Former Conifer resident Jana Elliott lived ‘a life of service’

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By Sal Christ

Former Conifer resident Jana Elliott, who was killed in a highway crash July 10 after stopping to assist other motorists in Lakewood, is remembered as a person who always wanted to help others.

Elliott was a passenger in a vehicle traveling east on West Sixth Avenue near Indiana Street when she and the driver, Sharon Young, saw a bicycle fall off a car in front of them.

According to Lakewood police spokesman Steve Davis, the women pulled over on the left-side shoulder to retrieve the bicycle and returned it to the occupants of the other vehicle. However, after returning to their car, a third vehicle hit them from behind. Elliott, who had been in Colorado visiting friends after moving to Montana several years ago, died at the scene.

A native of Kansas, Elliott lived for more than 15 years in Conifer, where she raised her kids — Andy, now 29, and Morgan, 26 — with husband Ken.

She worked at the Evergreen Area Chamber of Commerce and volunteered at Blue Spruce Habitat for Humanity and for various faith-related organizations.

Loss 'leaves a gigantic spiritual hole'

Elliott, who was 56, is remembered in Conifer and Evergreen as a caring and contributing member of the community. In 2011 she organized Conifer's National Back to Church Sunday, which encouraged people to return to regular church attendance. A year later she helped a woman move into her first home via a Habitat for Humanity project.

Those who knew her say Elliott’s laugh was contagious, and her heart knew no limits. In Montana, she was a teacher at Northside Elementary in Wolf Point on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

“She was the kind of woman that always volunteered and looked for someone to help out. She always had a bright smile and was always cheerful,” said Larry Kalb, pastor at Platte Canyon Community Church in Bailey, where Elliott was a member for 15 years. “Her loss leaves a gigantic spiritual hole for everybody. Being as young as she was, it's all the more devastating.”

One of Kalb's fondest memories of Elliott involved a family with kids who needed help. Kalb said she essentially took them in and was always willing “to sacrifice for little children.”

For Mel Nuchols, who worked with Elliott at the Evergreen chamber from 2007 to 2009, the loss is devastating.

“I just learned so much from her. … I just think she had that love in her heart, and that's what makes this so hard,” Nuchols said. “I really learned from her to look at things from someone else's point of view. She always knew how to put herself in other people's shoes.”

One of Nuchols' last memories of Elliott is from a gathering several years ago.

“She had this get-together at her house, and it had to do with one of the families she was helping out,” Nuchols said. “This woman had a little baby, and Jana had that little bundle in her arms, and she was just on cloud nine. She was just grinning from ear to ear.”

Susan Brubaker, formerly the volunteer coordinator at Blue Spruce Habitat, recalled meeting Elliott through Hazzell Conelos — the woman she helped get into a Habitat for Humanity home in 2012. Brubaker remembers Elliott as “truly having a life of service.”

The driver of the vehicle that collided with the car carrying Elliott was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular homicide. District attorney’s spokeswoman Pam Russell said Curtis Blodgett, 24, is due in court July 18 to be advised of charges. Blodgett is currently free on bond.

Contact reporter Sal Christ at sal@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1035.