Betty Nelson


Posted: Friday, January 21, 2005


  Betty Nelson

Betty Nelson

Kenai Peninsula pioneer Betty Nelson died Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2005, at Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna after a brief illness. She was 85.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Kenai Senior Citizens Center. Pastor Ken Hepner will officiate.

Mrs. Nelson was born in Minnesota in 1919. She challenged the "the traditional path" early on, attending college at the University of Minnesota, which she financed herself by working summers at Yellowstone National Park. It was there her love for adventure was matched by her love for a student park ranger named Paul Nelson. The two married in 1941.

Right after World War II, Mr. Nelson, an Army Air Corps flight instructor, set out to homestead the untamed Northern Territory of Alaska. Always up for a spirited journey, Betty Nelson said, "Let's go."

Mrs. Nelson arrived in Seward 59 years ago this month with her two toddler-age children, Ranger and Gypsy, and all their possessions on the last voyage of the SS Yukon, which ran aground on its return trip south. The family was dropped off by train outside of Seward, along Kenai Lake, where they eventually lived in a cabin next to "Alaska Nellie."

The Nelsons lived in and around Seward for 15 years, where Mr. Nelson was the administrator at the Tuberculosis Sanitarium. The family, which now included daughter and son, Paula and Bill, established a homestead at Mile 12.5 of Kalifornsky Beach Road. A career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs took the Nelsons out of Alaska for several years.

In 1976, the retired couple moved back to Kenai to live out their dreams in the land they loved. Their children and their families soon followed. The extended family lived near each other along K-Beach Road for many years, where family dinners were, according to friends and relatives, "always large, frequent and fun."

When Mr. Nelson died in 1991, Mrs. Nelson moved to the Kenai Senior Citizens Center, where she organized many a bridge game.

"She beat everyone who took her challenge at Scrabble, quilted colorful designs, wore red hats and purple shoes and shared countless hours of laughter with her family, dear friends and fellow residents," her family said.

Her daughter, Gypsy said, "No family outing will ever be the same, whether it's a trip to Tutka Bay, a walk on the beach or a family dinner on Sunday night, she was always the life of the party.

"She was a good mom — a great mom. She was an exceptional person who really lived her life, taught us how to live happy and strong as a family and was well-liked by everyone who knew her."

Mrs. Nelson was preceded in death by her husband, Paul, in 1991; son, Ranger; parents; and a brother.

She is survived by her children, Gypsy and Joe Jolly of Kenai, Paula and Tim Keohane of Whidbey Island, Wash., Bill and Melinda Nelson of Kenai and Marion Nelson of Kenai; grandchildren, Rob Jolly of Kenai, Jennifer Jolly and Evan Toolajian of San Francisco, Gavin Keohane of Washington, Caitlin Nelson of London and Clay Nelson of Kenai; great-grandchild, Jeneva Toolajian of San Francisco; sisters, Carol and husband, Lloyd Hansen, and Sylvia Boettger; brother, Roger and wife, Joanne; and many special friends, including Joanna Hollier, Susan Cushing and Randy Chalawsky.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Senior Connection, c/o Kenai Senior Citizens Center, 381 Senior Court, Kenai, AK 99611.

Arrangements were made by Peninsula Memorial Chapel in Kenai.

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