Helen Nelson passed away at home on Friday, May 20, 2022.
If you met Helen then you were on the receiving end of her famous chocolate chip cookies. Mom’s cookies were her expression of love for others — effortless, comforting, delicious! And, she expressed that love to everyone she met: the lifties at Big Mountain, the jammers in Glacier, her hiking buddies, the fourth graders on field trips to her house, the high schoolers who attended Wednesday Bible studies, her children and random stranger, and her many, many friends. For anyone who knew Helen, the chocolate chip cookie is the quintessential representation of her kindness and generosity.
Helen grew up on the banks of the Vedder River in Yarrow, British Columbia, the youngest child of first generation immigrants. She never wavered from the values her parents instilled: a deep love of Christ and sharing that with others, a deep commitment to family, a passion for the outdoors, and an interest in travel and understanding other cultures. In her early 20s, she graduated with a degree in nursing and set out on her first of many life adventures — working as a young traveling pediatric nurse with stings in Kingston, Ontario; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Pasadena, California where she, with her infectious zest for life, caught the attention of a young medical resident. Helen and Van Kirke Nelson were soon married and remained the love of each other’s lives — a true dynamic duo! In 1962, they were on the move to their lifelong adventure together raising their five children in the Flathead Valley and setting a course for decades of deep community involvement with a focus on the arts, education and public health. Over the years, Helen served as a trustee of the Kalispell School board, the chair of the Alpinglow Inn board, the Montana Tramway Safety board, and the chair of the Bigfork Summer Playhouse. She and Kirke were deeply involved in supporting the Montana Historical Society, the CM Russell Museum, the Hockaday Museum of Art, the Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, the Kalispell Regional Hospital (now Logan Health) and the Flathead Valley Community College, and many other non -profits in the Kalispell community and across the globe.
Helen was fearless, generous, loving, competent and sassy. For her, it was completely within the realm of the possible on a single Sunday to organize the household, go to church, ski all afternoon with family and friends, and host dinner for 12, featuring her scrumptious roasts and pies. Her hospitality was famous — there was never an inconvenient time to stop by and there was always enough for one more person who just happened to show up. There was no task too big or too small or too uncomfortable for Mom’s attention and anyone who needed help was sure to get the support they needed from her. And, if you happened to be beyond her reach to help in person — no worries — you could count on a handwritten letter filled with encouragement, highlights of her recent comings and goings, uplifting Bible verse references and, often, a care package of chocolate chip cookies!
Mom loved to ski, hike, bike ride and read and would squeeze one of these activities into a day even if it was just a single run down Toni Matt, a short bike ride on the shores of Lake McDonald or a quick devotion with the Message . She was also up for the big stuff such as the 10-plus hunting seasons she served as head baker/cook in her son Greg’s remote back country hunting camp. Big or small, her greatest enjoyment came when sharing the outdoors and her faith with others. Mom taught many a person how to downhill ski, water ski, hike and bike. And, she generously shared her faith and the Message with others. Being in the open air, surrounded by God’s creation, played an important role in her connection with God and was when she was her happiest.
Helen was her husband’s, children’s husband’s biggest fan and waswavering adventures in her support and prayers for their many adventures. She will be forever remembered by her five children and their families — Greg Nelson and Gina, children: Vale, Forest, Echo (family: husband Brian Ham and daughters Emery and Claire); Julie Mitchell and Doug, children: Andrew and Garrett (wife, Christine Raby); Kathy Nelson and Chris Sauvé, children: Emma and Julia; Nancy Maxwell, children: Jandi, Hanna, Sierra (husband Gavin Lommatsch); and Doug Nelson and Karen, children: Lauren Nelson, Jessica, Weston and Rachel Cassens, and Michelle Biggins (family: husband Bridger and son Jace).
Donations in Helen’s memory can be made to any of the following organizations or a charity dear to you: Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, flbc.net; ImagineIf Library Foundation, imagineiflibraryfoundation.org; Foys To Blacktail Trails, foystoblacktailtrails.org; Glacier National Park Conservancy, glacier.org; or Bigfork Summer Playhouse, bigforksummerplayhouse.com/consider-a-donation/.
An informal outdoor celebration of life service will be held on Sunday, July 24, from 1 to 3 pm at the home of Greg and Gina Nelson, 264 El Rancho Road, Kalispell.