Ellen Priscilla Christopherson was born on March 28, 1952 in Klamath Falls, OR, to Leonard and Alice (Davison) Christopherson. Her Norwegian roots and self-proclaimed “Viking spirit” manifested throughout her life. She spent most of her youth and youth in Wenatchee, WA, a city she proudly called her hometown. Her loving family of six (or seven if her grandmother was visiting over the winter) were all housed in a small house with one bathroom. Their community included picnic dinners by the fireplace and family outings in the 1957 Chevy station wagon. Ellen fondly remembered the fragrant apple orchards she strolled past on her way to school and the camaraderie she later enjoyed as a teenager at the historic Owl Drug soda fountain. During her school days in the late 1960s, she got her first job in the Arctic Circle, selling hamburgers for 19 ¢ each. When she wasn’t working, she borrowed her family’s station wagon and rounded up her friends. Her ability to get friends together to be a friend shaped the rest of her life.
After graduating from Wenatchee High School in 1970, Ellen attended Wenatchee Valley College for a year and graduated from the University of Washington’s 3-year nursing program with her BSN in 1975. After returning to Wenatchee in 1976, she began working as a nurse at the University of Washington, then called the Deaconess Hospital. Young and single, she attended a Bible study group and met its leader, David Collyer. Struck by Dave’s intelligence and faith, Ellen tried to impress him with her own knowledge of the Bible. Dave herself had a distant memory of Ellen from her elementary school years, namely that she had a long last name and was a fast runner. On February 24, 1979, Ellen happily shortened her last name to Collyer when she married Dave.
After a brief stay in Ellensburg, WA, the newlyweds moved to Spokane, WA in 1980. Dave began teaching at Northwest Christian School and Ellen began teaching nurses at Holy Family Hospital. Through their involvement in Trinity Baptist Church, they made friendships that would grow and last for the rest of their lives. Ellen’s work at Holy Family would eventually last 40 years and end in 2020. She worked first in the intensive care unit and then in the emergency room, where she was promoted to evening nurse and from there eventually moved to case management. Her tireless work ethic of competence and common sense was underpinned by compassion for those really in need.
To the delight of Ellen and Dave, they welcomed their only child, Curt, in 1984. They shared the joy of raising him for eight years until Dave’s untimely death from lupus in 1992. Ellen endured the grief of a young widow with strength. Once when asked how she managed to convey joy while working alone and raising her son, she replied that gratitude was key. She showed appreciation for the beautiful things she found in life – her faith, her family, her friends, her home, her garden, her work, her travels – and quietly endured the hardships of early widowhood and, later, Cancer. Her legendary “thank you” notes showed details, creativity, and humor. According to a lifelong southern friend, her daughters learned the best way to write a proper note from “Miss Ellen”.
In addition to a grateful spirit, Ellen’s life was one of generosity. She tirelessly supported the Spokane Chess Club’s annual Collyer Memorial tournament, named in honor of her husband. In addition to delivering food and supplies, the club credits her with hosting players outside of town, promoting young players, and attending funerals for the deceased. It refers to her as “one of the unsung heroes of local chess”, with one member calling her “Spokane Chess’s godmother”.
Ellen showed her generosity in a myriad of other ways as well. Happy friends got their Scandinavian Kringler pastries or their birthday cherry cake, and their son and his pals enjoyed lots of Dutch baby pancakes. Her gifts were thoughtful and sometimes “apple-themed” in honor of her hometown. For a year she surprised a family with the gift of her former car, which she parked in her driveway on Easter morning, happily decorated as a basket. More often than not, she was willing to listen to those who called “Dr. Ellen” for secret medical advice.
Ellen was creative in personal relationships. As the master of her son Curt, she taught him at home through high school and nurtured his chess skills and intellectual curiosity through great books, musical training, and travel. She and Curt toured Washington, DC, and made trips to England and Japan. She and her sisters established traditions such as hosting the B basketball championships each spring and attending the Women’s Retreat at Camp Sweyolakan each September. With her sister Carol, she toured the Upper Peninsula of Lake Michigan, the Outer Banks in North Carolina and the Dutch country of Pennsylvania. She toured the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza near Cancun with Carol and Curt, and shared an Anne of Green Gables tour of Prince Edward Island with a lifelong friend. Closer home, she honored friends with birthday parties at which she made her “Queen for a Day”, complete with a crown and cloak. For the past few years, she has been a regular part of a group of four called Millrose who met regularly for conversation and lunch. Whether through lunchtime appointments, dinner parties, visits, birthday and anniversary greetings or her unique Christmas letters (which often contained anecdotes from the emergency room), Ellen built her surroundings.
One special relationship that has blessed Ellen over the last few decades of her life was her friendship with Jim Hoffmann, a former co-worker who became a companion with whom she pursued common interests, especially travel. With Jim, Ellen traveled widely to the United States and checked out some bucket list destinations such as Grand Central Station, Niagara Falls, and St. Augustine, FL. More common destinations included the Oregon Coast and Pacific Grove, CA. They also traveled through the picturesque Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta and found a popular birthday spot on Schweitzer Mountain.
The tall, slender figure of Ellen Collyer conveyed a dignified self-confidence that was inherently disciplined, curious, and funny. She loved the organization – making lists and labeling items. Her house and yard reflected her sense of peace and order. She mastered the tools for her various projects and could guide a drill as well as a stethoscope. She was financially smart but generous with friends. She lived simply but traveled a lot. She enjoyed dishes, thrift stores, used books, and reruns of the Lawrence Welk Show. Of all the instruments, she tackled the accordion. Her fascination with personality types made her a student of human nature. She maintained quirky, “self-imposed” guidelines, such as not going to parties where things were bought or sold. And while she was determined on some beliefs (she was one of the last Spokane households to give up her phone “party line”), she was open to new ideas. In early 2020 she texted a friend: “I made my first Craigslist purchase – a used wheelbarrow. I wasn’t murdered in the process.
Ellen preceded her parents Leonard and Alice Christopherson and her husband David Collyer in death. Ellen is loved and mourned by many family members and friends, including her son Curt Collyer; her longtime friend and travel companion Jim Hoffmann; and their sisters and families, including: Jeff and Ann May, their son and daughter-in-law Ryan and Jeanine May, and their son Kyle May and her fiancée Lucie Goodwin; Carol Christopherson; and Sandy and Nancy O’Donnell, their daughter Carrie O’Donnell and their daughter and son-in-law, Jordan and Greysen Gilman. In addition, Ellen is survived by her mother-in-law Maebella Dee Collyer; Brother-in-law and wife Mike and Candy Collyer; Sister-in-law and husband, Cathy and Randy Davis; Sister-in-law, Donna Winstanley; and brother-in-law Kurt Collyer. Last but not least, Ellen is survived by her little Pomeranian Vanna Black.
The intrepid Ellen Collyer has paved numerous paths. Those who crossed these paths experienced a rare combination of courage and grace. Her independent spirit pushed forward, but it never left others behind. As a family member, friend and carer, her commitment was unparalleled. It was only when her pain outweighed the dwindling days of her life that she signaled an awareness of moving forward on her own. In one correspondence, she recited the last stanza of a hymn that reflected her hope:
“But I look up into the face of Jesus, for there my heart can rest, my fears are stilled; and there is joy and love and light for the darkness, and perfect peace and every hope.”
Published by Spokesman Review on October 31. until 11/29/2021.