Elinore “Onnie” Jacobsen

Elinore Jane Jacobsen, 93, died peacefully at the Ketchikan Pioneer Home on October 26, 2021. 

Born in Minocqua, Wisconsin in 1928, Elinore was the second child of Elinore and Frank Birkholz. Her two younger siblings (twins, Barbara and John Robert) had trouble saying “Elinore” as toddlers, shortening it to “Onnie” – a nickname that stuck with the twins and her older sister Rosemary and is still used by extended Birkholz family today. After graduating from Minocqua High School in 1946 where she was a basketball player, cheerleader, member of the debate team and yearbook staff, Elinore attended nursing school at St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago, Illinois.

With her RN degree in hand, she moved first to Aspen, Colorado where she specifically chose to work the night shift. Once off duty, she’d head straight to the slopes in her V12 convertible Studebaker and ski all day, coming off the slopes in time for a quick rest before heading back to the hospital for work. Sunnier climates eventually lured her to San Francisco, where she took up private nursing, caring for wealthy arts patrons and families in the Bay Area. 

In 1957 her sister Barbara, still in Minocqua, eloped with a young man and moved to Ketchikan. At her parent’s insistence that she “go to Alaska, get your sister and bring her home,” Elinore left San Francisco, arriving in Ketchikan in 1958. It was there she met Robert R. Gore, son of Judge Lester and Irene duHamel Gore. Married in 1959, Elinore and Bob had and raised three daughters: Mary Gabrielle, Jennifer Adele, and Anne Marie. 

Elinore continued with her nursing career after the girls were born, starting at Ketchikan General Hospital as a floor nurse. It was there she cared for a child who eventually died as a result of abuse suffered at home. Both angry and sad, Elinore started researching child abuse reporting laws around the nation. She drafted bills, lobbied numerous Alaska legislators and helped shape what eventually became the first state law requiring medical personnel mandatory reporters of abuse. 

Elinore left Ketchikan General when the school nursing position opened up at White Cliff Elementary. While the girls attended Holy Name, having the same schedule allowed Elinore to be at home during the summer. That meant long, relaxed days at Bugge Beach and Clover Pass on sunny days; puzzles, tea parties and watching over a basement full of neighborhood friends on rainy days.

In 1973 Elinore started work at the Ketchikan Public Health Center, then located on Park Avenue. Shortly thereafter she was accepted to, and completed an accelerated Advanced Nurse Practitioner Program in Torrance, California. After returning to Ketchikan, she completed a gynecologic mentorship under Dr. Richard Babcock, OB/GYN and then transitioned into the role of Advanced Nurse Practitioner/Women’s Health Care Specialist for the State of Alaska. Elinore both loved her work, and also used it as a starting place for endless lectures around the dinner table, which while informative, mostly embarrassed her teenage daughters and any friends within earshot. With time, the girls all learned to simply roll their eyes and say “What lecture number is this?” when Elinore would start dinner with “I saw something interesting at work today,” before serving up spaghetti and a discussion about syphilis. 

After a rich and rewarding public health career, Elinore retired in 1989, but far from resting on her laurels, she was busier than ever identifying community needs and working to find solutions. Most notably, Elinore was a driving force behind getting Stedman Street and Thomas Basin included in the National Register of Historic Places. She spent time traveling with her husband Jake through Eastern Russia and the Panama Canal, and with her grandchildren through Finland, the Baltic region, Ireland and Scotland. Always curious, she took community education classes in calligraphy, Chinese cooking, landscaping and gardening. A breast cancer survivor for 47 years, she was active in the Ketchikan chapter of the American Cancer Society and First City Council on Cancer. She was active in Toastmasters, the Pioneers of Alaska (even serving as Grand President in 1969), the P.E.O. Sisterhood, and was a 63-year member of Holy Name Catholic Church congregation. 

Aside from her busy career and personal and community engagements, one of Elinore’s favorite things was to watch the waterfront activity on Tongass Narrows from the dining room of her Second Avenue home. No matter the season, she loved watching all the boats, sea planes and jets coming and going from the dining room windows, a view she claimed “was everchanging.” In the summertime when one or all three of the family boats (the Jennifer A, the Brenna A, and the Elinore J) were in town, the dining room would be filled with up to 25 people enjoying a crowded dinner. Most were family, but those who weren’t became like family through Elinore’s gracious inclusiveness.

Asked more than once what she considered her greatest achievement, Elinore proudly stated it was her three daughters and the fact they truly loved each other. While their mother’s strength, independence and compassion certainly guided the girls, they joke that the best of them can be traced directly back to “Dining Room Table Lecture #479,602” or any one of the “Mom-ilies” she delivered through the decades in person, on the phone while away at college, or via email as they started their own lives and families away from Ketchikan. 

Elinore was preceded in death by her husband, Jack P. Jacobsen; brother John Robert Birkholz; sisters Rosemary Shaney and Barbara Patrick; former husband Robert Gore; and son-in-law Pat Dwyer. She is survived by her beloved daughters, Mary Gore (Bryan) Schroder and Anne Gore, of Anchorage, and Jennifer Gore Dwyer, of Kenmore, WA, all of whom lovingly disobeyed their mother’s specific request “..upon my demise I want a short obituary.” Additional survivors include her grandchildren, Brenna Dwyer of Bozeman, MT; Sean (Bri and great-grandaughter Blakely) Dwyer of Edmonds, WA; Jack Schroder of Anchorage; Tate and Luka Hart and their father, Dave Hart, all of Anchorage; Melynda (Jan Schwier and daughter Marlene) Gierard whom she often referred to as her “fourth daughter,” and by an extended network of loving nieces and nephews throughout Alaska, the Lower 48 and abroad. 

Donations to honor Elinore’s legacy can be directed to Holy Name Catholic Church (433 Jackson Street), Pioneer Hall Restoration Project (POA Igloo #7, P.O. Box 5026) or the Ketchikan Pioneer Home/Activities Dept. (411 Bryant Street). There will be a Mass of Christian Burial at Holy Name Catholic Church at 3 p.m. March 30, 2022, and a reception in the Parish Hall afterwards. All are welcome. 

Beautiful mama, grandma, great-grandma, wife, sister, friend, mentor and colleague, Elinore – Onnie Jane – you are forever in our hearts.