Elsa Ryan died in a Boise care center at age 92 on October 26, leaving a loving family and a legacy as a family matriarch, righter of wrongs and a force to be reckoned with in times of need or crisis.
“If it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” she said countless times during her life. It could be something as big as Watergate or as small as a minor overcharge on a credit card. If it wasn’t right, it was wrong.
When needed, she was invariably there.
A son or daughter who needed help moving into a new home? Elsa was there, even if it meant traveling hundreds of miles.
A marriage in trouble? Elsa was the rock, the port in the storm.
A grandchild having a problem with school or a friend? Elsa was there with a sympathetic ear and the wisdom of generations.
When a son-in-law’s father passed away two days before he and his wife were to leave on a dream vacation they’d planned for months, she began by calling local agents and went all the way to a vice president of United Airlines in Chicago to demand that their flight be rescheduled, at no charge, until after the funeral.
She was clairvoyant. No family crisis escaped her, even when she was meant to be kept in the dark to spare her feelings.
“What’s wrong?” she would call and say. “Is someone in trouble at work? Sick? Pregnant? I know something’s wrong so you might as well tell me what it is.”
She was born Elsa Erna Marie Nestby in Trondheim, Norway in1926 and emigrated to the U.S. with her parents, Jake and Margit Nestby, at age three. They settled in Everett, Wash., where she learned to speak English and attended grade school and high school. The family rode out the Depression with the help of a huge vegetable garden - just downhill from a cow pasture.
“The vegetables,” she recalled, “were fertilized beyond belief.”
She was working as an usher in an Everett theater when a Navy ensign named John Ryan saw her and bet a friend he could get a date with the cute blonde. They were married in June of 1945, three months after the destroyer on which was serving, the U.S.S. Morrison, was sunk by Japanese kamikaze pilots. The clairvoyant Elsa knew the instant it happened. John was among the lucky survivors of the decimated crew. When he came home on leave, they wasted no time getting married.
They had three children - Mary, Sheila and Mike. All had fond memories of family camping trips, family reunions in John’s native Illinois and idyllic summers spent at the family cabin on Hood Canal, Wash.
Elsa attended nursing school in Everett and worked as a nurse and later for the Washington State Legislature and as administrative secretary to four chiefs of the Washington State Patrol.
She and John loved cards and dancing. They were skilled bridge players and, in their later years, ballroom dancing instructors. They taught ballroom dancing on Pacific cruises and a 60-day South American cruise.
Elsa was preceded in death by her parents, her husband and her son Mike. She is survived by a brother, Maurice Nestby (Anne), Port Orchard, Wash.; daughters Mary Genasci (Johnny Kampling), Randall, Wash.; Sheila Woodward (Tim); granddaughters Andie Woodward and Jennifer Wolfe (Walter); grandson Mark Woodward; great granddaughters Hailey West, Kelsie Tibbetts (Christian) and Chloe Wolfe; great grandson Ryan West and great, great grandson Grayson Peterson, all of Boise.
She was a spitfire, admitting late in life that she tended to be “too verbal about issues I felt strongly about. … To my offspring I say, ‘you have inherited those genes. God help you.”
A rosary and memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Thursday at Bowman’s Funeral Home, 10254 W. Carlton Bay Dr., Boise. Special thanks to the Bridge at Valley View and Keystone Hospice, especially Johanna Powers, for their care and many kindnesses during Elsa’s last years.