Born on a Sunday morning on April 13, 1919 Gurina McIlrath Palmer passed away on another Sunday in April, 98 years later, cradled in the arms of her beloved daughter Laurel and following an enjoyable outing. She leaves us with a rich legacy of an inspiring and remarkable life lived to the fullest.
Gurina was the third child and eldest daughter born to Endre and Gurina (Undheim) Bergsagel. A few months after her birth the family left their homestead on the Montana prairie return to their homeland in southwest Norway, outside of Stavanger. It was hoped that a return to the familiar setting of home would restore her mother’s health, weakened by a bout of the 1918 Spanish flu and the hardships of living a homesteader's life. Her grandfather had located a farm for them between the North Sea and a small lake just south of Stavanger in the Jaern district, halfway between the fjord country east of Stavanger and her mother’s home on the flat farmlands of Jaern, a few miles to the south. For the next six years little Gurina was surrounded by a rich culture shared with her two older brothers, Daniel and Peter, and her many loving aunts, uncles and cousins. Three sisters were born while in Norway--Inger, Grace and Clara.
The lure of the promises of continuing a life in America, together with a yearning to see his homestead again, led Endre to return to Montana with his family and continue in their new life as American pioneers. The next 10 years were hard on the family--the Great Depression, dust storms, grasshoppers and drought years--all proved too much for her father, and her parents and six siblings (a brother Edward was born upon their return to Montana) and the family once again relocated; this time, moving west, where they settled on a small dairy farm outside of Poulsbo, Washington.
Gurina attended high school at North Kitsap and after graduation attended classes at Pacific Lutheran college, while working in Bremerton. One evening in October 1941 she was returning by ferry to Bremerton from a writing class in Seattle and happened to sit next to a handsome sailor at the ferry lunch counter. They struck up a conversation, and she learned that he was also from Montana and shared an interest in writing. That shared interest, and his glacial blue eyes and wavy blonde hair and charming smile, captured her heart and over the next six weeks a profound love developed between Gurina and her sailor boyfriend, Harvey McIlrath. Just a few weeks after meeting, Harvey's battleship, the U.S.S Colorado, was deployed to the Pacific and Harvey had to leave his new love at home. But on its way to join the fleet at Pearl Harbor, the Colorado developed mechanical problems and had to return to Bremerton for repairs. This situation saved the ship and the lives of its crew from the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor, and made it possible for Harvey and Gurina to marry on December 28, 1941 at the Poulsbo Lutheran church.
Harvey had to immediately ship out again, this time for six months’ security patrol of the west coast, based out of San Francisco. With no way of knowing when he would return to port Gurina rented a house on the hills of Sausalito where she could see the bay and the ship's arriving and departing. She took a job at Marin Shipbuilding as a clerical worker while waiting for her husband's brief shore visits.
Harvey’s ship was next deployed out to the War in the Pacific so Gurina returned to her family in Poulsbo, where her first child, a son named Scott, was born. Scott was followed later in the war by Brian, and when the war was over and Harvey was attending the University of Washington on the G.I bill, a daughter Cathlin was born. In 1947 Gurina and Harvey purchased their first home outside of Bothell, where they were living when their next daughter Laurel was born, followed by Alan, Paul and then Kent. Gurina was to have her home near Bothell for the next 66 years, but would eventually maintain homes in La Conner and Friday Harbor as well.
Harvey's first teaching job was in Port Townsend, where Gurina pursued her writing interest by taking classes and joining a study group. After that first teaching job, Harvey was fortunate to secure a job in the Bothell schools and settle his family in the home waiting for them.
The following years were devoted raising a family and building a secure home. Camping trips and day trips to the mountains and the ocean in an old WWII surplus tent and cooking over open fires was par for the course. So was doing farm chores and rescuing kids out of trees. She loved carrying for the children and enjoying the homemaker’s role. However, her drive to pursue her education caused her to continue studies at the University of Washington, eventually earning her bachelor's degree in English. This was followed by a joint-venture with Harvey to earn Master’s Degrees in Scandinavian languages and literature. They shared the graduation ceremony together, sharing the pride of their seven children and many friends and family.
Gurina’s first teaching job was at Snohomish high school. This necessitated learning to drive—not easy with the old gear-shifting cars of the day. But persistence paid off and she finally got her driver’s license on the 5th try. Teaching at Snohomish was very fulfilling for Gurina—but after two years, she was offered a job at Bothell High School, much closer to home and her family. For over the next two decades she was an important part of the pre-vocational program and is remembered by many of her former students for the wonderful care and interest she showed them all—in school and out. During this time, she and Harvey also opened her home to two young girls who were in the state foster program. Barbara and April Richards became part of her family and for many years were beloved members of the family.
As the years passed and the time to move from professional career to retirement drew closer, Harvey suffered a heart attack that forced him to take early retirement. When Gurina qualified to take early retirement, she took advantage of the opportunity to spend the retirement years with her beloved husband, intending on spending part of the year at their home in La Conner and part in Arizona. Sadly, Harvey died suddenly in 1982 at the early age of 62, leaving Gurina alone. Plans had to change. But during these sad days, Gurina could rally herself and worked to reshape her life and goals. She took up modeling, and selling cosmetics. She met new friends and traveled with old ones. And she helped her children with their young families whenever she had the opportunity to do so.
In 1991, while visiting her son Paul at his home on San Juan Island, she met Dr. Norman Palmer, a retired Professor of Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania. It was love at first sight for the recently widowed professor, and while Gurina took a little more persuasion, she soon agreed to join him in marriage. They spent their honeymoon in Korea, where Norman was teaching a graduate program. In the short five years, they had together, before Norman passed away from multiple myeloma, they built a home in Friday Harbor and traveled the world. Gurina joined the University Woman’s Club, the Woman’s Study group and the Book Club. She lived independently and as a lively member of a dynamic community. After 12 years in Friday Harbor, she moved to the University House in Issaquah, and then to her son Paul’s house in Yakima, where she lived for the next 10 years. In 2013 she returned to Issaquah and while living at first Spritwood, then Aegis, she was in daily contact with her daughter Laurel.
Gurina loved life to its fullest! She was active to the very end and was often heard saying that her only regret was that she couldn’t live longer because she loved life and nature and her family so very much. She was close to God throughout her journey in life and could recite prayers and hymns from memory. She said a prayer every day of her life and asked for blessings for all her friends and family. She was such a part of her family’s life that it will be difficult without her, but by the example of her life she has shown us all the importance of treasuring each moment, and fulfilling our potential.