Services Set July 20 For Nels Herbert Lawson, 79

Category: Obituaries
Created on Thursday, 18 July 2019 15:49
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Nels Herbert Lawson

Nels Herbert Lawson passed away at his home July 8, 2019, with his loving family at his side. He was 79.
He was born Sept. 4, 1939, in Juneau/Douglas. The first few years of his life, he lived in an Indian Village located across the channel from Juneau on Douglas’ sandy beach. His mother, Elizabeth, stayed home to care for him and run the household. His father, Herb, was a commercial fisherman.
While Nels was still very young, his family moved to Hoonah. During his time there, the devastating 1944 burning of Hoonah took place. This tragedy started as a house fire and nearly every house in Hoonah caught on fire. The fire was so intense that it took the entire day to burn out. Only a few buildings on the outskirts of town survived.
Soon after this tragedy, another struck. In 1948, Nels’ mother contracted tuberculosis. She was sent to the TB hospital on Japonski Island, and  Nels’ father moved here to be with his wife. Meanwhile, the seven children spent the year in the Presbyterian Missionary orphanage in Haines. They then moved to Sitka to join their father and recovered mother.
Nels, along with his six siblings, attended the Etolin Street School. Nels graduated from high school in 1957 along with 19 other students in his class. During his high school years he spent many long summer days long-lining for halibut with his uncle, learning persistence and devotion.
Nels later attended college at Fort Worth in Spokane, Washington. It was during his studies that he changed direction and fulfilled his lifelong dream of being a U.S. Marine. Nels served his country honorably for four years and returned to Sitka following his discharge.
Always trying to better himself, Nels soon left again to attend electronics schooling in Los Angeles and New York City. After 18 months of electronics schooling, he once again returned to Sitka.
In 1965, Nels left for the San Francisco Bay area for a new job opportunity. This new job included designing and building satellite communication systems. During his time in San Francisco, Nels and his group designed and built communication systems that would later be used in space. The aerospace electronics field had his attention and dedication for 15 years. During this time, his work assisted the first lunar landing and many other adventures of the Space Age. Nobody had designed and built anything like this before and there were no building plans to follow.
In 1978, Nels married his Georgia peach, Sheila. She was born on a train in Georgia. From opposite corners of the country, they met in electronics school and chatted during coffee breaks. The two fell in love and were soon married. They both decided not to raise their family in the heavily urbanized environment of the Bay Area. They sold everything and headed to Alaska in search of work and a new start on life. Juneau did not offer any opportunities for Nels, so he decided to return to Sitka once again. Luckily, the Forest Service had an opening. The man who started out as a Marine turned computer specialist would become a Native Liaison. He formed many agreements between the Native Alaskans and the Forest Service to benefit both sides.
After working many years with the Forest Service, Nels retired in 2003. He was a respected member of the community and actively involved in many Native and community organizations. Even in retirement, Nels never lost his devotion to the greater good or his dedication to his community. In 2012, Nels became leader of the Sitka Kaagwaantaan Clan. In his capacity as Clan leader, Nels flourished. He wore many hats both figuratively and literally. Not only was he a leader, mentor, adviser, and confidante; he was also a friend, brother, uncle, father, grandfather and husband. Nels wore all these hats with ease, honor, confidence, and pride. 
Nels is predeceased by his mother and father, Elizabeth and Herb Lawson, two brothers and one sister.
Treasured memories will be forever in the hearts of his wife, Sheila, of Sitka, and his seven children, Nels Lawson II of Sitka, Deborah Gonzales and Rick of Fairbanks, Pauline Mead and Greg of Alma, Washington, Art Stephens Jr. and Angie of Graham, Washington, Katu Allen and Jessica Garcia, both of the San Francisco Bay area, and Nels Demma of Anchorage.
 He also is survived by 20 grandchildren, and a growing number of great-grandchildren; and brothers Ralph Lawson of Anchorage and Larry Lawson of Windsor, California, and a sister, Bernadine Shultz of Canoga Park, California.

A Lutheran memorial service at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 20, will be followed by an Alaska Native Brotherhood service, a reception, and a Kaagwaantaan Clan cultural service, all at the ANB Founders Hall. The public is invited to attend.

Honorary pallbearer are Sam Pointer (USMC),  Tony Phillips (USMC), Bernie Gurule (USMC), Justin Hulse           (USMC), Art Stephens (USA), Jared Carpenter (USN), Wayne Myers (USAF), Brian Gundaker (USCG), and             Ted Allio (AK NG).