Dale was tough, tender-hearted

 

Nellie Dale, a tough but caring bartender and longtime volunteer for the American Legion Auxiliary, died March 7 of blood cancer in Redding, Calif. She was 84.

Dale was in the care of her daughter, LeEtta Ricker, for about two years. A local memorial service is pending.

Christy Tengs Fowler, co-owner of the Pioneer, said she adored Dale. "When I was growing up, my Dad kept a gun behind the bar to keep the peace, then a billy club, then an electric cattle prod, then Nellie Dale. She could manage a whole crowd of wild men with her tongue. She'd cut them to the quick."

Dale also crocheted lap-sized afghans for disabled veterans, prepared feasts for community fundraisers, canned and gave away jars of her "dilly" green beans, and loved to dance and socialize.

She worked at the former Riptide bar and Fogcutter bar before spending about 20 years behind the Pioneer Bar.

Tengs Fowler, a songwriter, kept a file of Dale's many witticisms for material, sayings like, "Better go to the blood bank and have your eyeballs drained."

"Mom also used to say, 'I'm hell when I'm well and I'm never sick.' I don't think she ever was ill until she was 79," said daughter-in-law Robin Mize.

Auxiliary member Doris Bell said Dale was hard working and fun to be around and that her sometimes tough talk was a habit born of self-preservation. "Nellie wasn't crass. That side of her was just part of the territory of being a bartender back in her day."


Dale was dedicated to the Auxiliary, traveled to state and national events, helped with educational programs like Girls State and the spelling bee, and would rise at 3 a.m. to prepare meals for American Legion fundraisers and celebrations.

For decades she managed the cash box at the annual Fourth of July breakfast, and brought the salads and sides to weekly hamburger feeds. "I think she just loved her country, and she always stuck up for the underdog," daughter-in-law Mize said. "She was extremely honored and proud of the work she did for the Legion. It was a huge part of her life. She wore her Legion vest like armor."

Dale leaves her 37-year dance partner Gene Martin of Haines. The pair never married but called the home they shared "The Martindale House." "They were one of those couples who were very good friends and enjoyed each other's company," Bell said.

Nellie Berniece Sheffield was born in Jackson, Wyo. on Aug. 11, 1930 to Geurtrude Berniece and Edward Layman Sheffield. She grew up in Wyoming and northern California. Her father, a construction worker, died in a fall from a building when she was 17. "It was a real blow. She had to look after her two brothers after that," Mize said.


She married after high school and had three children and several husbands. She often worked two jobs, and bought a tavern.

In the late 1960s, Dale followed family to Haines and began working as a bartender with her future daughter-in-law. Robin Mize said tending bar in Alaska in the 1970s was an education.

"I've seen (Dale) punch a guy across the bar. She had her back broken trying to break up a fight. She didn't tolerate a whole lot. But the way she handled herself was amazing. She wasn't mean. She was just matter of fact about all of it," Mize said.

"Nellie was a powerhouse. I think of her as the bionic woman. She was so sassy and sweet. She was one of a kind, that's for sure," Tengs Fowler said.

Dale's brothers David and Layman Sheffield preceded her in death. She is survived by her partner Gene Martin of Haines, children Layman Mize of Laclede, Idaho, Bo Mize of Goodyear, Ariz., and LeEtta Ricker of Redding, Calif .; eight grandchildren and several great grandchildren.

Donations in Nellie Dale's memory can be made the American Legion Auxiliary P.O. Box 452, Haines, 99827 or to the Haines Animal Rescue Kennel, P.O. Box 1533.

 
 

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