Merton Thomas Hesla passed on Oct. 23, 2020. Funeral services were held Saturday, Oct. 31, at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Shelby, Mont. A burial with military honors followed in Mountain View Cemetery.
Merton was born on Oct. 15, 1926 to Olaf Hesla and Mabel (Storvick) Hesla in Rembrant, Iowa. In 1935, after the death of a family member, they moved to the current Hesla homestead in Montana, taking over the Hesla Oil properties. Times were hard but they always made it to church, even if they were the only ones who did. Merton started his oilfield career early on at home and helping his neighbors. His very first “paying” job was for Bob Engleking at 13 years old. On day one of his new job he was to climb to the crown and string rope for the new drilling line.
Merton was a proud graduate of Oilmont High School and took part in a very successful basketball team. He graduated at 17 years old and was too young to enlist in the war effort. He applied to and was accepted into a special program provided by the army in Pullman, Wash., and completed one year of college. At 18 years old Merton enlisted and served in the Asiatic Pacific Theatre. He was originally part of the troop buildup known as “Operation Downfall” and spent most of his time waiting for the invasion of Japan. After the “Nukes” he was transferred from field artillery to M.P. He served as a Tec 5 Message Center Chief at the Military Police Battalion in Tokyo, Japan.
Once he was discharged from the military, he returned home to continue helping with his family’s oil business. Merton went to work for Seiben and Simmons Drilling Co, where he and close friend Pat Byrne worked on two separate drilling rigs manned with only three crews. He did this and still pumped multiple oil leases in the area at the same time.
Upon visiting his sister Joanne, who was attending nursing school in Minnesota, he met Gretchen Gilchrist, his sister’s roommate. They pursued a 1,200-mile long distance relationship with each other until they married in 1953. After convincing Gretchen to move to Montana, they had two boys, Paul and John. Later the couple moved from Shelby to Oilmont and had their first and only daughter, Kristi.
In 1961 Olaf and Mabel moved to Shelby, so Merton and his family moved back to the homestead outside of Oilmont where Merton started his own trucking business, Kevin Trucking. Business was good and it soon expanded to bigger trucks. In 1965 they had an unexpected blessing of another son, Mark.
After many years of trucking and community service, he lost his wife, Gretchen, in 1986. Closely followed by his mother, Mabel, and son, John. He later united with his partner, Nada, for 14 years until she also passed. Merton was very active in the Lutheran Church “Building Committee,” Marias Valley Country Club, Shelby bowling, Elks Club, American Legion and more.
His main passion was always the family trucking business. Even in his 90’s he was an active participant on every rig move, tank move, equipment move or whatever was being moved. He was not afraid to move anything. Even though he was one of the early extreme truckers his advice was, “Take pride in what you do and remember we might have to drive by that thing and say we put it there.” There aren’t many roads in the area where you can drive without finding something he moved. One way or another he “Moved Us All.”
Survivors include sister, Joanne Edwall; sons, Paul and Mark Hesla; daughter, Kristi Hesla Sherrod; grandchildren, Jade Premo, Siona Hesla, Meagan Hesla Bennett, Matthew Hesla, Shaylee Alford, Sarah Sherrod, Miranda Sherrod, Adam and Cotton Root. He will be missed by many other relatives and friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Olaf and Mabel Hesla; wife, Gretchen; his partner, Nada; son, John Hesla; and his grandson, Michael Hesla.
Condolences can be made to Merton’s memorial page at www.asperfh.com.