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Ethel Beams

February 27, 1922 ~ July 15, 2021 (age 99)


Ethel Marie Nordberg Beams, 99, Lake Barrington IL, passed away Tuesday July 15, 2021 at home with her family by her side.

Ethel was born February 27, 1922 at lunchtime during a snowstorm in her parents’ home at 62 South Terrace in Fargo, North Dakota.  She was the 6th of 8 children born to Theodora Mathilda Soli and Gustav Severin Nordberg.  At eight years old Ethel moved with her family to the foothills of the Catskills in Oneonta NY where her father (a Lutheran minister) had been offered a professorship at Hartwick College. She attended Bugbee Elementary through eighth grade and finished up at Oneonta High School, being tapped for National Honor Society, playing basketball, soccer and baseball and serving as drum majorette.

Ethel spent three years studying and working in the Johnson City Nursing Program and graduated as a registered nurse in September of 1944.  After a short stint at West Haverstraw NY Reconstruction Hospital caring for and rehabilitating polio patients, patriotism drove her to enlist in the Army and she was inducted at Fort Dix, NJ in May of 1945.  After basic training she was sent to Fort Niagara, NY and served in the small on-site hospital in the wards of German prisoners of war.  That same summer she received a surprise visit from her hometown fiancé, the dashing Howard Lawrence Beams, who had just rotated home after serving in Italy as a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps.  She had no idea that he was back in country until she got that call from the front gate regarding a visitor, peeked out the window and saw him striding across the lawn.  She remembered her knees going weak as she rushed down those stairs!  Howard was discharged from the service in the fall of 1945, Ethel shortly thereafter.  After more than a year of being engaged, Ethel and Howard were married in a private ceremony held in the living room of her parents’ home on November 15th, 1945. The bride’s father officiated and Ethel’s wedding dress was painstakingly crafted from the silk of a parachute which Howard had used to bail out of a malfunctioning plane during the war.  They were to remain married for the next 70 years.

After Ethel’s discharge from the Army in December of 1945, the two newlyweds were briefly enrolled at Syracuse University but returned to Oneonta so that Howard could reenter Hartwick College and Ethel could do private nursing until the birth of their first child, Holly Anne, in December 1946.  The next three years the Beams followed teaching assignments and educational opportunities which led them to Orangeburg, NJ (Columbia University), Bethany College in West Virginia, and finally Syracuse University where their second daughter, Glennee Lynn, was born in November 1949.  When Howard achieved his PhD in 1952, they moved to Pittsburgh, PA for 5 years, Stamford, CT for 3 years and finally settled in Westport, CT from 1960 to 1986.

When her husband launched his own consulting business in 1961, Ethel stepped in as office manager and commuted by train with him to New York City every day.  After a few start-up years the office was relocated within Manhattan and Ethel chose to give up the daily commute and work in Westport, first as a photographer’s assistant and then in her own chosen field, nursing.  She was employed as a nurse and office manager for Dr. Stuart Bender for over 20 years until her retirement in 1986.  Even after official retirement, when the Beams moved from Westport to Sarasota, FL, Ethel continued to work for several years as a nurse in private practice.  They remained in Sarasota into their 90s (with a short 3 year stint in Seven Lakes, North Carolina) until they opted in 2014 to move into an assisted living facility in Lake Barrington, IL to be closer to family.

Ethel’s volunteer efforts persisted throughout her life.  Ethel helped out at all of the schools that her daughters attended, led Brownie and Girl Scout troops, rolled bandages and made heart pillows for the American Heart Association and participated in the nonprofit Meadows crafts workshop in Sarasota, FL.  An avid knitter, she had in recent years made and donated over 500 pair of mittens and innumerable scarves to a church in Orchard Park, NY and crocheted plastic sleeping mats for the homeless in the Chicago area.  Always ready with an innovative idea, Ethel had the soul of an artist – creative, inspiring and original.  An oil painter, quilter, fabric arts master, and pine needle basket artisan, Ethel’s projects were varied and much sought after.

She was an avid reader, an incomparable cook, a lover of music, a bourbon aficionado and a crossword puzzle enthusiast. Her sassy sense of humor and playfulness sometimes snuck up on us all, especially when she threw out a lovingly aimed well-placed zinger! Yet her ever-present smile never stood in the way of a well-executed bluff in poker. How she loved those marathon weekend poker tournaments with Dad and their friends!

Ethel had a remarkable grace in life, a gentle soul whose generosity of spirit and strength of character inspired admiration wherever she went. Her first grandchild nicknamed her “Buppa.”  The entire family aspires to carry on that “Buppa gene” embodying her giving, loving manner; we count ourselves uncommonly blessed to have had Ethel as the Norwegian Viking Maiden heading our clan.  She earned her angel wings on earth.

Remembering her are her two daughters and their spouses, Holly Anne and David Norton Smiley (deceased) of Mundelein, IL and Glennee Lynn and Orie Falzareno of Orchard Park, NY.  Ethel is survived by five grandchildren and their spouses and ten great grandchildren: Casey and Julie Smiley of Lake Geneva, WI (with Luke, Lily, Brady and Hattie), Bryn and Brad Dannegger of Wheaton, IL (with Annalee, Abby and Ryan), Amanda and Chris Donovan of Hawthorne Woods, IL (with Kylie, Anika and Shay), Kate Falzareno of Chicago, IL and Erin Falzareno of Golden, CO.  Ethel also leaves 20 nieces and nephews and a sister-in-law, Helen Beams. She is predeceased by her siblings, Helen Hansen of Laurens, NY, Thorman Nordberg, Gertrude Bruce, Ralph Nordberg, and Marlys Nordberg of Oneonta, NY, Aleda Souders of Oxford, NY and Stanley Nordberg of Sidney, NY.

Those who wish may consider memorials to Transitions Hospice, 12040 Raymond Court, Huntley IL 60142.

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