By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published May 23, 2012
Community remembers Drew Nielsen
EVERETT - One week after the passing of City Councilman Drew Nielsen, a community still mourns.
They came with flowers, cards and a level of respect for one of Everett’s best-regarded council members and citizen activists.
People said he brought integrity, intelligence and class to the table while on the City Council, calling him a “reluctant politician” whose passion for the outdoors only rivaled his interest in civic improvement.
“Drew was a man who cherished his relationship, made time for his friends and family and spared nothing for those whom he cared about. He was a man of great integrity who never compromised his values. He lived his life like we all should — enjoying each and every day and taking time to do the things that matter most,” said Brenda Stonecipher, councilwoman and close friend, through a media release.
The City Council last week postponed most of its agenda items out of respect.
At the meeting, flowers were placed under Nielsen’s seat at the dais.
At a public memorial Sunday, May 20 at Everett Station, more than 300 people showed up to pay their respects.
Earlier last week, a group of 60 people attended a private gathering May 14 at Northwest Neighborhood Park to reminisce on Nielsen’s life.
Always humble, if Nielsen saw the park gathering and heard the accolades being said, he’d wonder who it was for, longtime friend Tim Knopf said.
Nielsen, 61, died Saturday, May 12 while on a routine rafting trip. His raft flipped over in the Black Diamond section of King County’s Green River. The raft went through a difficult rapid and overturned. His wife Kim escaped, but Drew was found hours later pinned under the boat downstream.
He was an expert whitewater rafter with 20 years’ experience and meticulously spoke out on safety. He went whitewater rafting more than 30 times a year. He married Kim last summer on a bridge at the Grand Canyon before they embarked on a 200-mile whitewater rafting trip down the Colorado River the next day.
Nielsen persistently wanted to make Everett a better place to live and did so with a calm persuasion that never was shaken by challenges.
“He said, ‘you want to make Everett better, you get involved’,” friend Annie Lyman said.
One of the most studious council members, Nielsen thoughtfully argued his case and stood for what he believed in, neighbors and friends said.
“He was always so well-versed and had done his homework,” Office of Neighborhoods manager Wendy McClure said. McClure worked with Nielsen while he was the longtime council liaison for the Council of Neighborhoods. “He was someone who cares passionately and compassionately for our community.”
He made the Northwest Neighborhood his home and his passion.
In the early 1990s, neighbors asked Nielsen to help ward off an expansion of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett into their backyard. He did so by going door-to-door explaining how homeowners could protect their property from the hospital.
“He touched the whole city, but especially touched this neighborhood,” neighbor Barb Lamoreaux said.
When Providence wanted to build a children’s center on an open field in the neighborhood in 1998, Nielsen was the key force at the table to argue against it, neighbors said.
How do you argue against a children’s center, neighbor Hap Wertheimer said. “Drew calmly, articulately and persuasively explained the reasons it should remain a park.”
Providence dropped its plans within a month of the neighborhood campaign against it.
Turning the open field into a park, Nielsen and a half-dozen neighbors built the gazebo.
There is now talk of renaming the park after Nielsen, and a group led by Lamoreaux is tasking itself with proposing this to city leadership.
“The park is his spirit,” Wertheimer said. “He not only saved it, he rolled up his sleeves and planted it.”
Drew Nielsen went from citizen activist to become a member of the Northwest Neighborhood Association and a member of the city’s tree committee. He then became president of the Council of Neighborhoods and then a planning commissioner.
In 2004, he was appointed to the City Council. Last fall, he was re-elected to a third term.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Drew Nielsen Benevolent Fund at BECU, PO Box 97050, Seattle, WA 98124-9750, for the arts and community development causes Nielsen held dear.