MADISON - Born, in Oshkosh, Wis., in December of 1928, to Elwyn and Louise Nelson, Helen Louise Nelson (Iltis) enjoyed a carefree childhood learning to sail on Lake Winnebago with her older brother, Jack, and horseback riding at Black Wolf Point with her best friend, Helen Klieforth (Shenefield). Eighty-five years later, at home on Blackwolf Drive, in Prairie Point, Madison, on April 8th Helen lost consciousness after a sudden fall. She passed away peacefully on April 11, 2014, with her family and close friends at her side. Her sweet smile, kindness and sincere friendship will be missed by all who knew her.
An artist and graduate of the School of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Helen painted, threw pots, (shot squirrels!), crafted beautiful stained glass windows, glass sculptures and bead jewelry. As a nature photographer she had an eye for natural grace and beauty and abstract interpretation that she shared with many throughout her life.
Helen acquired and shared an endless fascination with everything in the natural and spiritual world that carried her through her life. Whether shivering on a cold night to watch polar bears in Hudson Bay, wolves in Yellowstone, or to count the moons of Jupiter in a telescope, helping her three children, Steve, Linda and Bob, gather and identify collections of rocks, bugs, Paleolithic shells, shark's teeth, leaves, birds; sailing with whales, or photographing Galápagos blue-footed boobies, or rare pink Amazon dolphins, she never tired of learning and personally discovering new things in the cosmos. Her love of mountains inspired visits to the Alps, Tetons, Peru and to Nepal, to make lasting friendships with Nepali families of Bandipur. Her curiosity and enthusiasm led her to actively study history, culture, world religions, and archeology, and to appreciate even more the value of cultivating and embracing opportunities for direct engagement with individuals and families she came to know and cherish. Escaping with the skiing grandmas, reading with her book club, and practicing mindfulness training with friends and Tibetan monks in Madison, also kept Helen engaged to the end, reinforcing her strong sense of universal compassion and her sense of humor -- with reminisces of those "amazin dolphins".
Active in the UW Hoofers sailing and ski club, Helen met many lifelong friends including her future husband, Ted Iltis. Married in 1951, they soon moved to Washington, D.C., to start their family, where Ted was invited by Admiral Rickover to help build the Nautilus (first nuclear submarine). Helen and Ted shared a mutual love of choral singing, scouting and public service. Helen pursued her keen interest in stained glass and Western art history when her family lived three years in Brussels, Belgium, travelling, skiing, and hiking with her family throughout Europe. After moving to Greensburg, Penn., in 1971, Helen and Ted opened their home to two exchange students, Willi Krick from Germany, and Einar from Norway.
Finally, Helen and Ted returned to Madison and Lake Mendota to be close to friends and family, and to live by the lake, race sailboats, and watch birds. They both continued to travel the world with UW alums, choral groups, family, and friends to destinations on five continents, including China, Japan, Turkey, Egypt, Tanzania, Argentina, and the Himalayas.
Helen loved the UW Badgers and Madison community, becoming an active supporting member of many organizations, especially the First United Methodist Church, UW Alumni Association, PEO, the Madison Symphony and Opera, the UW Arboretum, and the Crane Foundation, and Nature Conservancy.
She is survived by her beloved husband, Theodore J. Iltis; daughter, Linda Iltis (Ter Ellingson) of Seattle, Wash.; sons, Steven (Kristina) of Denver, Colo., and Robert (Sharon Fletcher) of Cobden, Ill; grandson, Andrew (Jennifer) of Denver, Colo.; great-granddaughters, Hadley and Emerson; sisters-in-law, Betty Iltis and Virginia Nelson; and many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents and her beloved brother, Elwyn "Jack" Nelson.
A celebration of Helen's life is planned for 2 p.m. with a service and reception to follow, on Sunday, June 15, 2014, at the FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, 203 Wisconsin Ave., Madison, WI 53703, (608) 256-9061. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Helen's name may be made to the Friends of the Arboretum (www.uwarboretum.org) in Madison or other organizations mentioned above.
The family wishes to express sincere gratitude to vigilant Prairie Point neighbors and friends, the medical staff at UW Hospital, to the Rev. Carly Kuntz of First United Methodist Church, to Cress Funeral Home director, Jeff Olson, and to all the family and friends of Helen's family who have helped us, including Krishna Pradhan, Vishnu and Jamuna Shrestha, Stephen Mikesell, and Barbara and John DeMain, who honored her memory, and comforted us in our time of need. In keeping with a teaching of universal compassion she personally received from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we hope that Helen has gone to a state of eternal meditation, where she will continue to selflessly watch over all sentient beings until all suffering is extinguished. May she always be with us as she rests in peace.
Please share your memories at www.CressFuneralService.com.