Maestro Ehling’s show must go on Saturday in spite of Thanksgiving heart attack

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — On Thanksgiving morning, Dewey Ehling didn’t feel like himself.

There had been “tipoffs,” he said, such as an ache in his chest.

Then, around 8 a.m. last Thursday, his legs wouldn’t work.

Ehling, conductor of the Peninsula Singers, the Port Townsend Community Orchestra and the Handel’s “Messiah” sing-along later this month, said he’d never felt so weak before.

His wife of 42 years, Lauretta Ehling, called 9-1-1; paramedics rushed him to Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles.

From there Ehling, amid a heart attack, was taken to Swedish Medical Center in Seattle — by Olympic Ambulance, since a dense fog made transport by helicopter too risky.

After having a stent placed in an artery that had been 90 percent blocked, Ehling spent two days and nights at Swedish, to return home to Port Angeles on Saturday evening.

“I had been ignoring this feeling in my chest,” Ehling said Monday.

“I always think I’m the strongest guy in town,” what with conducting orchestras and choirs, performing in shows such as the recent “Winter Wonderettes” at the Dungeness Schoolhouse — and setting up for the Peninsula Singers concerts the weekend before Thanksgiving.

“The two of us had set up the risers ourselves,” said Lauretta.

Then, early last week, the couple took their customary walk together, and Ehling had to pause and rest.

Not that he complained about anything.

And Ehling was conscious throughout his heart attack, the lights-and-sirens ride to Seattle and the stent procedure; when asked about it, he spoke not of pain, but pronounced himself “pretty good” Monday.

“He’s like that. He’s a Marine,” said Lauretta.

Ehling, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War, will turn 85 this month.

After a long career teaching music in the Anchorage public school system, he moved to Port Angeles nearly 25 years ago.

As the maestro leading musical groups across the North Olympic Peninsula, Ehling is beloved.

Singers, orchestral musicians, actors and stage managers from Port Angeles to Port Townsend re­arrange their lives to be in his productions.

His next performance, the Port Townsend Community Orchestra’s holiday concert, is coming to the Chimacum High School auditorium at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday.

As is traditional, admission will be free.

And yes, Ehling said, he plans on conducting the orchestra. His surgeon at Swedish has given him the go-ahead, saying the sooner he can return to his routine, the better.

For Ehling, making music is both routine and reason for living.

On Monday, he planned to have Hollie Kaufman, assistant conductor of the Port Townsend Community Orchestra, over to prepare for tonight’s rehearsal.

First, though, Kaufman asked if it might be too soon. Lauretta answered:

“Hollie, come . . . he is panting to get back to his music.”

Lauretta well knows that this is her husband’s best medicine.

Lauretta herself has gone through a terrifying time.

“I was so distressed when they couldn’t take him by helicopter,” due to the fog.

So after watching the ambulance speed away, Lauretta got in her car.

“It was just a white cloud I drove through,” she said. When she got to the Bainbridge Island ferry dock, she had a long wait for the next boat.

“On the ferry, we could not see a thing,” not the water, not the sky, she said.

Once in Seattle, Lauretta headed for Swedish using her Google directions — and found road work in her way. She couldn’t reach Swedish directly, and when she did at last burst in the door of the hospital, she faced another maze before finding the cardiac intensive care unit.

It was about 3 p.m. when she laid eyes on her husband.

His color was back — he looked awfully good.

Good news came when Ehling’s doctor was summoned. He told Lauretta that her husband was out of danger.

Ehling himself said that as soon as the stent was in, he felt better.

On Monday, he said his pain had gone. Later this week he’ll be ready for visitors.

From the beginning, Lauretta added, the people she and her husband encountered have shown kindness beyond expectation.

The paramedics from the Port Angeles Fire Department “were very focused,” she said, while also sensitive.

Fire Chief Ken Dubuc and his wife, Teresa, came over to care for the Ehlings’ dog and cat for the three days they were away.

And the nurses at Swedish gave “not just skilled labor,” Lauretta said. “This was caring, skilled labor.”

The maestro “looks great,” she said, adding that he’ll meet with his Port Angeles doctor this week to make sure he’s ready to conduct the orchestra again.

“He’s on the mend,” Lauretta said.

“He’ll get his legs under him, and he’ll be off.”


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at

Last modified: December 02. 2013 6:32PM
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