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World War II vet, rancher celebrates 90 years

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Retired rancher and Army veteran Orville Bjorge has lived on Garcon Gulch between Irvine Flats and Hot Springs his whole life.

That’s a long time, since Bjorge was born in 1923. 

He celebrated his 90th birthday surrounded by family and friends at the Hot Springs Senior Citizen’s Center on Jan. 19, at a party complete with food, coffee, punch, ice cream and cake.

Family members arranged the birthday party.

Several cousins, including first cousins Pearl, Ruby and Arlene, whose maiden names were Tutvedt, attended. Orville’s mother was a Tutvedt before she married. 

Nephew Marvin even had a special cake decorated with the insignia of the 10th Mountain Infantry, Orville’s division in World War II. 

“I served in the mountains of Northern Italy in 1944-45,” Orville said.

On patrol with seven other soldiers, Orville was wounded in an ambush. A soldier named Bob Frauson carried Orville to a triage area. (Frauson and his family later moved to St. Mary Ranger Station in Glacier National Park.) Orville was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. 

Representing the Hardwick Post 112 American Legion, Hal Royce of Polson, brought a paid membership to Orville with the post’s compliments. 

Orville’s parents are the late Clara and Martin Bjorge. Martin emigrated from Norway in September of 1906, followed by Clara in 1912.

Orville had one living sibling, Morris, who has also passed away.

Orville graduated with the second class ever in the old Hot Springs High School in 1941. 

Hot Springs area resident Rosie King remembers the Bjorges moving their cows up to Crossing Creek in the summer. 

“Orville and his older brother Morrisalways went to the dances,” King remembered.  

When asked whether winters were worse long long ago, Orville didn’t think that was true. In fact, the worst winter he remembered was 1996-97, when there was a lot of snow.

“A pure Norwegian,” Orville visited Norway in 1986. The family still has relatives in Ulvik and Rovik.

“I picked up the Norwegian language,” Orville responded, bright blue eyes flashing, when his nephew spoke to him in Norwegian.

John Ficken and his wife go to church in Hot Springs and met Orville a couple of years ago. Some Sundays they go up to Orville’s house and visit. 

Discussing “a little bit of everything,” Ficken said sometimes Orville reminisces about his Army days, or they compare today’s life to the way things used to be or discuss family history. 

“This birthday party probably means a lot to him since the family put it on,” Ficken said.

Mostly retired, Orville said he doesn’t read much, but there’s always something for him to do on the ranch, even though he’s retired and no longer runs cows.

Wally and Brenda Merritt were neighbors of Orville’s. Although they’ve moved to town now, Wally lived out on Garcon Gulch his whole life and knew Orville, although Orville is 15 years older. Wally took over his parents’ ranch, and Orville and Morris took over their parent’s ranch and split it up.

Right now, one of Orville’s concerns is his 1997 pickup. A V8 with more than 200,000 miles on it, it quit so he’s considering a smaller pickup that uses less gas. 

With the pickup as one of his biggest worries, Orville had plenty to celebrate on his 90th birthday. 


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