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Elizabeth Emily Gedney Christensen ’38

A picture of Elizabeth Gedney Christensen

Elizabeth Emily Gedney Christensen ’38, October 22, 2011, in Lompoc, California. Bess grew up in Orchards, Washington, losing her father to the Spanish influenza when she was two. She enrolled as a member of the inaugural class of Clark Junior College in Vancouver. There she met and fell in love with Harold E. Christensen. Concerned about the financial challenges the couple might face during the Great Depression, Bess’ mother forced them to part. Bess went on to Reed and completed a BA in English. “My appreciation for my years at Reed is very great, in the opportunity to study with fine professors and bright, serious students,” she wrote. After graduation, Bess taught at the Washington State School for the Blind, worked at the Clark County Sun newspaper, and was an old-age assistance worker for the Clark County Welfare Department. During World War II, she worked at the Kaiser shipyard in Vancouver. After the war, she visited her brother in New York City and returned to Vancouver by tramp steamer through the Panama Canal. In 1948, she and Hal were reunited and married. A year later, Bess completed an MA in English from the University of Washington and began a 38-year career in editorial research for the American College Dictionary (Random House). She was assigned periodicals to read in search of new words, new usages, and variant spellings—it was a portable career and the perfect complement to Hal’s career in the air force. After years of relocating, Bess and Hal settled in Lompoc, California, in 1975. They were active volunteers in the community, and Bess continued her volunteer work after Hal’s death in 2000. She served on the Lompoc General Plan Advisory Committee for 10 years and was a founding member of the Lompoc Valley Botanical and Horticultural Society and a member of the boards of the Lompoc Museum and the Lompoc Library Foundation. She was vice chair of the North County Citizens Planning Association and served on the Lompoc City Blue Ribbon Committee and on the city Water and Utilities Commission. Bess was a regular contributor to the “Forward View” column of the Lompoc Record and was a member of its citizen editorial board. She edited the book A Naturalist at Play in Coastal California and Beyond, and also wrote Acres of Loveliness: The Flower Seed Industry in Lompoc Valley. Bess received many awards and honors for her civic involvement. Among these were the 1995 Lompoc Woman of the Year, the 2003 La Purisima Audubon Society Linda Sehgal Conservation Award, the 2006 Lompoc Flower Festival Parade Grand Marshal, the 2007 SBCAN Northern County Giving Back to the Community Award, and the 2009 Citizens Planning Association Community Asset Award. She also received the Clark College Foundation Presidential Award for Excellence in 2010. Bess and Hal had one daughter, Christina, who survives them.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2012

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