Anita Leone Nelson Helton, 90, of Chesapeake, Virginia, passed away on Sunday, January 7, 2018 at Beth Sholom Nursing Home.
Anita was born to Albert and Mary (Reynolds) on Easter Sunday April 17, 1927 at Snake Butte Ranch, ten miles north of Bainville, Montana. She was the second child in a family of four girls and three boys. Anita had fond memories of growing up on the land that had been homesteaded by her grandparents. She learned to live a life of farming and shepherding, with her favorite horse Babe often near her side.
Anita was baptized and confirmed at First English Lutheran church in Bainville. She attended school in Bainville, proud of often being crowned as the local queen, and graduating as Valedictorian of her class in 1945. Upon completion of high school, Anita obtained a teaching certificate and taught school at the Harvey School, a one room school, northwest of Bainville.
In 1946 Anita married William Dean Helton, gaining not only a husband but an admired mother-in-law, Maude Helton. Anita and Bill had five children together: Wanda, Janet, Darcy, Steven and Peggy. Over the years Anita lived in many places ( Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wyoming, and Alberta, Canada), with each move providing an opportunity to forge new friendships within her home neighborhoods and churches. Anita took great care in maintaining lifelong relationships by writing letters, sending cards, making phone calls and visiting whenever possible. Getting the mail was always a thrill!
As with most women of her generation, Anita concentrated on being a homemaker, wife, and mother, occasionally working outside the home. Upon completion of the term at the country school, she joined Dean in Memphis, and worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital as an aide. This must be where she learned to be so picky about how to make a bed (just ask her family how to do hospital corners)! In Havre, Montana her job was in the notions department at Buttrey’s. Did her passion for crafts start then? After being a ‘star student’, she was hired by the business college she attended in Calgary, Alberta.
Travelling was something Anita began early in life. As an infant, she went with her parents and older sister Thelma, to her father’s homeland of Sweden and her mother’s relatives in England. In 1965, Anita returned to Sweden with her father and younger sister, Greta. On that trip, they also toured Denmark, Germany and Holland. Besides the many journeys home to Snake Butte Ranch, other places she enjoyed travelling to: Anaheim, San Diego, Las Vegas, Hawaii, the Kennedy Space Center, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head and Hatteras, Lake Superior, Vancouver and Victoria, Winnipeg, Montreal, New York City, St. Augustine, Savannah, Banff, Jasper and Yellowstone National Parks, and The Redwoods. There were also many trips to visit friends and other family in wherever they lived. One of her favorite trips was when she and granddaughter, Kerri, visited nephew, Jeff Stan, in Italy.
Anita had so many interests. She excelled at crocheting and quilting along with being skilled at other arts and crafts. She made many Christmas ornaments that her children and grandchildren still use and enjoy every year. Anita loved to read and solve cross word puzzles, also enjoyed dominoes, board and card games, and especially playing pinochle. Another interest of Anita’s was music. She insisted all five of her children take piano and as a bonus the three youngest children also got to take accordion lessons (groan!). Anita loved to sing. When younger she would sing in harmony with her family. Singing hymns brought her great comfort. She always sang cowboy songs in the car when traveling. Who in her family is not familiar with the song “Little Joe the Wrangler”? Her hobbies included collecting stamps, stone eggs, spoons, tea cups, shells and sheep. Later in life Anita learned to love boating with her daughter Darcy and her husband Pete on the Gulf of Mexico, even though she was afraid of the water and never learned to swim.
But her great joy was being a grandmother and great-grandmother. Her youngest great-grandchild, Lincoln, was born on her 89th birthday. Family gatherings and events were also treasured. In 1966 she attended her mother-in-law’s retirement party after 49 years of teaching at the Bainville School. She celebrated her parents’ 60th wedding anniversary in 1981 with her family. She helped organize a Nelson family reunion at her home in Billings, Montana in 1988 and again in 1991 co-hosted by her sisters Greta and Thelma at Greta’s home in Paducah, Kentucky. She joined friends for her 50th year class reunion in Billings in 1995. Her family celebrated her 80th birthday in Florida in 2007 and gathered for her 90th birthday in Virginia in 2017.
Anita’s health issues plagued her for the last third of her life. In 1988 she was diagnosed with heart disease and the chances were that she would only have five more years of life. But her strength and stubbornness coupled with excellent medical care and the benefit of new drugs helped her defy those odds! We used to all say how she was like the energizer bunny and somehow always seemed to rally back. But this time was different and her poor soul was just worn out. Anita was truly a ‘one and only’ there will never be anyone else quite like her.
She is survived by her children Wanda (David) O’Neil, Janet (Bern) Helton Johnson, Steven Helton, Peggy (Rickey) Nunn, by grandchildren Kerri Pawlak, Paul O’Neil, Sean O’Neil, Andrew O’Neil, Amy (Kevin) Wohlbold, and Jeremy Johnson, by great-grandchildren Taylor Ryan, Breanna Pawlak, and Lincoln Wohlbold, by siblings Norman Nelson, Glendon Nelson and Mavis (Bob) Eckhardt, by nieces and nephews Linda (Jim) Schude, Gary (Alice) Hall, Gayle (Jim) Phillips, Mike Nelson, Jeff Stan Nelson, Mark Nelson, Andrea (Wade) Owens, and Grant (Stacey) Eckhardt, by brother-in-law LeRoy Hall, by godson Timothy Creaser and by several great grandnieces and nephews.
She is preceded in death by her parents Albert and Mary Nelson, mother-in-law, Maude Helton, siblings Maynard Nelson, Thelma Nelson Styers and Greta Nelson Hall, daughter Darcy Helton Moe, granddaughter Andrea Pawlak, and nephews David Styers and Kent Eckhardt.
A memorial service will be held at Grace Lutheran Church, 521 Providence Rd, Chesapeake, Virginia 23325 on Saturday, January 20, 2017 at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her memory to ministries that she supported, the Grace Lutheran Church Food Pantry and Grace Lutheran Church Day School.
The family would also like to thank the staff at Beth Sholom for the exemplary care and kindness that she received and also to give special thanks to one of her favorite nurses, Cosmon, who was with her at the end of her way.
Date: Saturday, January 20, 2018
Time: 11:00 am
Grace Lutheran Church
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