Ethel Nelson (Henderson) Sorensen 1936 - 2024

Ethel Nelson (Henderson) Sorensen was born August 17, 1936, in the family home in Millville, New Jersey, to Corval and Esther (Sparks) Henderson. She died January 28, 2024, in McMinnville, Oregon, “in my 88th year,” as she would say when asked how old she was.

Ethel graduated from Memorial High School in 1954, and went on to work at the Airwork Corporation. She enlisted in the U.S. Navy WAVES, stationed in Bainbridge, Maryland, San Diego, and eventually Pearl Harbor, serving from 1956 to 1960 as a 3rd Class radioman teletype/telegraph operator in Weather Central. It was there she met Navy 3rd Class weatherman, Ben Sorensen. They married in January of 1960.

In 1961, the couple moved to Oakland, California. Daughter Shelly was born later that year at the Navy base. In 1962, the family moved to McMinnville, Oregon, where sons, Eric and Kevin, were born. In addition to being the fun Mom who took her kids on treacherous rides in her Volkswagen “Baby” on the roads in the hills around McMinnville, Ethel worked at the Atlas Bakery before she and Ben bought the Rocket Café.

Ethel loved music since childhood and sang alto, whistled, played guitar, ukulele, nose and slide whistles, harmonica, miscellaneous percussion instruments, and her one song on the piano, “Near the Cross.” She was a member of the First Baptist Church, where she performed in the vocal and bell choirs. She also performed as a chorus member in several musicals at Gallery Theater and sang in the community Masterworks Chorale.

Ethel was handy. She loved to do yard work, planting flowers and trees, mowing, and moving rocks and piles of dirt from one area to another. This love transplanted to the yards of her family and friends, who frequently found themselves the recipients of new rocks, piles of dirt, flowers and trees, or their yards free from berry vines. She also considered herself part of the city maintenance crew, as she tended to her section of  City Park, across the street from her home on Star Mill Way. The homes of family and friends are also graced with pieces of furniture she meticulously refinished. There wasn’t much she couldn’t repair or make better with something from her stash of a little bit of everything.

After Ethel and Ben divorced, she attended Merritt Davis School of Business in 1976, and went to work for State of Oregon in the Bureau of Labor and Industries as a desktop publisher. It was there that she developed her life-long devotion to Apple computers (and later iPhones and iPads), always buying the latest upgrade. Her username was “Kate,” in honor of her favorite actress, Katharine Hepburn. She was named State Employee of the Year and eventually retired in 1995.

Ethel loved to ride her recumbent bike around town. She dazzled her grandsons with her yo-yo tricks. Doodles and cartoons were favorites to draw. Her yodel or loud finger whistle would call her children home from blocks away. She loved birdwatching, especially “hummers,” and squirrels and had several feeders in her yard for all. Old movies were a passion. She briefly overcame her fear of flying when she went skydiving at age 82. She was fiercely devoted to her friends and family. In 2015, Ethel moved to Hillside Retirement Community and delighted in the new opportunities and friendships found there.

Ethel was preceded in death by her parents; brother, Corval; and sisters, Elsie and Lillian. She is survived by daughter, Shelly (Sorensen) Sanderlin; son, Eric Sorensen; son and daughter-in-law, Kevin and Megan Sorensen; and grandsons, Mark, Brian and Ben Sanderlin.

A Service of Remembrance will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 13, at the Chapel of Macy and Son. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in her memory to organizations related to the outdoors, music, art, or wherever you think would make Ethel smile.


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