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Nelson, Shirley Jean

shirley nelson

Dec. 18, 1937 — April 15, 2021

Passing peacefully out of this world into the next, it is with great sorrow that we wish to inform you of the loss of our dear mother, grandmother, aunt and friend on Thursday, April 15, 2021, after a brief struggle with congestive heart failure.

Shirley Jean Nelson was the last of six children born to Clara and John Carmichael on Dec. 18, 1937 in Fort Macleod in the old hospital close to the Oldman River.

She leaves behind to mourn her passing daughter Debbie (Ed) Pickens; grandson Gabriel of Claresholm; son Rob Gedcke of Red Deer; grandsons Justin (Nikki) Gedcke of Lethbridge and Cameron Gedcke of Red Deer; granddaughter Shellaine Gedcke and great grandsons Landon and Hunter, all of Lethbridge; 14 nieces and nephews; and many friends, especially close friends Alphonse and Doreen Van Langen and Larry Leavitt.

Shirley was predeceased by her husband Lloyd Nelson in 2012; parents Clara and John Carmichael; older sisters and brothers-in-law Kay (Al) Pearson, Mary (Walter) Zech and Marg (Ted) Zech; older brother and sister-in-law Don (Rogere) Carmichael and younger brother Dave Carmichael.

Shirley was raised on the farm west and south of Monarch in a three-room house where the wind would blow sand through the cracks in the walls in summer and snow in the winter. There was no plumbing, just an outhouse, no electricity. The land wasn’t good to grow much of anything because it was mostly sand — they were dirt poor. Shirley’s mother, Clara, worked hard raising her children, hauling water from the well, which was a quarter of a mile from the house, grew a large vegetable garden, raised chickens for the eggs and food and milked the cows and made cream and butter. Life was difficult because there was never enough money. Shirley remembered her mother sewing dresses out of flour sacks and mending her coat, patching it up, later reminding her of Dolly Parton’s song Coat of Many Colors. The kids walked to school uphill both ways; anyone driving that Monarch hill knows that to be true. One day a coyote was spotted following them to school, so their dad took them in the wagon after that. Not long after, an RCMP came to let them know that a cougar had been spotted along the river bottom. It wasn’t long before the kids were bused to Fort Macleod school. Shirley was in Grade 4 and her teacher was 

Miss Hutchinson. Shirley remembered all of her teachers from Grade 1 to Grade 11. Miss Hutchings was her Grade 7 teacher, who years later taught her daughter Debbie. Shirley remembered trading sandwiches for the town kid’s store-bought white bread for her mom’s homemade bread. She had a good friend she stayed within the town, and they would go to movies in the Empress Theatre; that was a real treat for her.

Shirley’s siblings left home as teenagers because there was never enough money. Her oldest sister Kay left at 15 to work at the Galt 

Hospital in Lethbridge, Mary went to Calgary and worked in the 

“San” TB Sanitorium at 16, Don left at 15 to live with his mother’s brother in Trail, B.C. and worked at the smelter there briefly, decided to join the armed forces, became a fireman and never looked back. That left the three youngest on the farm. They had a pony they’d ride if they could get on. They’d climb on the fence with the pony beside them, but as they were ready to climb on, the pony would step sideways, and they’d fall to the ground, smart pony. They also rode their bike, one to share amongst them, to the “dunes,” where all the sand would end up when the wind blew it to the far corner of their land.

Shirley was in Grade 11 when she met her first husband, Al Gedcke. He convinced her to quit school and get married. Al was driving a gravel truck and hauled gravel for most of the roads south of Claresholm. 

He also was one of many who hauled countless loads of gravel for the foundation of the highway going through Claresholm, and pictures showed the tops of the trucks level with the sidewalks to build the 

foundation before the road was paved. Al purchased his own truck and started Fort Macleod Transport. Shirley’s brother Dave left the farm and moved in with them, and worked with Al. Shirley and Al were married on June 2, 1956. Debbie was born in 1957 in the old hospital where Shirley was born, and Rob was born in the “new” hospital in 1960. 

Shirley and Al worked hard building their business and moved into a new house in 1961 that Al and his father built at 515 21st St. in Fort Macleod. Shirley did the books for Al and also worked at the hairdresser’s downtown part-time. She also babysat children whose parents both worked. She loved children and was fun to be around, and children loved her. Shirley loved to cook and bake; the kitchen always smelled good. She and Al belonged to service clubs, Lionettes and Lions, Royal Purple and Elks, putting in many hours volunteering and fund-raising to help build recreation in the community such as the Lions ball diamond behind their house on 22nd St. When the old hospital was torn down, the family went in Al’s halfton truck loading it full of the red bricks and took them home. They scrubbed the old cement off, and Shirley and Al built a fireplace downstairs, recycling and the old bricks! In 1975 Al and Shirley divorced, which was a very difficult time for Shirley, a life-changing event that would, unknown to her at the time, send her on the path she was meant to live. Shirley worked at Blunt’s Nursing Home (Extendicare) for about a year after the divorce. She made new friends there that she continued to speak of fondly and enjoyed working with the elderly; her sense of humour proved valuable. She was offered a job working for Buck Massey at Maverick Trailers doing books even though she typed with two fingers.

A couple of years later, Shirley was asked to meet with a couple of friends from Granum at the Queen’s Hotel in Fort Macleod. They brought Lloyd Nelson with them, introduced them, and there was a connection. They were married on March 18, 1979, and she moved to Lloyd’s farm east of Granum, where she was welcomed into the Granum farm community. Not much later, she sold her house in Macleod. She loved being a farm wife, always loved the farm. She grew a big vegetable garden like her mother and father before her. She harvested the vegetables, preserving them to enjoy all winter. She was also Lloyd’s right-hand farmhand on the farm. He was impressed at how she could drive the grain truck, back it up to unload the grain into the bin and be back on the field in time for the next load! She was proud of her garden and yard and Lloyd’s farming ability; his crops were always in straight rows. Anyone who visited or stayed at the farm enjoyed her cooking, and everything was homemade. She loved having her three grandchildren visit and stay with her and Lloyd on the farm. They had a lot of fun with the kids, and she loved them dearly, creating many happy memories.

Shirley was a perfectionist at everything she did, whether it was baking, cooking, housekeeping. She learned how to knit while on the farm and knitted many complicated patterns on several afghans, sweaters, baby shawls, baby sweater sets and blankets. She was a lifelong reader, often reading a book a day until she developed macular degeneration and couldn’t read or knit anymore. She loved animals, especially horses and her pet cat, who followed her everywhere as she worked in the garden. Many wild animals took up residence every spring in the trees around their house. Deer were returning every year to raise their new fawns, owls nesting, one year there were three owl babies, robins and their blue eggs and her favourite meadowlarks that she used to whistle to, and they’d sing back.

Shirley and Lloyd belonged to Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 41 in Claresholm for many years volunteering. Shirley was responsible for the hall bookings and the co-ordination. She also co-ordinated the wheelchair dances, inviting seniors from the various lodges and LTC facilities from surrounding areas. She donated time to the annual Poppy Campaign and baked and prepared food for seniors’ events and funeral lunches. They always looked forward to the strawberries, with homemade angel food cake Shirley made for the wheelchair dances.

The time came when Lloyd’s arthritis made it difficult for him to work on the farm. They enjoyed a couple of trips, a cruise to Hawaii, a bus tour to Florida with other farmers, drove their trailer to Alaska, and went camping at Pine Coulee and the Oldman River Dam when they were on the farm. Lloyd never liked being away from home and later spent time camping every summer at Riondel on Kootenay Lake in B.C. with friends. They bought a lot in Claresholm and built a house in 2003. They had many happy years there. Lloyd missed the farm and finally sold it in 2010 to the Granum Colony 

Hutterian Brethren. Shirley loved her visits to the colony for eggs, chickens, produce and strawberries she used to make jam. She loved hearing the girls sing hymns while they were gardening, commenting how beautiful their voices were. Tragically, on Jan 2, 2012, Lloyd died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism. Shirley had lost the love of her life. The first people who came to offer their condolences were friends from the colony that evening.

True to her character, she fought depression with her sense of humour, determined to keep a positive attitude. Shirley was fortunate to have so many close friends who helped her through this difficult time. She looked forward to her dear friend Alphonse coming every Wednesday morning since Lloyd’s passing for coffee. Her favourite outing was every Thursday morning at 10 a.m. getting her hair done by Shannon.  She enjoyed phone calls from family and friends who knew better than to call during a sporting event she was watching, such as hockey, football, baseball, basketball; she enjoyed watching the Raptors during the pandemic. That was her biggest complaint about the pandemic, no sports. She was thrilled when curling was announced to be held in Calgary and began watching in February.

She loved her “kids,” as she called her grandchildren, as well as her children. Like so many people, the pandemic was hard on her kids not being able to visit her. She loved them unconditionally, no matter what they got up to or into! She was a loving, forgiving mother, but she never forgot.

She lived frugally, remembering her years growing up on the farm in the 1930s and ’40s during World War Two. Her great grandfather fought in World War One and won a medal for bravery when he was wounded in action trying to take an enemy position for Great Britain. Two years ago, her cousin Patrick Heslop and his wife from B.C. visited her to learn about her family history. He had been working on the Heslop family history for a few years, which he had chronicled for the ranching history of the Pincher Creek area. Patrick’s father and Shirley’s mother were siblings. Shirley’s grandfather, Silvester Heslop, settled in Pincher Creek after immigrating to Canada from Yorkshire, England, in 1908 when Clara was two years old. He was known for his vegetable garden and sold his produce at the farmer’s market every Saturday. What Shirley didn’t know until Patrick’s visit was that her great grandfather and great uncle had immigrated a few years earlier, around 1905, and bought three quarter sections west of Twin Butte. Last fall, Debbie, Ed and Gabriel took Shirley to the old homestead, which she was thrilled about. Her great grandfather had a soldier’s loan to buy the land with the understanding that he would build a dwelling and outbuildings. When he returned from the war, he wasn’t finished with the house, so he went to work for Charles Kettles on his ranch over the winter. Shirley’s father John was born in Oklahoma, coming by wagon train with his parents and brother to settle on the farm by Monarch in the early 1900s. John’s father was born in Dunoon, Scotland; Shirley was proud of her Scottish heritage.

Shirley had been living with COPD for the last six years, which gradually worsened. She said that things hadn’t changed much for her with the pandemic because she’d been isolated for a couple of years. Except for no sports to watch of course. After seeing her doctor on March 31, for the first time in over a year, her ECG showed she was in atrial fib, her medications were adjusted, she came back to the hospital to be reassessed April 6, had another ECG and needed to be admitted to hospital because the medication adjustment hadn’t worked. She told the doctor who admitted her that unless there was a TV, she wasn’t staying because the Men’s Worlds Curling Championship was on.  There was a TV in her room, so she was admitted. Her heart was monitored closely, new medications were tried, but nothing worked. She was in congestive heart failure. She had no symptoms, no chest pain, no palpitations. She was happy and kidding around with the nurses; she loved the banter. The doctors and nurses gave the best of care, and she appreciated them so much. Sadly, she passed away peacefully, 

April 15. From her hospital bed, she’d seen the “town” deer walk by the window and the robins seemed to sit on the tree and watch her through the window. One thing out of place high in one of the trees was a blue face mask probably blown away during recent wind storms. 

A stark reminder that COVID has sent everything normal on its head, causing heartbreak for so many people and for Shirley’s friends and family who weren’t able to visit her this past year, and especially at the end of her life. She commented that she felt at home there shortly before she passed away. You can be assured you that the doctors, nursing and support staff are doing an extraordinary job caring for their patients while following protocols to keep COVID out. We are so fortunate to have this hospital in the community and are so grateful for the care given to Shirley the last two weeks of her life. She was a kind, loving, direct person who loved to laugh and have fun. She was always supportive of her family and friends, always trying to remain positive and brighten their day no matter what was going on in her life. As per her wishes, there will be no funeral or service.

“In the quiet of the morning calm, When the sun rises at the dawn, And the birds sing their waking song, There’s a story to be told.”

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