SEQUIM — A lifetime of accolades for volunteering served as a reminder for the late Esther Heuhslein Nelson to keep helping others, family members say.
The 1996 Sequim Citizen of the Year and former Sequim Irrigation Festival grand marshal and grand pioneer died earlier this month at the age of 89, and friends and family say she leaves behind a large community service gap.
A Celebration of Life is set for 1 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at Macleay Hall in the Sequim Prairie Grange, 290 Macleay Road. The public is invited.
Nelson’s daughter, Vickie Crane, said her mom’s honors remained in her kitchen for years.
“They meant a lot to her but to her she felt she should do even more,” Crane said. “If she didn’t have 10 minutes serving others then she should fill it.”
An Agnew native, Nelson was born in Port Angeles on May 14, 1928 to Nick and Esther Chambers Heuhslein (Agnew and Fairview family pioneers) and went on to attend Macleay School (now the Sequim Prairie Grange) and graduate from Sequim High School in 1946.
Nelson grew up on the Agnew Dairy and Poultry Farm with her parents, brother Russ and sisters Dorothy and Barbara.
During World War II, family members said she filled in for farm hands off to war. She also played trumpet for the Sequim band and was active in 4-H raising animals, winning a trip to Chicago her senior year.
Nelson went on to Washington State University in Bellingham after high school but returned in 1949.
She raised her children, Crane and Nick Larson, by herself and worked for 32 years with Port Angeles’ Washington State Employment Office.
Crane said that despite tough times, her mother helped with her brother’s Boy Scouts’ and her Campfire Girls’ events and earned an Associate of Arts degree from Peninsula College.
In a 2000 Sequim Gazette profile, Nelson said:, “Thirty-two years I worked, and I retired in 1982 and married the next day. The two most dramatic events of my life, and I put them into two days.”
She married Ray Nelson, a retired government employee who died in 2015, and they traveled and went dancing while she took up a second career as a volunteer.
Crane said her mother’s volunteer efforts started with the Sequim Valley Lions Club’s Lady Lions Club. After her marriage, she became active with the Agnew Helpful Neighbors Club and the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Shelli Robb-Kahler, chamber executive director, said Nelson volunteered at the Visitor Information Center for more than 26 years, taking up various roles that included training employees.
“She was so dedicated to Sequim and very proud of living in this community,” Robb-Kahler said. “She wanted people to enjoy Sequim as much as she did.”
Said Crane: “I realized it was such an honor to be part of the chamber to her. She wanted everyone to belong. She thought of the chamber as Sequim.”
Bill Littlejohn said as chamber president and owner of Sherwood Village he got to know Nelson .
“With all of her volunteer hours, she did so much for the chamber. We need more people like Esther,” he said.
Maja Cox, a long-time volunteer like Nelson at the Visitor Information Center, said they’d both come rain or shine to volunteer on Mondays.
“She became the heart and soul of the visitor center,” Cox said. “She always made people feel very comfortable … she took pride in Sequim.”
Nelson knew the ins and outs of Sequim quite well, friends say.
Crane said her mom had a large notebook all about Sequim to recommend anything in the area, such as the best places to hike.
She also helped with the publication of the “Sequim-Pioneer Family Histories” books and she made a notebook about the Sequim area’s school houses.
Judy Reandeau Stipe, the Chamber’s 2017 Citizen of the Year and executive director of Sequim Museum & Arts, said she had known Nelson since she was a child.
“Esther was a kind-hearted and a very proud pioneer of the area she lived in,” Reandeau Stipe said.
For the last two years, Nelson lived at Sherwood Assisted Living. She leaves two children, two grandchildren — Pam Schmidt and Bill Schroepfer, Jr. — six great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].