Charles Michael “Mike” Cornelius
April 30, 1954 ~ September 25, 2022
Charles Michael “Mike” Cornelius, 68, a long-time Alberton resident, passed away peacefully on Sunday, September 25, 2022 in Missoula, following a massive disabling stroke. His niece, Samantha McClanahan, and her family were with him at the time of his passing.
Mike was the son of Virginia Louise (Hornberger) and Thomas Earl Cornelius, Jr. He was born in Tampa, Florida and raised in Camp Verde, Arizona and later, in La Grande, Oregon. He graduated from La Grande High School with the Class of 1972.
While a young man, Mike helped his brothers and parents build their dome house up on Fox Hill above La Grande. He was always a hard worker and quite knowledgeable.
Mike was a skilled operator of construction equipment, semi-trucks, and machinery. He was an autodidact and if you don’t know what that is he would want you to look it up.
Most of us remember fishing with Mike. He could catch fish when no one else in the family could. Youngest brother Tom remembers that “When fishing was good he would complain about his beer getting warm and threaten not to put bait on his hook so he could enjoy his beer.”
Mike was kind, genuine, articulate, quite knowledgeable, generous to a fault, and just a lot of fun to be around. He was also a prankster. As a boy, he delighted in teasing his sister Robin by getting her panties out of the dryer and wearing them around on his head. As an adult, he would eat an entire jar of pickled eggs if he knew you were going to be with him in his tent that night.
Mike also had a lifelong obsession with human female mammary glands, so his mom made him a slightly larger-than-life boobie pillow out of black velvet. The family’s laughter and the twinkle in her eye when Virginia presented the pillow to him suggest that he inherited his pranking from her.
Tom also remembers a time when Curt’s water line froze. “It was February, I think, and we were on the other side of the canyon from Mom and Dad’s house at a little pond that supplied Curt’s water. It was cold and snowing hard, big flakes about one inch or better. Mike was wearing a dark blue Levi jacket, a greenish-gold nylon vest, and a brown cowboy hat. His beard was about three inches long. I remember him standing there with the snow piling up on his hat and shoulders, smoking a cigarette, and drinking from a pint of whiskey. He looked like he belonged there on the mountain in the snow. That is how I will always remember him—at home in the mountains. And he fit the part perfectly.”
Mike stayed and worked in La Grande for most of his life, working at a car dealership, for Chevron at a filling station, for Union Pacific Railroad and later for Boise Cascade Corporation at the La Grande sawmill. He eventually became a lumber grader and stayed with the mill for over twenty-five years. He retired from Boise Cascade and enjoyed spending his weekends in Huntington, Oregon, fishing and helping his parents at their retirement property.
Mike had many friends from the mill and kept in touch with a lot of his LHS Tiger classmates from 1972. But he also enjoyed his private time. His love for nature, fast cars, and reading, along with fishing (Oh, did we mention fishing?) were significant. Anyone who knew Mike would not dispute his intelligence or his sense of humor.
When Mike’s younger brother Greg died in an auto accident in 1979, a part of Mike died with him. It was the beginning of a tragic story of loss for him and the family.
Mike was deeply affected by the loss of his mother, Virginia, in December of 2001, and later by his older sister, Robin in the summer of 2007. His brother, Robert “Bob” Cornelius, passed away in 2009, and then his stepfather, Thomas, in 2011. All of these deaths hit Mike really hard.
He eventually settled in with his younger brother, Curt, in Alberton, Montana, where he lived for the last twelve years.
Mike attended Sage Technical School in Missoula, Montana, earning his Class A CDL and worked for a short time for Riverside Construction, retiring again for the last time in 2011. As he got older, arthritis became a real challenge for him.
Sadly, Curt passed away on Super Bowl Sunday, February 3, 2019. This might have been the hardest loss for Mike as they had become so close. From Curt’s death until his own passing, Mike depended upon the ongoing support and care of his sister-in-law, Katherine “Kathy” DeNeut Cornelius and Arthur “Dobs” Severns in Alberton. The remaining extended family is very grateful to both Kathy and Dobs for helping Mike through these last difficult years. We love you!
Mike wished to attend his 40th Class Reunion at La Grande High School, held in August of 2022, but his health would not permit him to travel. If any of you find this, please know that although he was in Montana these last few years, a big part of his heart was there with you in La Grande.
Mike is survived by one brother, Thomas M. “Tommy” Cornelius, of La Grande, and by his many nieces, nephews and cousins. Since he never had children of his own, he was more like a surrogate parent to all of us. We had different nicknames for him – “Mikey,” “Gretchen,” and “Muncle Ike” were notable.
Mike, we don’t know exactly where you’re at, but please keep an eye on us. This world is going to hell in a handbasket and we need you, so if you’re on Guardian Angel duty, please stay awake and help keep us on the straight and narrow! You were a constant example and a source of much entertainment on this side – we hope your qualities are magnified on the other side.
Until we meet again.
Cremation care was arranged through Lindquist’s Ogden Mortuary, Ogden, UT and handled by Garden City Funeral Home, Missoula, MT.
A Memorial Celebration of Life for immediate family and friends is being planned for the Spring of 2023.
Per his wishes, some of Mike will be scattered in the hills around his Montana home, where he used to walk and watch wildlife. The remainder will be laid to rest with the cremated remains of his grandparents, parents, and younger brother, Greg, among extended family in the Clear Creek Cemetery in Camp Verde, AZ.