Lily Nielsen

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Long-time Alaskan Lily Ann Nielsen passed away on Dec. 5, 2013, at Emeritus assisted living facility in Chatsworth, Calif.

Lily was born Nov. 21, 1928, to Henry Hansen and Nelle Dellinger in Kearney, Neb., one of four children.

Upon graduating high school as salutatorian, she attended and graduated University in Kearney and graduated cum laude. In 1949 she married Burl Nielsen and in 1955 moved to Phoenix, Ariz., where her daughter Jenny Sena Nielsen was born. After 1955 they moved to Mojave, Calif., and then to Anchorage in 1958. In 1959 James Henry Nielsen was born in Anchorage. The Nielsens moved briefly back to the Phoenix area but returned to Mountain View and then in time purchased a home in Wonder Park before the 1964 Earthquake.

Lily taught full time while raising the children in the 60's. In 1972 Lily and Burl divorced. Lily returned to school and received a Master's from the University of Alaska Anchorage, became the assistant principal of East Anchorage High school by 1977, and later was the principal of Romig Junior High School where she remained until retiring in 1981. Lily moved to Tucson, Ariz., in 1993, where she cultivated many close friends by taking classes on current events and the political climate.

Lily was best known outside of school for her involvement with all aspects of local community and professional theater production. Some notable productions that she either acted in, or directed or produced were: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, The Mad Woman of Chaillot, A Lion in Winter, 'Night Mother, Our Town and Anything Goes.

By the early 1990s, breast cancer was having a devastating effect on Lily's family and prompted her to collaborate with Catherine Stadem on a play at Cyrano's, The Cost of Living, to raise funds for breast cancer research in 1992. In 1993 breast cancer claimed the life of her sister Evie, whose letters to Lily helped form the central role of the play. The play and a photo exhibit produced by Louise Lazur (Beauty & the Breast) eventually were published in book form in 1998 with a grant from the Alaska Run for Women.

In July of 1998 Lily provided a copy of the published book, "The Cost of Living," to her daughter Jenny, and upon self-examination Jenny was in the hospital in a week and later died of breast cancer in June of 2000. Lily eventually lost one breast to cancer in the early 2000's, prompting her to move to Chatsworth in order to be closer to her son and his family.

Lily will be remembered for her sense of humor, wit, and generally an all-business attitude when it came to the proper treatment of women. She was incredibly generous, many times inviting younger people who had no place to go on Thanksgiving to her home to feed everyone. In the schools she was respected and prided herself on the attendance level of the students in her schools, relating that if necessary she could "shoot a shot gun down the halls between periods and never hit a student!"

She leaves her son James (Jim) Nielsen, his wife Violet, their two children Harmony and Matthew and her niece Sara Noel Gilman. As stated earlier, Lily was preceded in death by her daughter, Jenny Gilman.

Lily's biggest fear was that she would end up like her mother: 93 and in fetal position, paranoid and completely demented. When she passed she was serene and at peace.

Condolences and memories may be sent to James (Jim) Nielsen at Instead of flowers, donations in Lily's name may be sent to in support of her favorite organizations: Planned Parenthood, Public Television, and the .

Published in Alaska Dispatch News from Dec. 17 to Dec. 18, 2013
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