Helen Nelson

Helen Nelson

Helen Nelson


Helen Nelson went to be with her Lord and Savior on July 18, 2021, with her daughters by her side. The peace that passeth understanding was evident when she took her last earthly breaths and joined her loved ones in heaven. 

Her Celebration of Life was held at the Hillside Bible Chapel on July 20, the singing and praise led by David McElwain and the gospel shared by Steve Rounsaville. Son, Robert Nelson sang “If That isn’t Love” a song that speaks to Jesus leaving the glory of heaven, so we may live eternally. Grandsons Robby John Hoedel and Devin Stiller shared the first scripture Helen learned John 1:1-12 and verse 29. 

Grandson Henry Orth shared a eulogy that represented her faith, the sometimes humor of caring for her in her last weeks, and the love her family had for her. Granddaughter Kristy Clement read Psalms 23 and dear friend Jay Kaiser sang “Surely Goodness and Mercy will Follow Me” Her cross-bearer was grandson Tommy Nelson, and her pall bearers were her grandsons: Sidney and Robby John Hoedel, Arnie Jay Nelson, Henry Orth, Colver Sonnentag and Devin Stiller. Her gravesite was covered with many flowers delivered in honor of her life, and yes, irises her favorite flower was included.

Helen was born in Afognak on February 7, 1929, to Nadia Lukin Knagin and Alex (Pronka) Knagin. As her parents died at a young age many people were instrumental in raising her, particularly Alex and Selma Chichenoff. She spent time being cared for by the nurses at the Holmes Memorial hospital in Kodiak and assisted them to help allay the cost of caring for her. One of the stories that Helen retold of her time at the hospital was the night she snuck out of her window to go to a dance, and in her excitement of the evening forgot she snuck out and came back in through the door. Busted! Missionaries Barbara Crozier and Nina Gilbreath that came to Afognak were instrumental in her future walk with Christ and showed her great kindness.

Helen was a hard worker all her life. Her children recall stories of her gibbing herring, working at Percy’s café in Juneau and the Polar Bear in Kodiak. She cooked for construction workers out of her home in Port Lions while they built the road out to, as well as the airstrip. At times the work had to coincide with the tides, so she basically had 24-hour days while they completed the project. Helen also cooked the first Senior Meals in Port Lions, and the elders were invited into her home to eat around her table. She interspersed fun little games during their time together and upon reflection the sense of community and love in the house was evident. She later cooked for the construction workers, Seniors, and residents of Port Lions at the Driftwood Café that her husband John built so she could concentrate on her love of cooking and people outside of their home.

While going through Helen’s papers old menus were found and memories surfaced of the old-timers who used to come in. On doughnut day, OP would come in and buy two dozen to share with others. Bertha Larsen wanted fried chicken wings, Sergay Sheratine wanted two eggs, two bacon and two pancakes, and Lawrence Lukin was “forced” to dance with one of her daughters as music blared out of the juke box.

Helen spearheaded the first Fourth of July celebration in Port Lions as a volunteer and it was a rousing success. There were wheelbarrow races that Paddy and Nadia Mullan participated in, baby bottle drinking contests that her sons Alvin and Jerry entered along with their wives and many other activities that added to the joy of the day. She loved going out on the skiff up the bay to Jackie’s fish site to relax in the sun and pick berries with her family. She had a playful side that she exhibited to her grandchildren often, the majority of whom will remember her at Long Beach, dancing and singing “itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini”. Growing up her children have vivid memories of two sayings that she used often and in later years became a standing joke. Whenever her children were sent under the house or to the refrigerator to get a grocery item and came up empty-handed, she would say, “Don’t be afraid to move things around.” The other one she tossed out to her children when they couldn’t figure something out or did something that didn’t have the best results was, “Use your head!”

Church was life sustaining to Helen; earlier she helped with Daily Vacation Bible School and Sunday School teaching many classes and in later years she had her favorite chair next to the Toyo stove that spewed hot air as she sat with a blanket over her lap listening to the word. Whenever she shared from the scripture, she showed reverence for God by standing in his presence. For forty years Helen held a bible study in her home at the kitchen table where the attendees were able to delve deeper into the word of God while gazing out the window at his glorious creation. On Tuesday, before she left this world “Helen’s girls”, as she called the woman who attended her study, met with her in her living room. She opened the study strongly in prayer and asked them to recite the Lord’s Prayer with her. Her goal was to have one more bible study and she mustered the strength to accomplish it.

Helen was preceded in death by her husband John Nelson Sr., children Margie Garretson and Cecil Nelson Sr., grandson Robert Nelson Jr. and granddaughter Kellie Nelson. She is survived by John Nelson Jr. (Vivian), Alvin Nelson (Arlene), Jerry Nelson (Margaret), Robert Nelson (Galena), Arnold Nelson (Elizabeth), Janice Stiller (Marlyn), Harry-Fuzzy Nelson (Kathy), Candace Nelson (Bert Bendixen), Marci Orth (Hal) and Tommy Nelson (Dawn), 38 grandchildren, 51 great-grandchildren and six great-great grandchildren. 

Helen (Mama) will be missed but we are all confident that we will see her in heaven. She was ready to leave this earth and be greeted by her best friend, Jesus.