Gone from this life, but in our hearts forever.
Our beloved Patty, so rich with wisdom, wit, myriad talents, and appetite for life leaves bereft, yet inspired, a vast circle of family and countless friends.
Patty was the oldest of two children born to Frederick (Clyde) and Elizabeth Headrick in Detroit, Michigan. Patty’s happiest and most vivid childhood memories were made at her grandparent’s dairy farm in a small town outside of Detroit with her brother, Greg. In High School, Patty was granted the nickname, “Peppy Patty”; fitting for the enthusiasm and joy she brought to her life as a daughter, sister, friend, student, cheerleader and employee.
Patty attended the University of Detroit, where she met Denis O’Connor, from San Francisco. After his graduation in1963, he began active duty as a 2nd Lt. in Wiesbaden, Germany. Patty joined him the next year, and they were married. They had a wonderful tour in Germany, and welcomed the birth of Elizabeth in 1965, and Christine in 1966. In 1966, they returned to the states to spend a year at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. In Patty’s words, “Denis was one of the lucky people in this world who defined his priorities at a young age. He told me that his first duty was to God, his second duty was to his country, and his third duty was to his family. I understood taking a back seat to God, but was a bit miffed to be behind Country, especially when he volunteered for Viet Nam. His values would not have allowed any other decision; it wasn’t easy, but it was simple. He had a plan to go into San Francisco politics when he returned. He was sure it was possible for an honest patriot to affect change in his City, and ultimately his Country. He was a most unusual young man.” Denis was killed in Vietnam on October 10, 1967.
As young mother and widow, Patty was courageous and determined to create a wonderful life for herself and her daughters. Denis’ six sisters became sisters to Patty and were a fixture in the lives of Patty and the girls. Home at this time was in Sonoma, California.
Through the O’Connor sisters, Patty was introduced to Donald Nelson, who was best friends with Brenda O’Connor’s fiancé, Don MacLean. Don and Patty were married on January 4, 1970. Don joyfully became a husband and a father on that same day. Patty and Don were blessed with the birth of their son, Jon Curtis Nelson on March 9, 1971. The years of raising her family in San Rafael, California were happy years for Patty. Patty wanted her three children to have the stability of the same home and long-term friendships for their childhood, as this was not afforded to her. Patty made the San Rafael home a beautiful and comfortable place for the kids to bring their friends all through the years. Patty’s cooking and entertaining were legendary, as were her talents as a gardener, seamstress, and interior decorator. Patty was also fun, athletic and fearless. She planned long family driving vacations and camping adventures, she would play pick-up softball, ride the “flexy” sled down the steep hill in the middle of their street, fly down the ski slopes with her husband and children, hike, bike, power walk, dance, and “aerobicise”. Memories of Patty are not complete without also seeing her more beautiful, elegant and glamorous than a movie star when the situation called.
Patty and Don enjoyed many years of adventure, travel, and time with family and friends. Especially memorable were the holidays and gatherings in their Truckee vacation home. Welcoming their first grandchild, Joey, in 1994, Don and Patty’s next chapter seemed to begin.
Patty would become a widow again on March 11, 1996, when Don suffered a sudden heart attack. Her large network of family and friends provided as much comfort as they could. Later that year, a second grandchild, Marianne, brought joy to Patty. A cancer diagnosis, surgery, and a year of chemotherapy and radiation came next. During these difficult years, we all wondered why Patty was asked to shoulder so many burdens and heartaches. Patty asked, “What does God think I still need to learn?” Her sister-in-law, Sister Nancy O’Connor, replied “Maybe its that God thinks you will teach us”. And we learn from you every day, Patty.
As the O’Connors introduced Patty to Don Nelson, it was Don’s mother, Ann Marie Nelson, who introduced Patty to Arvid Ekenberg, who she would marry on July 7, 2000.
Patty and Arvid created a beautiful life, home and garden in Sonoma. This is where Patty would become a Master Gardener, teach at the library, and showcase their home on the Garden Tour. This is where they would welcome countless birds, where their dear doggies would play, and where they would endeavor to keep the deer from devouring the roses. Their home was a magical land for their grandchildren to explore, discover, and leave no stone unturned. Their home and gardens were the setting for their own wedding, for Elizabeth and Ed Casey’s wedding, for family gatherings, and for Patty’s mother Elizabeth’s Celebration of Life.
We remember Patty also as the smart, sly and witty one who loved to play small jokes on us, who cared so much about us that she would find unique ways to delight us with her words, special cards, crafts, baked goods, and perfectly planned surprises. I see the twinkle in her eyes as she laughs quietly to herself as she is planning her next enchanting move.
Patty is survived by her husband, Arvid Ekenberg, her children: Elizabeth Casey (Ed), Christine Banducci (Mike), Curt Nelson (Christina), her grandchildren: Joseph Banducci, Marianne Banducci, Meagan Casey, Erik Nelson, and Nathan Nelson, her brother Greg (Christine), her sisters-in-law: Kathleen Dargie (Fred), Mary Pratto (Charlie), Brenda MacLean (Don), Colleen Knopf (Tom) , her brothers-in-law: Carl Nelson (Mary), and Dave Nelson (Chris), and her many nieces and nephews who loved her deeply. She was predeceased by her parents, her inlaws, her husband, Captain Denis O’Conner, her husband, Donald Nelson, her sister-in-law, Sister Nancy O’Connor C.S.J, and sister-in-law, Sheila St. Sure.
A Mass will be celebrated on Friday, April 26, 2019 11:00 A.M. at St. Francis Solano Church in Sonoma, followed by a gathering at her Sonoma home.
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