ACADEMY GRADUATION – Governor Mike Dunleavy shakes hands with graduates at the Alaska Department of Public Safety Law Enforcement Training Session 1902 graduation ceremony this afternoon at the Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi. Twenty-six law enforcement officers from across the state received their badges in the ceremony and will be taking jobs as Alaska State Troopers, a Wildlife Trooper, and city and borough police department officers.  (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Ruth I. Nelson

Ruth I. Nelson

Ruth I. Nelson passed away in her sleep of natural causes at her home in Juneau and ascended into heaven, on  March 15. She was 84.
Ruth (Ka’ukdegoon) was born in Sitka in 1933 to Walter Haskel Gray (La’goon) and Mary Margaret Gray (X’aal geis’). She was Eagle Kaagwaataan of the Big Box House and the second youngest of seven siblings, all of whom met her at the pearly gates. She lived her early life during a very tumultuous time for Alaska Native children. She often referred to herself as “a Tlingit in transition.”
Ruth graduated from Sitka High School and Sheldon Jackson College where she excelled in basketball. She loved sports and played softball in the early years of her marriage.
Ruth met Jim Nelson, a surveyor for the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, in Sitka at the Bayview Cafe, where she was working as a waitress. The story goes that she repeatedly turned Jim down for a date, but he was persistent, and they married on a snowy day in 1957.
Jim never returned to the Lower 48. The two stayed in Southeast Alaska, settling in Juneau where they have lived for the last 59 years, raising their family, watching them grow and welcoming grandchildren.
Ruth loved her family and children. She was never very far from them and stayed home to raise them.
While originally Russian Orthodox, Ruth converted to Catholicism to be with her husband in church, and became very devout.  She was a long-time member of Juneau’s Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Valley’s St. Paul’s Catholic Church. She was an active member of the Charismatic Prayer group.
For 18 years Ruth, with her husband Jim, coached newly engaged couples on marriage based upon the teachings of the Church. For eight years they counseled people who wished to become Catholics.
In 1963 Ruth and her husband, with some business partners, purchased a jewelry store on Seward Street called The Nugget Shop. She worked there part-time until they closed it 10 years later.
Ruth loved fishing and gathering the Southeast Alaskan foods that are abundant around Juneau. She was an avid gardener for many years and using her green thumb she raised vegetables in the back yard of her Mendenhall Valley home near the glacier.
Ruth enjoyed sewing, baking, knitting, quilting and ceramics. She made clothes for the kids, baked homemade bread weekly, and for holidays made Russian Easter bread and Christmas stollen. She often made unleavened bread for use at Eucharist and her rhubarb pie won high dollars at church fundraisers. Her Madonna and Child figurines were a testament to her love for Mary and Jesus.
Ruth was preceded in death by her siblings, Evelyn Johns, Al Gray Sr., Herbie Gray, Nick Gray and infant Ruth Gray.
Ruth is survived by her husband of 61 years Jim Nelson; her niece Shirley Krkovich of Yakutat; her children Margaret Nelson of Anchorage, Lucy Nelson of Juneau, Jim Nelson of Winston-Salem, N.C., and Ruth Wright of Juneau; and six grandchildren Angela Wright, Holly Nelson, Nicolas Wright, Parker Nelson, Taryn Wright and Morgan Wright. Numerous nieces and nephews – and six grandpuppies – also survive.
A funeral mass and celebration of life are to be at noon Tuesday, March 27, at St. Paul’s Church followed by a potluck reception. All are welcome to celebrate her life and her entrance into heaven. Ruth will be interred at The Natural Shrine of St. Therese 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 28.
The family requests donations in Ruth’s honor to the Alaska Arthritis Foundation Camp ArCTIC, which provides camps for children with arthritis, at

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