Elsa LaVerne Koski, 84, passed away at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center, Grants pass, Ore., on Friday, May 10, 2013.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, May 24 at Bethany Presbyterian Church with Steve Parker, pastor, officiating. A graveside service will be at Joliet Cemetery in Joliet, Montana at a later date. Chapel of the Valley – L.B. Hall Funeral Home in Grants Pass and Smith-Olcott Funeral Chapel in Red Lodge are handling arrangements.
Elsa was born Feb. 23, 1929 to Elma and Edgar Gruel near Boyd. She grew up during the Depression when there was little money, most everything was bartered and the community pulled together to survive. In Elsa’s words, “I never felt poor”. Elsa received an elementary education in a one-room schoolhouse with 18 other children. When she was eight years old, she had her own Pinto pony and worked on the family ranch-managing cattle on the open range. At age 12, she was driving a Ford tractor and at age 15, she was driving a wheat truck during harvest times. Elsa was a cheerleader at Joliet High School and after graduating in 1947, she went to visit the Sisters of Charity and successfully negotiated a scholarship to attend Carroll College in Helena where she went through a rigorous nursing program and learned first- hand, the practice of whole-person caring. Upon graduation, she worked as Pediatric Department Supervisor at St. James Hospital in Butte.
At the same time Elsa was getting her nursing education, she was keeping in touch with her beau, Wally Koski, whom she had known since childhood. After Wally returned from serving in the Air Force during World War II and, a seven-year courtship, they married on June 16, 1951, in Red Lodge. They moved to Dillon where Wally completed his degree in education and Elsa was a nurse at Barrett Hospital. She and a nurse’s aide were responsible for medical patients and responding to emergencies and maternity care. They later moved to Columbus where Elsa accepted the role of assistant hospital administrator at Stillwater County Hospital, a 21-bed facility with a medical staff of two physicians. A year later, Wally’s sister asked if they would move to Oregon and upon agreeing to do so, they moved to Grants Pass where Elsa first worked as a private nurse at Josephine General Hospital and then at the Grants Pass Clinic from 1953 to 1965. During the years at the clinic, she often saw 50 people a day, working until 8:00 at night. In 1967, she was offered the health educator position at Grants Pass High School and taught for 23 years. As a teacher, Elsa had an amazing way of conveying care and knowledge to her students. The impact of her teaching has lived on decades later in innumerable lives. Simultaneously, she attended Southern Oregon State College, graduating Cum Laude in 1976 and followed up with graduate studies. After retiring, she was Health Occupations Project Coordinator at Rogue Community College in 1990-1991.
Elsa had a strong sense of duty to her community and spent many years dedicating her time and leadership to local organizations that included Family House Friends; Oregon Medical Professional Review Organization; Board of Directors for Asante Health System; Board of Trustees for Asante Three Rivers Community Hospital Foundation; Board of Directors for Josephine Memorial Hospital; manager of Josephine County Shrine Club Screening Clinic; Board of Directors for AHEC of Southwest Oregon; volunteer for American Red Cross; Board of Directors for Josephine County Family Planning Committee; Board of Directors and regional vice president for Oregon Alliance Concerned with School Aged Parents; Medical Advisor Board and Board of Directors for National Foundation March of Dimes; Board of Directors, Josephine County Chapter of American Cancer Society; Board of Directors for Josephine County and Jackson County Comprehensive Health Planning Councils.
During the course of more than 50 years as a nurse and health educator, Elsa received numerous prestigious awards that included the Spears Rogue River Award for Healthcare in 2006 from Three Rivers Community Hospital; the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 from Area Health Education Center of SW Oregon; Woman of the Year in 2000 from Zonta International; White Rose Honoree in 1989 from the March of Dimes; Outstanding Health Educator (Secondary) and Outstanding Health Program in 1985; Certificate of Achievement in 1985 from the American Heart Association; and the Helen W. Starnes Memorial Award in 1985 from the American Red Cross. Elsa was also honored as the “grand elf” in the 2005 Grants Pass Christmas Parade.
As an experienced leader, an independent thinker and a creative visionary with a strong commitment to community health and education, Elsa influenced state, regional and local medical policies but most of all, she was a great role model, encouraging young people to lead healthy, responsible and productive lives. There are many who are forever grateful for her inspiration. She was much loved and will be missed by all who knew her.
Elsa was a member of Bethany Presbyterian Church; PEO Chapter, AG; Zuleima Temple, Daughters of the Nile; Beta Sigma Phi; life member of VFW Auxiliary; the Scandinavian Club; Phi Delta Kappa; Delta Kappa Gamma Society International; Oregon Retired Educators Association; Josephine County Retired Educators Association; National Education Association; and American Nurse Association.
Survivors include a daughter, Maureen Koski; a son, Mark Koski; a granddaughter, Sarah Koski; and a brother, Melvin Gruel. Her husband, Wally Koski, preceded her in death.
Condolences may be sent to the family at www.chapel-valley.com .
Memorial donations may be sent to the Kaleva Park Foundation, P.O. Box 128, Roberts, MT 59070.