Times Past

Friends speak of woman’s joy

Special to The TribuneJanuary 19, 2014 

Teri Nixon Kelley visits the Madonna Inn on St. Patrick’s Day of last year.

SUSAN CARLTON

This column is continued from last week...

‘You are a very good person. Such an honor to take my medication from you!” Teri Nixon Kelley recently told Lourdes Verdusco, caregiver at Aunt Carol’s Place in Pismo Beach.

Teri epitomizes the song “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.” She teaches us, “Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar.”

Teri is fascinated by lighthouses that help mariners navigate. Her godmother, Judy Walter of Santa Maria, a nurse, recalled driving Teri to deliver a talk on lighthouse preservation.

“Teri is a nervous nelly about driving. But Teri gave a beautiful talk with slides, very knowledgeable; I was very proud of her!”

Gloria Phelps, Teri’s longtime friend, flew from Texas.

“Teri was an A student who was always helping other students, pushing me to do well in English in junior high.”

Teri said, “Mom made sure I was in Brownies and Girl Scouts. She was a good mom, fun and hardworking. I enjoyed helping in her florist work.”

That may be the impetus for Teri’s “mystery garden” at her mobile home.

Judy recalled, “Teri had lots of trials and tribulations, but she persevered and was a wonderful kid. Her parents divorced about 1969, her father rarely in the picture. Kids could be cruel. She had hand-me-downs for a Scout outfit, so I bought her every conceivable thing for Scouting: hat, socks, belt, badges. She wasn’t lacking for anything, and she had more than any of the other kids.”

After her mother’s death in 1985, Teri moved to San Luis Obispo where she worked with Wings West Airlines. Floyd Jeter, a huge Teri fan, encountered her at the airport and made her office manager for Jeter’s Messenger Service.

When Anne Stewart met Teri, “she confided that she couldn’t seem to find her purpose in life; she didn’t have a husband or children to care for and she felt like she was limping along.”

Teri had cats named George Clooney and Tim McGraw. She baby-sat Goldie Glasser’s daughter, Hannah, whom she loves as her own. But that was not enough. She wanted to re-energize her efforts to alleviate pain in this world.

Sammy Bankston and Donna Klein met Teri in a travel singles club.

“From decorating our tables to arranging birthday cakes and selecting interesting prizes for all of the creative contests that she comes up with, Teri makes sure that everyone is included. For Teri, there is no such concept as a loser,” Donna said.

Donna, who works with animals, told Teri, “You’re the only person who has always been interested in my clients, concerned all about them and even giving them nicknames like Western Cat.”

Teri started Arroyo Grande’s Strawberry Festival baking contest, said Vivian Krug.

“She spoke to high school cooking classes, talked to friends, restaurants! She got all the raffle items and prizes for the baking winners!”

And the Harvest Festival bake-off which, Laurie Waller affirmed, “really drew community together.” Dianne Tuttle of Academy Travel said, “Teri typed up the festival cookbooks in my office hours on hours.” See http://www.agharvestfestival.com/hfcookbook.pdf to view Teri’s last cookbook with the winning recipes. Teri loves everyone joining in her myriad causes like the Family Care Network, which helps foster kids.

Nancy Page chuckled about her years volunteering with Teri as Salvation Army bell ringers.

“We were stationed at Best Buy, lots of foot traffic there. Teri brought us hairbands with antlers on them, the daddy deer and the mommy deer. We called out holiday greetings to everyone, with Teri sometimes saying, ‘If you donate, I promise not to sing!’ Or she’d start singing and then call out, ‘If you donate, I’ll STOP singing!’ This always got laughs but lots of donations too.”

Recently Teri “hit up” Denise Topham and Dr. Dan Lewis, her oncologist, for money for white fluffy socks for guests at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa’s homeless overflow shelter.

Father Marc Dauphine got to know Teri while he was at the mission.

“Her joy is the quality that I always notice first! She seems to draw energy from beyond herself to give to others. She is directed to meet real needs. In other words, she isn’t just playing. This is no pointless joy, but the real thing!” he said.

Dan Krieger’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.

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