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Matthew Thomas O’Dell 1924 – 2010

Jul 13, 2010

BUTTE, MT — On July 10, 2010, Matthew Thomas O’Dell passed peacefully into eternal life surrounded by his family.

Matthew was the eldest of three sons born to Bridget Hickey and Russell O’Dell, in Emmetsburg, on April 30, 1924. Russell O’Dell died in 1930 leaving his widow to raise their three sons, ages 5, 4 and 2, alone.

Life was difficult for the O’Dell clan and the young mother did her best to raise her sons on a widow’s pension of $30 per month during the depression years. The family moved to a farm field where relatives built a 10’X20’ clapboard house with an attached 10’X10’ kitchen. The house was heated by a small oil-burner stove and lacked insulation, electricity and plumbing.  

Matthew was a lifelong student and placed great value on education and learning. He began his education in a one-room school house and graduated from Emmetsburg Catholic High School first in his class.

After graduation, Matt hitchhiked to Washington D.C. and began his career with the FBI. He was trained in radio operations and put his training to use in service to his country in the United States Merchant Marines, beginning in January 1944.  Matt made three maritime journeys aboard the SS Hugh S Legare receiving the designation of ensign.

Following his discharge from the Merchant Marines in 1945, he enlisted in the United States Navy and sailed to the Island of Okinawa aboard Liberty Ship SS Henry M Robert before receiving his Honorable Discharge in 1946.  All in all, Matthew was honored with five various Merchant Marine and Navy Campaign Medals for his service during WWII.  

Matt went back to work for the FBI and served in Washington D.C. and Butte, MT  where he met the love of his life, Violet June Rask, daughter of Nesum and Mary Murray Rask. Matt and Vi were married May 20, 1952 and spent the next 58 years together raising their family and enjoying their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Matt built the couple’s first home on Bayard Street in Butte in 1956.  In 1955 Matt and Vi welcomed their first son, Daniel Thomas, who was born prematurely and survived only five days. The couple was later blessed with five children and raised them together in Butte. The family has expanded through the years and includes 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Matt was also uncle, great uncle to many and forged friendships throughout the U.S., Ireland, Lebanon and Australia.  

Matt had a strong work ethic which was passed on to his family and continues to have a lasting mark in the community. After his marriage, the FBI assigned Matt to Little Rock, AR.  When the young couple arrived in Little Rock for their honeymoon trip, Vi was quick to decide that Little Rock would not be where they would make their home. Matt resigned from the FBI and moved his bride back to Butte. He worked as a salesman for Graybar Electric and then went into partnership for S.J. Perry Company. He eventually bought out his partner and became sole owner of the business. Three of his sons continue to run the family business in Butte and Helena, MT. 

For the last couple of decades, Matt has made a second career of researching his family history, both on his side and on Vi’s side.  He has become fondly known as “the Irish Archivist for the Lebanese in Butte.”  Countless stories and tales have been written about the O’Dell, Hickey, and Conway Clans and many a grandchild, niece, and nephew has referred to Papa Matt/Uncle Matt for information on the family tree.  He was never more alive than when he was offering the fruits of his labors to the next generation. He was a historian at heart and a diligent slave to detail.  If you didn’t have an abundance of time, you should think twice about asking him a question about one of his research projects.  There was never a short answer!

Matt’s gifts were endless and varied. There was nothing he could not do. If there was a project that he could not take on with his own resourcefulness and duct tape, it probably was not worth doing. 

He began to explore his artistic gifts during the 70’s, taking painting lessons, and beginning to sculpt wildlife.   The list of his artistic accomplishments is quite impressive and includes: numerous bronze cast sculptures, one of which he donated to Idaho State University; a commissioned portrait of St. Sharbel for the back altar at St. Sharbel Maronite Catholic Church in Portland, Oregon; pictures of a Cedar of Lebanon and St. Sharbel which hang in the Lebanon American Peace Society in Butte. For an amateur artist, his work incredibly detailed and expressed his love of nature, his ties to family and the beauty of his surroundings. His legacy will endure well into future generations through the work of his hands. 

Surviving Matt are his wife Violet of Butte, MT; sons Michael (Melissa), Bob (Pam), and Kevin (Leslie) all of Butte, MT, and Jim of Rupert, ID, and daughter Patti Cassidy (Dion) of Missoula, MT; grandchildren Bridgett (Alex) Beal, Kieley, Kaelyn and Maggi Cassidy, Ashleigh (Matt) Clark, Kevin, Max, Mikey and Mikenna O’Dell, Sam (Joshua) Beckett, Jimmy O’Dell,  Hannah and Luke O’Dell; and great-grandchildren Harrison Beal and Sofia Clark. 

Relatives and friends may call from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at St. Ann’s Parish for visitation.  Parish Vigil will be conducted at 7 p.m.

Liturgy of the Resurrection will be celebrated at 10 a.m. at St. Ann Parish. In lieu of flowers family requests donations be made to Highlands Hospice, International Heart Institute of Montana, Ray Murray Scholarship Fund at Montana Tech, or a charity of your choice.