In Memoriam Yvonne Nelson Perry

Lifetime member and former Odin Award recipient Yvonne Nelson Perry passed away at 88 on October 22, 2020 after a brave fight with cancer.

Yvonne contributed many years to The Guilded Pen, always insights into her Hawaiian life.

To know Yvonne was to be swept up in a force of a human being. Just under six feet tall, she was bold and charismatic, and moved through life with a tenacious spirit. 

Born in Puunene, Maui, to John Nelson (originally Nilsson), a Maui Soda & Ice Works employee, and his Polish-Polynesian wife, teacher Emma von Peplowski, Yvonne Nelson grew up in Hawai’i. Pride in her heritage was evident; cards in Yvonne’s distinctive print often ended in Hawaiian.

An akamai (intelligent) woman, she entered the University of Hawai’i at just 15. In 1950 Yvonne married naval officer Donald Walter Perry and their family grew as Don was stationed around the US and Japan. In 1966 the couple and their five children settled in Bonita, CA. It was there that this equestrian, actor, party organizer, authentic friend, and involved mother established herself as a community mainstay—and had two more children! Yvonne’s civic engagement led to principal roles with the PTA, Sunnyside Saddle Club, Sweetwater Valley Little League, Scouts, AYSO, Bonita Valley Players Club (as its President and as an actor), and the South Bay YMCA (as the first woman to be chairperson). She also acted as office manager for her husband’s political campaign for San Diego Supervisor, then State Assembly in 1982.

Yvonne valued the written word (nothing compares to holding a book, running your hands along its surface and pages, she would often proclaim), and not many could match her remarkable Scrabble skills. Her last months were spent playing Scrabble with daughters Yana Aldridge and Heather Perry.

Although she didn’t start writing fiction until her sixties, there was no better storyteller than Yvonne. An editor-for-hire and award-winning author, she could weave conditions of the human heart into captivating stories. Author of The Other Side of the Island, as well as over fifty published short stories, Yvonne shared her talents at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference for over twenty years. She also held writing classes in her home for decades. Yvonne enjoyed an audience, but also loved helping others amplify their voices. She was the recipient of the San Diego Writers and Editors Guild Odin Award for her contributions to San Diego’s writing community.

The matriarch of the large Perry family, “Nana” imparted wisdom gleaned from rich experiences. She led by example and imbued lessons with playful humor—and played a mean game of poker. Yvonne accepted everyone exactly as they arrived. There were no strangers in her Bonita home, Pau Hana. She was the beating heart of the Perry family and her indomitable spirit added value to her community, and to the world. While her physical body has passed from this earth, the reverberations of her love, intellect, and kindness will be felt for generations. Her stories live on in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved her. In her words, “all stories must have a beginning, middle, and end.” Aloha ‘oe, farewell to you, dear one.

In light of the pandemic, the family will observe a celebration of Yvonne’s life on her birthday, July 4, 2021, in Maui. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference scholarship fund are welcome.

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