Nelly Afina Monteith died peacefully in her Salt Lake City home in the early morning hours of Thursday, January 23, 2020, at age 87. She was born on January 1, 1933, to Gerrit Poppen and Greitje Poppen (nee Kooij). Her father was the village butcher in Hippolytushoef, in North Holland on the North Sea. The family’s home and shop was a center of community activity, hosting visitors and customers all day. Nel shared many stories of the German occupation, which began when she was 7 and lasted until she was 12. During high school, she was her father’s bookkeeper, a practice that may have instilled her lifelong habits of letter writing and of documenting almost everything, including VOLUMES of family photo albums. She delivered meat all over the island by bicycle in the company of her beloved German shepherd Lux, who had been abandoned by Nazi soldiers. She loved to read, study languages, and ride horses. She was the first in her family to even attend high school, and graduated speaking English, French, German, and Dutch. Her reading also contributed to a strong sense of adventure and, as her niece once observed, a feeling that Holland was just too small for her.
Nel first left Holland to be an au pair in Paris, where she attended the Alliance Francaise. After a year in France, she returned to Amsterdam for nursing school, graduating second in her class. Nursing became her gateway to the world. At that time, the Dutch government encouraged emigration, and, in 1958, it paid for a plane ticket and landing money for her to work in Canada. She later moved to San Francisco, where she met her future husband, Richard Charles Monteith. They married in 1965, and soon moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they had two children, Nancy and Michael. They divorced in 1978, and Nel returned to work full time as a nurse on the medical, ICU, and psychiatry units. She retired in 1990.
Once retired, Nel hosted a steady stream of Dutch visitors who were awed by New Mexico’s vast desert landscapes, not to mention America’s immense buffet lunches. One of those visitors was Herman, her high school sweetheart who had emigrated to New Zealand. Rekindling a romantic friendship, they spent nearly 15 years traveling in the US and New Zealand. They also spent several months each year in Den Oever, Wieringen, near where they grew up. Nel said it felt like they’d never left.
In 2015, Nel Moved to Salt Lake City to be closer to Nancy (in Salt Lake) and Michael (in Burley, Idaho). One of her favorite Utah places was the Great Salt Lake, which reminded her of the North Sea. Nel was open to new people, ideas, and experiences, and she was unafraid to start again in a new place. She is preceded in death by her parents, her sister, Miek Huizinga, and Herman Lont. She is survived by her daughter Nancy Monteith (Alex Wells), her son Michael Monteith, and her granddaughter Kylie Monteith. She leaves behind lifelong friends in California, New Mexico, and the Netherlands. Her humor and wit will be missed. She often recalled her elementary school teacher’s advice to enjoy life’s little things; she was a master of this.
Her family will return to the Netherlands to bring her ashes to the North Sea, the setting of so many of her stories and a place with a wide-open view.