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For over 87 years, family, friends, and strangers have been able to count on the bright-yet-gentle light and guiding example of the best of the human soul in Alfred Volesky. Al passed away peacefully in the presence of family on the evening of October 13, 2023. Unsurprisingly to those who knew him, even in his final weeks and months he radiated uncommon grace. While he is no longer in our midst in-the-flesh, we are fortunate for lives touched by him, and carry his beautiful example and grace in our hearts.
Al was born on the Fourth of July in 1936, to Joseph and Mary Volesky of New Hradec, North Dakota, eighth in a line of twelve children. It was one of the hottest days on record, and truly perilous for a newborn. The state's all-time high temperature of 121 degrees occurred just two days later, and the little firecracker almost fizzled out! Al grew up on a small, hardscrabble, dryland farm/ranch at the head of Russian Spring Creek. The family's spring-fed well offered the coldest, sweetest water for many miles around, and neighbors and strangers stopped by often with a horse team and wagon or maybe even a Model TT or AA, to fill barrels or cream cans, free of charge. We kids, curious about this generosity, and aware that dad's own father died when Al was just age 13, would ask about the Grandpa Joe we never knew. Dad's ever-reply was, "Everybody said he was the nicest guy you could ever meet." We all knew Dad as an apple that didn't fall far...
As a kid, Al's preferred way to spend any day was to tag along with his dad on the farm. He wanted to be a rancher, but a section of broken prairie and a section of breaks, along with a large family, doesn't stretch far. To add income to supplement a meager subsistence, his dad and older brother Bob broke both draft and saddle horses, many of them wild and rounded up from the nearby badlands. "Broke" is not quite right; their gentle cowboy ways looked much like “horse-whispering,” before the term existed. Al picked it up too, and was a lifelong lover of horses, his favorite ponies being Monte, a lightning-fast, out-of- place thoroughbred on a "Honyocker's" spread, and later, Red, a big sorrel Tennessee Walker. At that time and place, grade school meant boarding each week in the nearby town of New Hradec, where Al and his siblings first learned English. At home they had spoken mostly Czech. Some of the nuns were kind, dear souls; others, not so much! Boarding was also required in Dickinson, ND, where Al graduated from Model High School in 1955. Like several of his brothers, he then served his country. His choice was the US Navy, where he stood a better chance to see a bit of the world. From various ports in the Pacific, he was the flight engineer on a Lockheed P2V Neptune aircraft, performing maritime patrol related to anti-submarine warfare.
Al met Cecile Odermann at a Dickinson bowling alley in 1960. As the story goes, he had all strikes through nine frames, when he asked Cele if she'd go out to dinner if he struck in the tenth. He did, and perhaps if she hadn't been so quick to say “yes,” Al could have maintained the necessary focus to complete a perfect 300 game! They went on that date, and married on February 6, 1961, eventually settling in South Heart, ND, and welcoming nine children into their lives.
Al went to masonry trade school, and soon started his own business. If you had a block building or a brick house built by Volesky Masonry, it was rock solid and you got a more-than-fair price. If you had stone work or a rock fireplace built by Al, you instantly possessed a lithic work of art. Most days but Sundays, he worked from sunup-til-down. Cele managed the home front, and did
bookkeeping for the business. Together, they enjoyed a large circle of family and friends, the kids' school and sporting events, square dancing, playing pinochle or cribbage, and clandestinely telling off-color jokes. And Al may have taught his kids a Czech swear word or two. In the early 1980's, doctors told Al that 20-plus years of backbreaking labor might prevent his ability to walk. He put away his trowel, and he and Cele purchased Weber’s Western Wear, which provided boots and clothing to the many farmers, ranchers, and oilfield workers in the area. They sold their business in 1990 and moved to Helena, MT, building their home near Hauser Lake, and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings with visiting family and friends for many years. Both continued to work, Al in various capacities, and Cele as a registered nurse at Shodair Children's Hospital. Cele passed away in February, 2023. On October 13, Al decided eight months without the love of his life was enough.
Their nine children are grateful for that love: Laurie Kops, Helena; Lisa (Brian) Geiger, Baldwin, ND; Wendy (Dave) Ekre, Beach, ND; Carmae (Garrett) Fawaz, Helena; JoEllen (Kelly) Davis, Bismarck, ND; Mike (Becky Dockter) Volesky, Helena; Mary (Paul) Dosch, West Fargo, ND; Patrick (Tony Sanjuan) Volesky, Helena/Almunecar, Spain; Joe (Heather) Volesky, Fort Collins, CO. And thirty- four grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren already greatly miss their "world's favorite human," Grampa Al.
Al is survived by siblings, Tony (Bev) Volesky, Bridget (Tom) Glaser, Dickinson, ND, Joe Volesky, Rapid City, SD, Frank (Sue) Volesky, Warrensburg, MO, and sister-in-law, Joan Odermann, Dickinson, ND.
All remember Al for his kindness, loyalty, generosity, ready humor, love of music (and singing voice), hard work, stone artistry, horsemanship, woodworking, stern discipline, unconditional love, and unshakeable faith. His children can recall these things almost all at once, with the thought of the touch of his hand, brick-calloused and leathery, yet so gentle and tinged with the scent of Old
Spice-the original. Al was also a common-man's scholar… rarely was he not in the middle of a book, if not two or three. Almost always among them was a western novel, ala Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour or Luke Short. This voracious habit may be how he acquired his lifelong list of colloquial sayings and witticisms, also known as "Al-isms." A typical example: As one of the kids may have been near the end of a sobbing recovery from fingers squished in the car door, Al would add, "Feels so good when it stops hurting, you want to do it again" Begrudging laughter soon replaced hurt feelings.
His children are especially grateful to their sister, Carmae and her husband, Garrett. Upon purchasing the home that Mom and Dad built, they unselfishly and generously opened the opportunity for our parents to continue to live with them throughout their remaining years. Carmae and Garrett labored tirelessly to provide the least amount of disruption, amazing support in emotional, physical, and financial circumstances, and sacrificed much time in caring 24/7 for our parents. We are forever in their debt, and, undoubtedly, our parents’ lives were enriched and extended due to their vigilance.
A celebration of Al's life will be held at 11:00 a.m. on October 27, at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church, 1502 Shirley Road, Helena. A reception will follow.
Simple Cremation Montana has assisted the family.
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