Iola Jean (Wahli) Vanstrom


Iola Jean (Wahli) Vanstrom passed away peacefully in her Duluth home, at the age of 84, following a six-year struggle with mixed Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia. She is survived by her husband of 57 years, Neal; her children, Karen (Tokin), Peter, Laura (McCormick), and Janice; 11 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren; her sisters, Lorna and Lorraine; and many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by father, Joseph Aalbue (1939); her first husband, Paul Sarlund (1961); her son Steven (1972); and her mother Iola Peterson (1995).

Wahli was born in Hankow, China (now known as Wuhan) on September 24, 1936. At the age of 3, following the death of her father, she left China and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota where she lived with her mother, her maternal grandmother and her two sisters. After graduating from St. Paul Central High School, she went on to attend St. Olaf College. She graduated with a degree in Nursing in 1958. She remained in touch with her nursing class for most of her life and enjoyed many reunions.

Wahli met and married Neal in 1963 and the family moved to California in 1964. After spending almost twenty years there, an opportunity arose for them to move back to Minnesota. They happily settled in Duluth with their two youngest children.

Wahli led an active and fulfilling life. She was a loving full-time wife and mother, was involved in church activities throughout her life, pursued various real-estate ventures, served on the board of Finlandia University, in Hancock, Michigan, was active in Lutheran Social Services of NE Minnesota, and was a lay chaplain at St. Mary’s Medical Center, Duluth. Her hobbies included voracious reading, music, water-color painting, travel, and spending time with her many friends. She and her group of walking buddies, dubbed the “Walkie-Talkies”, could often be seen on the Duluth Lakewalk and at the local eateries. Wahli loved to attend concerts with Neal and faithfully attended the annual St. Olaf Choir Christmas concert and lutefisk dinner.

Wahli is best known, however, for her beautiful smile, joy-filled spirit, caring personality, and strong Christian faith. She is going to be missed by many, but we know that she is in Heaven now singing along to her favorite hymn, “Beautiful Savior”. Because we are unable meet together now, we look forward to a ceremonial celebration of her life sometime in 2021.

Private Family Services where held. Arrangements by Dougherty Funeral Home. 600 E. 2nd St. Duluth, MN 55805. 218-727-3555.

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