Longtime resident of La Cañada Flintridge, Ann Neilson, passed away unexpectedly after a series of infections on January 9, 2023, at the age of 86. She was surrounded by her family.
Ann was a force of nature and could light up a room just by being in it. She brought her upbeat attitude, smile, and recognizable laugh with her everywhere she went. Her enthusiasm and joy for life spread throughout all that she did, and her loss is felt deeply by her family, friends, and the community that she so loved.
She was born in Manhattan Beach on November 22, 1936, to Helen and Ned Tarkington. From an early age, Ann and her younger brother Al enjoyed family outings and road trips, which inspired in them both a lifelong love of travel and adventure. Ann and Al and their families remained close throughout their lives.
The UCLA Rally Committee — known for producing “card stunts” at football games — is where Ann met her husband Bob. They married in 1957 and moved to La Cañada in 1962 when Bob began his engineering career at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Their family expanded with the births of their children — Beth, Karen, Jim, and Nancy. They had been married for 62 years when Bob passed away in 2020.
Relationships were important to Ann. She was a dedicated and loving mom who connected with each of her children in unique ways. She and Beth enjoyed historic preservation, historical tours, and being docents at Lanterman. She loved helping kindergartners in Karen’s class where kids were amazed that there were two Ms. Neilson’s. She and Jim spent lots of time together at the LCF float site and on the couch cheering on favorite football teams. She went to any event where Nancy played drums — and there have been a lot — and they shared a love of music.
As a grandmother, she celebrated Emily’s art in all its forms — children’s books, films, and miniature fabrication. She enjoyed watching Gillian grow and begin her own path in life as a college freshman.
Ann always made time for friends. For decades, she hiked and explored with the Gypsy Trails group, enjoyed summer music events, had many “breakfast meetings,” bridge group nights, and met friends for walks in Descanso. Ann loved Verdugo exercise class, Friday Night dinners, and on Mondays, she’d be at Los Gringos with the Margarita Monday gals from LCHS. Ann’s life was full of friends, laughter, and wonderful memories — right up to the end.
She was a role model in balancing employment, home life, friendships, and community service. Ann worked with La Cañada Unified Schools for 25 years. She loved weeklong trips with 6th-graders in Angeles National Forest, teaching for the Outdoor Environmental Program. She served many years as the textbook coordinator, where she joined forces with the PTA to “lighten the load” of students by supplying secondary sets of textbooks in classrooms. She also moved the textbook library — twice. Ann was a familiar face as a chaperone on many high school band trips.
As an active member of the LCF community, Ann was a trusted, tireless, and cheerful leader who was “willing to step in and take the big jobs.” Organizations she gave her time and talent to were many, including the PTA, Coordinating Counsel, Scholarship League, Church of the lighted Window, Mt. Wilson Vista Girl Scout Council, Girl Scouts of Los Angeles, Tournament of Roses, Lanterman Historical Museum Foundation, and the Assistance League of Flintridge.
Ann received many accolades over her life, including the 28th Congressional District Woman of the Year (Adam Schiff), the Girl Scouts of Greater L.A. Visionary Award, the LCF Coordinating Council Les Tupper Award, and Los Angeles City and County proclamations of thanks for her dedicated service to the community of LCF.
For 50 years, Ann worked tirelessly with Girl Scouts, where many knew her by her “camp” name, “Ladybug.” Ann directed weekend camps at Camp Singing Pines and held roles as service unit chair, president of the board at Mt. Wilson Vista Girl Scout Council, director and co-director of LCF G.S. Summer Day Camps, and co-organized the 100th anniversary Girl Scout float for the 2012 Tournament of Roses Parade.
As a founding member of the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association, Ann served as president for several winning floats. She fondly remembered her first float and stuffing the family van full of Christmas trees needed to cover the float base. Every year, from Christmas to New Year’s, Ann was “under the bridge” trying to stay warm and catching up with friends who came to see or work on the float.
Ann believed in historic preservation and was a founding member of Lanterman Historic Museum Foundation. She served as a board member until June 2022 and was a cheerful docent for more than two decades. As part of the “Oral History Project,” a recording of Ann’s memories of living, working, and volunteering in LCF are permanently archived in the museum.
Assistance League of Flintridge was a perfect match for Ann’s belief in giving back to the community. She chaired numerous committees and served as president from 2020-2021 during the challenging times of COVID 19. She was a regular Bargain Box volunteer and loved the summer school programs — especially handing out musical instruments to the youth in LCF.
Ann will be remembered for her kindness, her generosity, her positive outlook, her hearty laugh, her wisdom, her welcoming style, her love of sunsets, and her colorful scarves.
Ann is survived by brother Al Tarkington (Stephanie); son Jim; daughters Beth, Karen (Nicole Matthew), Nancy (Pam Griffith); and granddaughters Emily Neilson (Jay Richmond) and Gillian O’Neal.
A celebration of life will be held at the La Cañada Community Church (Church of the Lighted Window) on April 29th at 2 p.m., with a reception immediately following.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to one of Ann’s favorite local organizations which include Assistance League of Flintridge, Lanterman Historic Museum Foundation, La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses, or local Girl Scouts.
First published in the March 9 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.