Young writer and artist Greta Wrolstad, who died Aug. 9, is remembered for doing so much in her 24 years

By Erin Madison

Gazette-Times reporter

Though her life was cut short by a car accident on a mountain road in western Montana, there was a completeness to the life of Greta Wrolstad, said her mother, Kathy Wrolstad.

"There was a lot of closure in her life, not a lot of loose ends," she said.

Greta lived a full life, Kathy said.

She was born in Corvallis on April 26, 1981, and graduated from Corvallis High School in 1999.

On Aug. 5, she went to float the Blackfoot River outside Missoula, Mont. The car, being driven by her friend and fellow student, was hit by an oncoming pickup as it was making a left turn. Greta died on Aug. 9 at a Missoula hospital.

Greta had finished one year at the University of Montana in the master of fine arts program in creative writing.

At her memorial service Sunday, her close friends and family read her poems and shared their memories.

"She's always liked writing," Kathy said.

She started reading at age 3. When she was 5, she was writing two-page stories.

Greta never eagerly shared her poems with her parents. The first time they heard her poetry was when she defended her thesis when she graduated from the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon with a bachelor of arts in English.

Her thesis consisted of her poetry and photography.

She was very proud of the photos, Kathy said. She kept a hardback copy of her thesis in her apartment.

In addition to being a writer, Greta was an artist.

In high school, pottery became her major pursuit. A number of her vases still grace the mantle at the Wrolstad's Corvallis home.

"She always had an interest in art as a little girl," Kathy said.

Greta was always whittling wood, playing with clay or drawing.

The Wrolstads sent Christmas cards featuring Greta's artwork every year.

"She was a true artist," her father, Ron Wrolstad said. "She could never do anything on demand."

When it came time for her to make the yearly Christmas card, she would put it off every time her dad reminded her.

He didn't want to force her to do it or give her a deadline, but every year he would set up a table with all the supplies Greta needed to make the card.

When she finally would sit down to make it, she'd whip out the card in two minutes, Ron said.

Greta's creativity also came out in cooking.

"She liked food, but she liked incredibly diverse food," Kathy said. "She was an original cook."

She would create combinations such as orange and ginger, she said.

Even when she was little, she would spend hours making a rich chocolate cake, recalled her sister, Kirsten Wrolstad.

Greta also had an eclectic taste in clothes.

She went through a period in high school where she shopped only at thrift stores, Ron said. One of her favorite shirts was a T-shirt her dad received in a race.

"She was an individual who didn't really care what you thought about her," Kathy said.

When she was younger, Greta played the piano and the violin.

She was a good musician but quit pursuing music after the age of 12, Kathy said.

After her first violin performance, Greta said she wasn't going to play violin anymore.

She was too competitive and didn't have the time to devote to violin practice because she was busy playing soccer.

"She's very determined, but she's also very talented," Kirsten said.

Beginning with her freshman year in high school, Greta played on the varsity soccer team. She also competed in down-hill ski racing, and later returned to the Corvallis High School ski team as a coach.

In 1999, Greta hurt her back in a serious ski accident and was never able to ski again. She also had problems with one of her feet.

"She was in a lot of pain, and most people didn't know that," Ron said.

She rarely mentioned the pain, but she did miss the backpacking, hiking, skiing and other outdoor activities that she could no longer do or couldn't do as frequently.

"When she had to give those things up, it wasn't easy for her," Kathy said.

Her ski accident was a catalyst in her life, her mom said. Because she had to cut back on sports, she had more time to focus on art and writing.

Greta had many circles of friends, but she wasn't loud and outgoing.

"She was always introspective, even as a little girl," her mother said.

She liked to look around and observe.

"When she spoke, it was meaningful," Kathy said.

Wrolstad had recently returned from a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, where she attended the 2005 Summer Literary Seminars.

"Greta was always up for adventures," Kathy said.

And in her 24 years, Greta had many of them.

She studied abroad in Angers, France, during her junior year at the University of Oregon.

She also spent a summer fighting fires and another working at a fish cannery in Alaska.

After graduating from UO, she found a job traveling with the 2003 Lollapalooza music tour selling T-shirts.

A few weeks into the tour, the two other girls she was working with quit, so Greta ended up doing the whole tour by herself, her mom said.

"I don't think she made any money, but she had an adventure," Kathy said.

Greta was looking into teaching English in Korea after she received her master's degree.

"All these things she did," Kathy said, "I think they fed her creativity."

How to help

Memorial contributions can be made to the scholarship fund established in Greta Wrolstad's name for the creative writing program at the University of Montana. Checks should be made to the University of Montana Foundation and mailed to UM Foundation, P.O. Box 7159, Missoula, MT 59807-7159, with notation that the contribution is for the Greta Wrolstad Memorial Fund.

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