, Victor Neil Hangas passed away peacefully at St. Patrick hospital on Nov. 30, 2019.
Vic was the first of seven children born to Jack and Emma Hangas on May 30, 1937 in Lewistown. Weighing only four pounds at birth, it was necessary for Vic to develop toughness and stubbornness to survive his early years. He would carry those traits throughout life and, for the most part, they would serve him well.
As a youngster, Vic would spend a lot of time at his grandparents down the Bitterroot Valley in the Sleeping Child area. It was there he developed a love of Montana, the outdoors and especially fishing that he would later pass down to his sons.
While attending Missoula County High School, with the help of his art teacher, Walter Hook, Vic’s natural artistic talents began to shine. Vic’s artwork was featured throughout the yearbook during his junior year and he later became an accomplished artist. After graduating from high school in 1955, Vic completed basic training from the Army in Fort Ord, California and remained enlisted in the Army Reserves for another seven years.
During high school Vic met and start dating Ilona Ruana. Their relationship evolved and they married on Aug. 4, 1956; both at the tender age of 19. They raised three sons: Mark, Matt & Mike. While their marriage had challenges, like all do, it lasted over 63 years and was a great example of true love.
Following in his father Jack’s footsteps, Vic started a successful stint with Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company. He had the opportunity to advance within the company’s ranks but that would have involved a move to Denver, Colorado. Vic’s love for home was too great so he decided to stay in Montana.
During this time Vic’s father-in-law, Rudy Ruana, was running a successful knife making business by himself; Ruana Knife Works. With Vic’s artistic background and loving to work with his hands, he approached Rudy about possibly working with him. Rudy agreed to let Vic start an apprenticeship on a trial basis in 1964. An agreement was made; if Rudy didn’t like Vic’s work after one year, he would be let go. Rudy originally planned on keeping his business going until retirement age in 1968. That plan changed with Rudy’s approval of Vic’s work and they worked side by side together for 20 years. Vic’s son Mark joined them in 1976. Rudy retired at the end of 1983 and sold the business to Vic and Ilona. In 1984 sons Matt and Mike joined the business. Vic worked at the shop with Mark and Mike through 2017 and remained a valuable consultant until his final days. Similar to Rudy, Vic was humble, never sought fanfare and let his knives speak for themselves. While his value to the business went mostly unsung, Vic’s work ethic combined with artistic talents would create functional and beautiful Ruana Knives that are cherished by many throughout Montana and around the world.
During Vic’s spare time, he took up the game of golf in his forties. He especially enjoyed golfing with his mom, dad, wife, sons and other family members and became a solid player even making a hole-in-one on the 5th hole at the UM golf course. His son, Mike, was able to witness that feat and Vic’s hidden talent of dancing was revealed on the tee box that day after his memorable shot.
While Vic definitely loved to golf, he found most solace in the outdoors hunting deer, elk or birds and even more so fishing. His love of fishing took many forms; from being on his favorite lake or stream, to tying beautiful flies, teaching others to fish, and fish paintings. Vic would end every fishing outing with “Just one more cast”. Some days that was repeated up to a dozen times or better, depending on how long it took him to catch that last fish. Vic’s health problems during his later years prevented him from fishing but he continued to create flies he gave to friends and loved to tell fish stories the family will carry with them forever. On Vic’s second to last day on earth, when asked if he had anything to say to his family, his response was “Fly fish more!”
Vic was very proud of his family and Finnish heritage. A great joy, later in life was spending time with his cousins Pentti and Jussi who came from Finland to America for the first time to visit family. An even greater joy was time spent with his grandkids: Maia, Kate and Jack who added an extra-large grin and twinkle in his eyes.
Vic’s attire was usually geared towards something he had a passion for such as the Montana Grizzlies, hunting, fishing or golf. To honor Vic, if you happen to attend his memorial service, feel free to wear something similar or whatever you’re comfortable with - that’s what he would want.
Vic made the world a better place by being in it, in so many ways. His spirit will remain, he will always be loved, and never forgotten by family and friends.
Vic was preceded in death by his parents Jack and Emma, brother Ronnie, sister Judy, brother Dave, and brother-in-law Jim Bauer.
He is survived by his wife Ilona of Bonner, son Mark (Kris Stanton) of Bonner, son Matt of Missoula, son Mike (Kirsten) of Missoula, granddaughters Maia and Kate, and grandson Jack. He is also survived by his sisters: Sally Bauer of Wyoming, Diane (Ron) Conklin of Conner, and Kathie (Danny) Blain of Dallas, Texas; brother-in-law Pat McDonald of Missoula and sister-in-law Diane Hangas of Billings. He is also survived by numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.
Vic’s family would like to thank all of the wonderful caregivers he saw over the years for their expertise and compassion. He and his family were especially appreciative of the wonderful care received from Riverside Healthcare Center and St. Patrick hospital during his last two months.
A memorial service honoring Vic’s life will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 3 p.m. at the Garden City Funeral home.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Vic’s name to: Watson Children’s Shelter, Camp Mak-A- Dream, Montana Trout Unlimited or charity of the donor’s choice.