July 28, 1933 — March 8, 2018
Wilmer “Bill” James Lilja passed away peacefully in his home on March 8, 2018, in the arms of his beloved wife, Ellen.
On July 18, 1933, Bill was born in a two-room house in Foreman, North Dakota. He was the first born child of Wilmer “Wid” and Margaret “Peg” Lilja. During World War II, the family moved to Portland to secure work in the shipyards.
In 1953, Bill graduated from Roosevelt High School in Portland.
He married Darlene McIntyre, then went on to obtain his Bachelor’s in Psychology and Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Portland University.
Bill was a counselor with Multnomah County Juvenile Court before becoming the first director of the Tuttle River Boys’ Ranch in Tuttle River, Washington. While there, he successfully implemented and managed an innovative program for encouraging troubled teenage boys to turn their lives around. After several years, he accepted the position of group life director with Children’s Farm Home in Corvallis. In the late 1960s, he became the director.
In 1970, Bill left that career and began a second one in private business by starting the first private employment service in the Mid-Willamette Valley — Action Personnel Service and Action Temporary Help Service.
In 1980, he married Ellen Belle West. She blended her public relations business with his company. Together, they built their combined companies, renamed Action Business Services, Inc., into a multi-sited corporation employing 6,000 temporary employees and 63 corporate staff managers. They opened and maintained six offices throughout Oregon from which they provided employment services for executive positions to temporary help throughout the United States.
In 1988, Oregon Business Magazine recognized Action Business Services, Inc. as being the largest privately held permanent and temporary employment service in the Pacific Northwest. In recognition of their promotions for using Oregon owned businesses, in 1989, the Oregon State Legislature invited them to host a sine-die reception in the capitol rotunda. That same year, Bill and Ellen bought an old building in downtown Albany, “Fanny Flinn’s Mall” and renamed it “The Historic Flinn Block.” They moved their corporate offices into that building.
In 1991, they sold their corporation and used The Historic Flinn Block as a spring board for several of their new businesses — Flinn’s Parlour Restaurant, Flinn’s Tea Parlour, Flinns Dinner Theater, Flinn’s Heritage Tours, Flinn’s Secretarial and Mailing Service, and Flinn’s Antiques. During the mid-1990s, they also hosted a weekly radio talk show called “The Heritage Hour,” on KSHO/KGAL Radio.
Their love for Oregon history was seen in creating 11 living history plays. Bill did all of the necessary historic research while Ellen was the playwright. The dinner theater attracted over 200 community volunteers who were involved both on stage and behind the curtain. Ultimately, the Liljas organized it into a nonprofit corporation and donated it to the theater’s board of directors.
With his wife, their home business, “Bllelln"s Blend,” became an umbrella for a variety of ventures.
Bill was a very talented woodworker. He sold his handcrafted wood furniture and several varieties of handcrafted leather products. He restored their 1890 historic home, “The Manse,” the first parsonage for Albany’s United Presbyterian Church.
He also enjoyed cooking. As a team, he and Ellen nabbed first place in many chili cook-offs. In 1988, they advanced to the ICS World Chili Cook-off, placing fifth in a field of 130 cooks from 37 countries.
He enjoyed many self-guided tours with his wife throughout 28 countries, eight Canadian provinces and every state in the continental United States, plus Alaska and four Hawaiian Islands.
After selling The Historic Flinn Block in 2005, Bill took to a fourth career change and joined his wife in a freelance writing business named “American Food Treasures and Travel Gems.” They purchased a 40-foot motor home, traveled the USA and Canada, and had articles published in national RV magazines.
During his life, Bill was very actively involved in community service organizations. He was a member of several boards, including the Albany Downtown Lions’ Club, the YMCA, Linn Mental Health Clinic and School District #5. He was a founding member and president of The Monteith Historic Society and the Linn County Chamber of Commerce. He founded the Pacific Northwest Personnel Management Association and the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Linn County. He was a member of the Greater Albany Chamber of Commerce and chaired their Industrial Committee and the Albany Woodpeckers. He founded the Mid-Valley Low Vision Support Group.
Bill loved politics. He chaired the Linn County Democratic Committee for electing Governor Straub. Later, he and his wife, Ellen, held fundraising events for the Democratic Party and donated office space to them with the free use of telephones in all of their offices throughout Oregon.
Bill created three non-profit organizations — The Boston Mill Society, which set into motion the purchase of the Thompson Mill in Shedd by the State of Oregon; The Chili Society of Oregon, which organized sanctioned ICS chili cook-offs in Oregon; and Flinn’s Living History Theater.
Though Bill was severely visually challenged throughout his life, with sight so impaired that he could not see more than a few feet in front of him and he lacked the ability to recognize and remember faces, he never let his near-total blindness stand in his way of pursuing whatever he wanted to do. He compensated so well with his limited vision that most people were completely unaware of it.
He certainly lived a full life and more. Bill and Ellen were kindred spirits and soul mates. They were the beloved of each other’s lives. He was the love of Ellen’s life and she, the love of his. Their deep devotion to each other was an aura of abiding love which embraced them and was seen by all who knew them both. Always seen together — at work, at home, in many fun times, and entwining their fun loving merrymaking with that of their blended families. They hosted many family gatherings during the holidays, or at any time, at their Albany home and organized family reunions along the Oregon coast.
Bill was an extraordinary man with boundless energy. His life’s motto was, “There is always a better way,” to which he strived to fulfill in all that he did. He lovingly gave countless hours of encouragement to his loved ones. He was never too busy to stop whatever he was doing and be there for them.
In the last decade of his life, Bill was troubled by the accelerating, degenerative progress of an inherited rare form of Mitochondria Cytopathy. It took his mobility, memory and cognitive skills, ultimately leading to dementia and, finally, his passing.
Preceding him in death were his parents; and the mother of his children, Darlene McIntyre Clemmer.
Surviving are his wife, Ellen Belle West Lilja; their blended family, sons, William “Bill” (Kristie) Lilja of DePere, Wisconsin, Craig (Mary) Lilja of Sherwood; daughters, Cheri (Mike) Govro of Vancouver, Washington, Wendy (Michael) Lilja-Kitahara, Elizabeth E. Nowak of Albany; Jacquelyn R. Nowak of Albany; nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; many nieces and nephews; sister, Mary Lou (Con) Lilja-Fojas of San Jose, California; and brother Richard D. (Irene) Lilja of Corvallis.
Bill donated his body to the Western University Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP Northwest).
At his request, there will be no formal funeral. His family is planning a celebration of Bill’s life at the Lilja homestead in Albany. The date will be announced later. At that time, the family will welcome friends to drop by and enjoy a bowl of Bllelln”s Blend” award-winning chili and share their warm memories of Bill’s time with us.