The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Womans Club honors citizen of the year

 

December 10, 2015

Diana Zimmerman

The Cathlamet Womans Club has named MaryAnn Nelson their citizen of the year in recognition of her volunteer work with a wide variety of groups and organizations.

Mary Ann Nelson was recently selected as Citizen of the Year by the Cathlamet Womans Club for her tireless and generous work with PFLAG, as president and member of the Southwestern Washington Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (WELCA), as well as Kiwanis and her thirty years as a Preschool teacher for St. James Family Center.

"I feel really weird about this," Nelson said. "I think of when Rick's dad (her father--in--law) had this honor."

"They do wonderful things," she said of the Cathlamet Womans Club.

To honor Nelson, the club will plant a rose at Julia Butler Hansen's home and she will get to ride in the Bald Eagle Day parade.

That might be a conflict for her, she joked. She usually organizes the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays or PFLAG group for the parade.

"I won't have to walk," she laughed, looking at the upside.

Mary Ann and her husband, Rick, attend the Stella Lutheran Chapel, where she sings soprano with the choir and is active in WELCA.

"They are looking at how to help groups that are providing food for kids or different things like that," Nelson said. "It's a national organization for the national church and I happened to be president this last year for our area, the Southwestern Washington Synod. It was a real honor to be able to lead people there and to talk about different things."

One of the perks of presidency was a trip to Chicago for training, where Nelson learned about human trafficking. They also had conversations about making sure that churches are safe for everyone, a subject close to Nelson's heart.

Invariably, someone would comment on the rainbow cross she wears. Grateful for each opportunity, she would share its special meaning.

The Nelsons have two sons. One came out as gay in 2001 and the other is transgender.

They are treasured. They are treasures.

"I've got awesome kids," Nelson said. "God gave me two wonderful gifts. They are people who are out there to help others. They've gone far educationally. They are trying to make a difference in the world in what they are doing. They are kind, they are helpful."

"I felt honored, that I could be president of the Southwestern Washington Synod. That they knew my family and who I was and what some of my passions are. And that was okay. You don't always find that. Sometimes church is the scary place. This was good."

"I think that is a lot of where Rick and I walk," Nelson continued. "We do PFLAG and we also do what is called Reconciling Works, which is like PFLAG in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. I think our nation has made great strides, but some of our churches are having a hard time stepping forward."

According to Nelson, Reconciling Works is organized to help churches transition as opposed to one person at a time. It's about understanding what it means to say "All are welcome", and to really mean it.

"Sharing your story is powerful," she said.

"PFLAG didn't exist in Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties before about 2003, 2004," Nelson continued. "When Jake came out to us in 2001, he gave us resources for PFLAG, but the closest support group we could find was in Olympia or Portland and both met on Tuesday night. That didn't work for us.

"I tried to get online, because I needed someone to talk to," Nelson said.

The Longview Methodist Church was going through a bible study and learning about becoming a Reconciling Church. They invited local families to come and talk about LGBQT issues. Eventually, it became a chapter of PFLAG.

"It was an opportunity for us to get together and talk and know that even if you were kind of worried about your child right now," Nelson said, "here were parents that had children that had been out for years and everything was just fine."

"I think it's important to have someone to talk to," she continued. "And to have people say to you, your kid is fine."

Nelson is also a member of Kiwanis and she has been teaching preschool for 30 years at the St. James Family Center.

"I've seen a lot of changes in how we do preschool and how much has changed," Nelson said. "That is an organization that I don't think any of us had any idea what an impact on our community it was going to have. It's a really wonderful organization to be part of."

For fun, when she has time, which isn't often, she likes to spin, knit and crochet.

"I like to use my own yarn and that's fun, but you've got to have time to do it," Nelson said.

She has given demonstrations at the fair and sometimes gives spinning classes at St. James Family Center during their summer adventure program.

Her mother had the spinning wheel that had been used by their relatives who had come to the states from Norway. Curious, Nelson took a class at a community center while in college.

"My mother had no idea how to use it," Nelson said. "I took a class to figure it out. That was really fun to me, to solve the problem of how the wheel worked."

For years, the Nelsons kept two llamas and an alpaca on their Puget Island residence. They sheared the animals, and Mary Ann spun the fiber into yarn. For some of that time, the three camelids went to the county fair, and Mary Ann was superintendent of the llama barn.

Mary Ann met her husband Rick, currently the Editor and Publisher of the Wahkiakum Eagle at Western Washington University, where she got an Education degree.

This year, her son Jacob received a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering. He currently works in the Seattle area. Jamie completed a Masters in Theological Studies at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, where he now works. Mom is the Cathlamet Womans Club Citizen of the Year.

It's a good year to be a Nelson.

 

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