November 29, 1931 ~ April 27, 2020

Born in: Coral Gables, Florida
Resided in: Denver, Colorado

Nelson, PhD., Sarah Milledge

November 29, 1931- April 27, 2020

 

Sarah Milledge Nelson, Professor of Anthropology (Emeritus) and Distinguished University Professor (Emeritus) at the University of Denver passed away on 27 April 2020 following a long illness. She was beloved and is missed by her husband of 66 years (Harold Nelson, MD), sons Erik, Mark and Stanley Nelson MD, her daughters-in-law Tracy, Cindy, and Carrie Miceli PhD, her grandchildren Erika, Sam, Morgan, Chad, Calvin and Dylan, her grand-daughter-in-law Jade, her great-grand-daughter Skylar and her many friends and colleagues. Sarah was a world-recognized expert on the archeology of Korea and northeast China, a feminist who altered the discussion of gender in archeology, a frequent presenter at national and international anthropology and archeology meetings, the author of 9 and editor of 13 scholarly books and over 150 publications. She also authored 3 novels based on archeology.  She was Co-founder and a past-President of the Society for East Asian Archaeology. In 2011, acknowledging her extensive contributions to archeology and feminism, Wellesley College awarded Sarah the prestigious Alumnae Achievement Award. Sarah loved to travel and had visited over 150 countries in all 7 continents. A memorial service will be held following the resolution of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Memories Timeline

Guestbook

  1. Sarah was an extraordinary combination of intellectual power, smarts, highest moral principles, and lovely sunny smiling personality. Hurdles that felled other women, she seemed to sail over unruffled, though she saw them clearly. Among the large sisterhood of feminists in academia and archaeology, she exemplified commitment to the discipline, to women in professions, to good science and research standards, and to her family. She lives in the hearts of many.

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  2. Sarah was all the above as related by Alice, and more. To me, she was my senpai at the University of Michigan, blazing a trail where no western woman had been into East Asian archaeology. I followed in her tracks, learning from her innate ability to master difficult situations, revelling in her insights and wit, and vicariously enjoying her extensive travel experiences. As a colleague I admired her Korean and Chinese language proficiencies, her determination against all odds to carry out fieldwork under extreme handicaps, her prolific writing talents, and her ability to pull together people together to work on innovative projects. As a friend, I was lucky to be able to visit her home in my home state, meet abroad for coffee and talk, and see her at frequent conferences. I will miss her greatly but hope she is at peace up there in the great blue Colorado sky.

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  3. As a colleague of Sarah’s in East Asian Studies for many years, I can say that her intellectual life was extraordinary and that she was never narrow in her view of her professional role and obligation. First, she provoked new areas of study—she was the person who presented Korea to the rest of the world outside of East Asia itself, and in western languages; all of us are beholding to her for her publications that introduce the material. Second, she provided the theoretical framework to do so. Third, she engaged others in the process and asked us to expand our thinking, and if we did not go far enough, we were told so (!). Finally, she created diverse types of papers and books—those for students, others for her colleagues both in and outside of East Asia. What we often do not say about our colleagues is why someone is effective—Sarah was simply a very decent person who could and did listen to everyone, certainly did not always agree, but forced us to think and discuss almost any topic. You could not find a more accomplished and effective person in our field. She was model for us all.

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  4. I second all what Alice and Gina said above about Sarah. Sarah and I often shared a room at professional meetings. I was expecting to meet her at the now cancelled SAA meetings in Austin just about this time this year, and to exchange our personal news, as usual, and to hear about her next and ongoing projects. These inspiring encounters, sadly, will no longer happen. May she rest in peace.

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  5. Sarah was funny and kind and generous. She was a multi-faceted intellectual. She conducted ground-breaking research in two major fields (Korean archaeology and gender) and wrote whimsical compelling novels. As Kathryn said, Sarah was very decent person who provoked you to think deeply. She was someone I could depend on for a clear-eyed assessment of a problem. I trusted her opinion and her values. I visited the University of Denver in 2008 and I was surprised, and honoured, when she invited me to her home. Sarah was working to the end. She recently examined the thesis for one of my PhD students. I am grateful to her for this and many other kindnesses.

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  6. I only came to know Sarah through the last couple of meetings of the Society of East Asian Archaeology. After the meeting at Fukuoka, Japan, a number of us did a post-conference trip to southern Kyushu. It was then that I got to know her. What I discovered was that she was wonderfully intelligent, curious, interesting, and down-to-earth. A couple of years ago, I met her at the front desk of our conference hotel in Nanjing, China. She told me she had quite an ordeal in getting there. All I could think about was how impressed I was that she had the grit and determination to get there. It was truly my good fortune to get to know her, even if for only a little while.

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  7. We are saddened by the loss of Sarah, but we celebrate the champion she was to family, friends, and colleagues. We first met Sarah over forty years ago and discovered her to be both a warm person and someone who knew what she wanted to accomplish. She forged a professional identity in an arena previously dominated by men, and did so with grace and perseverance . She lived a life on her own terms which was full and satisfying. She is a great example of what one can achieve, and thus she leaves a great legacy. Kudos, Sarah!

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  8. A truly great and inspirational figure in East Asian archaeology with such a broad range of interests. I published a joint article with her only a few months ago and it seems like yesterday when she and her husband were in Jena for our conference in January 2019. The summer before that, I had pushed her around the Nanjing University campus in a wheel chair provided by the university hotel, but in Jena it seemed like she no longer needed the chair and could go on for ever. Our time comes but her research and contributions to East Asian archaeology will live on.

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  9. Dear Hal, my thoughts go out to you. Sarah was a lovely person, and she meant so much to my wife Gina Barnes. Sarah’s memory will live with us forever. Best wishes from Gina and me.

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  10. Sarah was a warm and treasured friend these last eight years while we were neighbors in Cherry Hills III, just south of the University of Denver. Both of us being retired professors, we had good conversations about life in academe, and about many other things as well–so many common threads. I will miss her.
    Jennifer S.H. Brown

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  11. Sarah’s work was well-known to me as as a teacher of archaeology at Sydney University, so I was thrilled to meet her at the Nanjing SEAA conference. She was delightful, warm and witty, and we had a lot of fun discussing her novel on Fu Hao. I deeply regret her passing, and offer my very sincere sympathy to her loved ones, Aedeen

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  12. Being the first here who has not really known her personally, Sarah Nelson’s personality and reputation were impressive for me since decades. I want to express my gratitude for paving ways in East Asian archaeology and introducing Korean archaeology to me and so many others.

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  13. Back in the late 60s at U of M, Sarah was the “house mother ” of the younger and brasher allergy fellows, and maintainer of Hal. Viewing her CV, there was so much more depth than we realized. So sorry to have her gone. Our condolences to Hal. Hard to realize that we are looking at over 50 years ago. It has flown.

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  14. Sarah was a bold and fearless path breaker who at the same time was always welcoming, supportive, and inspiring to women and young scholars in East Asian archaeology. I will always remember how wonderful it was to catch up with her at the SAAs and SEAAs and to not only hear about her latest research, but be on the receiving end of her genuine interest, encouragement, and advice for my own work and, sometimes, life. Her scholarship made East Asian archaeology accessible for both regional specialists and other interested scholars, and always offered many thought provoking ideas and interpretations. She was one of the “rocks” of East Asian archaeology and I will miss her.

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  15. It was always a pleasure to run into Sarah at archaeology meetings and talk about Korean archaeology. Her work was very inspiring. She was lovely to talk to and I will miss her.

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  16. Dr. Nelson’s kindness in sharing her knowledge was very precious.
    Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO, Seoul Center)

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  17. Rest in peace.
    First I met her 25 years ago at Amsa-dong site in Seoul, which is sattlement site in Neolithic priod of Korea. She, Sarah was a great scholar. She had also showed passion in Korean archeology. Korea is grateful to her. Thank you so MUCH!

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  18. I remember her fondly. Can it really be more than thirty years ago that we first met? Apparently. She was a truly gracious person, always supportive and full of ideas. And she always came across as wonderfully happy and optimistic. She lived a rich life, and her radiance touched many. Sit ei terra levis!

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  19. I first met Sarah in Malaysia and enjoyed her research on the Hongshan culture.
    Her research fascinated me and it was a joy to see her at conferences to discuss
    female figurines, the Goddess Temple and other ancient cosmologies. I truly
    enjoyed reading her Spirit Bird Journey it sparked my interest in Ainu studies.
    She was a gifted communicator and spirit. Her enthusiasm and research lives on.

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  20. Although I had known Sarah Nelson as an authority in the field of East Asian Archaeology for many years, it was not until 2014 that we became friends. Already in her eighties at that time, she was so eager to cross the boundaries of her own field and so curious to find ways how to integrate my discipline, East Asian Historical Linguistics, with hers. Sarah introduced me to the field of archaeology and brought me in contact with many of the people, that offered their condolences here. She designed the archaeological part of our ERC project “Transeurasian millets and beans, languages and genes” and remained active as a collaborator until last month. In March, our joint article on the linguistics and archaeology of textile production in East Asia appeared, probably her last contribution to the field. Sarah was a timeless beauty, a story-teller, an innovator, a feminist, a rebel, a role model and above all a loyal friend. Girl power!

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  21. I’m sad to know that Professor Sarah Nelson passed away yesterday. She is such a good archaeologist. It is a big lost for archaeology in the world!

    Fahu Chen
    Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences (ITPCAS)

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  22. *Apologies for many grammatical errors

    I met Professor Sarah Nelson for the first time back in 1991 or 1992 when a conference on East Asian Archaeology, organized by Professor Gina Barnes, was held at St. John’s College, Cambridge. It was not so a large gathering that even I, first-year Ph.D. research student, could feel relaxed enough to ask questions to ‘giants’ in the field. Sarah gave a talk about the spread of farming across the Korean Peninsula, and I asked her about the cause of the introduction of rice paddy-field farming to the Japanese archipelago. Obviously, it was a question too huge to be asked and answered in a conference setting, and I should have known better. Sarah calmly told me, or rather taught me, what had been know and what not in Korea, and asked me what was the situation like in Japan, with her characteristic, warm smile. I cannot recall exactly how I replied to her, but I clearly remember the excitement of being given an opportunity to talk about what, as an inexperienced research student, I thought I knew fairly well by such an eminent scholar.

    I met her again in 2000 when the Second Society for East Asian Archaeology Conference, organized (again!) by Gina, was held at Durham University, the U.K. At the Conference Dinner, Sarah, Professors Katheryn Linduff and Fumiko Ikawa-Smith, all clad in black clothes, were called to the front, and talked about the early days of their researches in the respective fields. Sarah recalled a particular excavation in Korea where she conducted wet sieving of soil samples from supposed Neolithic field systems. It was the very first time in the history of Korean archaeology that wet sieving was conducted. With her warm smile, again, she recalled that what she found was mostly ants! She also talked about difficulties she had and the kindness of local colleagues and people she experienced quietly but cheerfully. My admiration for her grew.

    When Professor Kazuo Miyamoto and I took charge of organizing the Fifth Society for East Asian Archaeology Conference in 2012 in Fukuoka, she gave me a huge hug at the reception desk and cheered me up for the big task ahead. She kindly did the same at the beginning of the Eighth World Archaeological Congress in Kyoto in 2016. I could not thank her enough for her kindness and heartfelt encouragement at the times, and I feel I still cannot.

    Both at the Third Shanghai Archaeology Forum in 2017 and at the Eighth Society for East Asian Archaeology conference in 2018, I shared a breakfast table with Sarah literally every morning. In those memorable mornings, she talked about a novel about the lady Fuhao of the Late Shang to which she was adding a finishing touch, how she tried to hold the balance between the known facts and attractive and approachable storytelling, etc., etc. She also talked about her first stay in China in the early 1980s when she put on the Mao suits to mix with people.

    At the Shanghai Archaeology Forum in 2017, she chaired a special evening forum on gender issues in archaeology. Just before commencing the forum, she told me she was determined to focus on issues concerning equity. She said she was told that the forum had been realized by strong desire and initiative from the students involved in the organizational help of the Forum, and she said it should be an opportunity for them to widen their views on what can be done for the betterment of archaeology and to feel encouraged. Attempts were made by some senior scholars to direct the discussion to such issues as to how to recognize the material traces of gender differentiation, etc., during the forum, as a matter of fact, but whenever such attempts were made, she was firm in redirecting dialogue to issues concerning what gender-based inequalities and injustices existed in the world of archaeology today, how they could, and what could be done to eliminate them. The atmosphere was calm but filled with enthusiasm and the sense of solidarity for doing something good for the future of archaeology. I was deeply moved and felt honored to be there.

    I met Sarah for the last time at the SAA meeting in Albuquerque last April. She was smiling and vivacious as ever, and gave me a huge hug. When I found that she was not around at the Fourth Shanghai Archaeology Forum last December, I thought I would see her at the SAA meeting in Austin, Texas next April, i.e., April 2020.

    For me, she was an epitome of scholarly calm and charm, seriousness and enthusiasm in life, and, above all, kindness. Rest in peace, Sarah. And, as a typical Japanese, I believe you are always watching us from somewhere and encouraging us, with your characteristic warm smile.

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  23. I met Sarah a long time ago, when I was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. Since than I had many opportunities to read her research, listen to her talks and discuss archaeological issues with her in privet conversations. Like many others, Sarah’s work and Sarah’s personality inspired me throughout my academic career. Her death is a great loss to our field and personally it causes me great sadness.

    Gideon Shelach-Lavi
    Dept. of Asian Studies, The Hebrew University

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  24. I’m very sorry to hear that Ms. Sarah Nelson has passed away. We will remember Ms. Sarah Nelson’s contribution to Chinese archaeology.

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  25. I am very sad to hear of Sarah’s passing. One of the most important figures of Asian archaeology: personally generous and intellectually wide-ranging. She will be missed.

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  26. I met Professor Sarah Nelson in Japan when I was a graduate student. She has given me a lot of encouragement and advice on my research on gender archaeology not only through her papers and books but also by friendly conversations when we meet at the conferences. I miss her so much.

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  27. We are so saddened by Sarah’s passing. Over the 30 odd years we have known her, it was always a joy to see her. We will cherish the memories of her smile, feistiness, and insights. Most of all, we have, and will, travel vicariously on her undaunted pursuits through time and place, the whole world over. She was a shining light and will be sorely missed. Our hearts go out to Hal and her lovely family.

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  28. Sarah was an extraordinary individual- personally delightful and intellectually stimulating. Her passing is a loss to our field of archaeology. My favorite book of hers is the Jade Queen of Shang. A very good friend and colleague. We will miss her indeed!

    Becky Childs-Johnson
    April 30, 2020.

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  29. Sarah was the external reviewer of my dissertation, and I learned so much from her. She was brave, thoughtful, understanding and funny. Her firm commitment to feminist archaeology and East Asian archaeology always encouraged me to keep moving forward. I was really happy to receive her contribution to our Handbook of East and Southeast Asian Archaeology Handbook, and she also allowed me to write a blurb for her Gyeongju book. We had many dinners together at the SAAs and other conferences, and I still cannot believe that I will not be able to see her smile again.

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  30. It’s nearly impossible to believe that Sarah is gone. She seemed ageless, immortal, a very special combination of rigorous scholarship, warmth, and humor.

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  31. I am so saddened to learn of Sarah’s passing. She inspired generations of scholars, and her spirit will live on in the hearts of countless colleagues and students who love and remember her.

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  32. I feel so incredibly lucky and blessed to have been Sarah’s colleague in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Denver for the past twenty years. I too thought she’d go on forever! Even after “retirement,” she never seemed to slow down–was always traveling, lecturing, working on new projects, teaching and advising students, and still finding time to have lunch and come to parties! I will greatly miss her wise counsel and generous spirit. My deepest sympathies to Hal and family.

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  33. I knew Sarah Nelson as a pleasant colleague in East Asian archaeology. I respected her achievements in that arena. But an initially rather annoying phone call I got from her in the late 90s significantly enriched my life. Sarah called me to discuss some research contracts that needed attention. As a dirt archaeologist, I was honored that she seemed to think I could do the necessary work, but I quickly told her, “No,” and asked what else she was up to. Without missing a beat, Sarah told me that her first novel was about to appear and that she had opened a publishing house to tell archaeological stories. Matching her quick turn, I said, “Really! I just finished a novel.” She listened to my pitch and asked to see a copy of my draft. As a result of that phone call, Sarah became “my publisher.”
    I liked Sarah. She was a generous person and a positive, productive professional. I greatly admire her achievements.

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  34. I was deeply sorry to hear about the death of Professor Sarah Nelson. I am picturing her standing by the doorway to the Oriental Museum on the banks of the River Wear in Durham, warmly welcoming guests to the conference party at the 2nd SEAA (Society of East Asian Archaeology) conference in Durham in 2000, smiling, and as ever enjoying the moment to the full. I had the privilege to serve with Sarah as Treasurer to SEAA at the turn of the millennium, and benefitted greatly from her insightful, calm, incisive, witty, inclusive and most of all hugely caring approach to colleagues and the rich world of East Asian archaeology, which Sarah did so much to open up to such a wide range of audiences. As an undergraduate I had become absorbed by her pioneering study of Neolithic settlement in the Han River basin, which provided a unique guide for my first visit to Korea in 1984 (even if somewhat to the bafflement of the friends I was travelling with). As a graduate student Sarah’s ‘Archaeology of Korea’ was the go-to source to set my own Jomon studies in a broader perspective, and I was thrilled when Sarah agreed to join our Jomon to Star Carr conference, bringing a Korean flavour to that first major gathering of Jomon and European Mesolithic specialists. And most recently I have found her volume on Gyeongju to be an invaluable aid as I have re-engaged with the archaeology of Silla as part of a new project on early Buddhism in Korea and Japan, which I was so pleased to be able to discuss with Sarah at recent conferences in various parts of the world. Through her novels, her work on gender, and her engagement with her own local archaeology around Denver, as well her huge expertise on Korea and East Asian archaeology generally, Sarah was, in her disarmingly understated way, far ‘ahead of the curve’ in her archaeological practice: exploring new ways to write about the archaeology for which she had such passion and taking her readers to places few had heard of at the time – extending way beyond current political borders to Niuheliang and the Russian Far East. East Asian archaeology has lost one of its pillars, and many of us will feel keenly the loss of a very dear friend.

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  35. The world has lost a pioneer in the archaeology of East Asia who showed us the value of understanding the area as whole and of being a caring human being. I did not know Sarah well, but it was always a pleasure to talk with her at SEAA and SAA meetings, where her delight in the growing field of East Asian archaeology was clear. I can still picture her smiling face at different symposia, avid interest in diverse topics, and joy in learning about new research. Behind the kind demeanor was a great deal of inner strength making it possible for Sarah to meet challenges in being among the early generations of female archaeologists in the U.S. and in developing some of the first collaborations with archaeologists from more than one area in East Asia. At a recent conference after hearing about Sarah’s latest travels, I asked her how she did it all, and her answer was: “Keep moving!”. The rest of us will try to keep up in more than one respect, Sarah, and we will miss you!

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  36. I want to thank everyone who has contributed their remembrances about Sarah. They bring out her sterling qualities, those of friendliness and warmth, and helpfulness and those of grit and determination to succeed in spite of the many obstacles to a women in the fields of academia and archeology in the 70’s and 80’s, and perhaps still. She surely will be missed by all of us.

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  37. Sarah was a remarkable person, an inspiration, and role model to women in archaeology and in academia in general. She was a path breaker in feminist archaeology, but above all she fought for equity in our profession. She combined an extraordinary intellectual life, work ethic, and determination. I admired her ability to combine ground-breaking scholarship with a passion for writing novels, and the fact that she was always involved in projects. It was my privilege to count her as a friend. I am very grateful for our conversations about work and life in general, for her encouragement, advice, and kindness. I will miss her greatly, but her memory and legacy will live on. My very sincere sympathy to Hal and all her family.

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  38. I am deeply sorry to hear Professor Sarah Nelson’s passing.. I can still clearly picture her delightful smile. First meeting with her was at SEAA 2016 Boston and then SAA 2017 Vancouver. Those were a short hello. At SAA 2019 Albuquerque, me and some of the scholars doing Korean archaeology luckily had a chance to have about 30 minutes of conversation with her over beer. Her encouraging words, warm energy, and sense of humor impressed all of us.
    Korean archaeology owes a huge debt to her. The pioneering work and contribution to Korean and East Asian archaeology, as well as to gender archaeology and other areas is beyond measure. I would like to deliver many Korean archaeologists’ and my sincere condolences and warm wishes to Professor Sarah Nelson and her family.
    Hyunsoo Lee
    Doctoral Student, University of Oregon

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  39. Professor Sarah Nelson has a deep relationship with Korean archeology. She visited the National Jeonju Museum in Korea(November 2009). We will never see her forever, but her history will last forever. I will pray for your dream….

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  40. I first met Sarah years ago as a young archaeologist, and I will always remember her as a very kind person, a good listener, with a generous smile. I admire her for making so many valuable contributions, including writing both fact, and fiction. Magnus Fiskesjö, Ithaca, New York

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  41. A dear friend for many years, since she started me on a “career” as a Girl Scout Leader, in Germany in the 1860’s. I’m saddened that she is gone, but grateful to have known her and to have enjoyed many adventures with her including in China in 1985. A beautiful soul. My sincerest sympathies to the Nelson family.

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