Cover photo for Elaine Tollefson's Obituary
Elaine Tollefson Profile Photo
1918 Elaine 2015

Elaine Tollefson

December 10, 1918 — August 8, 2015

Elaine Margaret Cowan Tollefson, renowned bridge player, talented artist, rabid Nebraska football fan, wanna-be Norwegian, and first-class flirt, joined her beloved husband in the afterlife on August 8, 2015.
Born in Luverne, Minnesota, on December 10, 1918, Elaine wasted no time occupying herself with many adventures, trouble-making and upholding her promise of keeping her parents and younger sister, Lylis, wondering what she was going to do next. While her family ran concessions for a summer carnival in South Dakota, her mother found her playing with her new friends in the side-show: “the bearded girl” and “the lizard-skin boy.” Her love of finding unexpected friendships in unusual places continued throughout her life. Her openness to people from all backgrounds kept her stimulated and surrounded by love all of her 96 years.
One day, a handsome young Norwegian band teacher fell in love with the pies at Elaine’s family restaurant. He couldn’t help notice the stunningly beautiful and sassy waitress who’d serve the pies with a wink and a nod. Thus started a love affair that grew stronger each of its 65 years. Elaine married A.T. “Tolle” Tollefson on August 6, 1937.
Elaine’s thirst for adventure landed the couple in the middle of the most secretive and world-altering government projects in American history. She sent Tolle’s resume to an ad she saw in a Chicago newspaper calling for chemists. His work on the Manhattan Project kept the Tollefsons, including new daughter Mary Eda Tollefson (Vap), born in 1941, moving around the country.
After the war, the couple returned to small-town life, following some friends to Nebraska where there just happened to be an opening for a band teacher. Their family of three grew to a quartet with the birth of Thea Tollefson on May 26, 1947. The Tollefsons filled the big pink Queen Anne on Lake Avenue with parties, family gatherings and countless bridge games. The Ernest A. Calling House was added to the National Register of Historic Homes in 1979 based, in no small part, on Elaine’s careful care.
In Gothenburg, the Tollefson family found a welcoming and enduring home. Elaine joined P.E.O. chapter AW and the family attended the American Lutheran Church. Tolle eventually opened a grocery and clothing store. Kampfe and Tollefson held down the corner of 10th Street and Lake Avenue until Tolle retired in 1974.
Elaine became an award-winning painter as a member of the Gothenburg Art Guild. Her paintings continue to brighten the homes of every member of her family. She also helped Gothenburg win an honor from the Nebraska Community Improvement Program with her work on a scrapbook about the city’s strength and growth, something she supported and believed in until the day she died.
Besides Tolle, the biggest love of Elaine’s life was bridge. She sometimes played several times a week. She kept many clubs in Gothenburg lively with her sometimes “unorthodox” understanding of the rules.
In her later years, she moved to the Stone Hearth Estates assisted living center. There, she thrived with her frequent walks down the hall for their wonderful meals. She appreciated the fact they made her bacon and toast the way she liked it: burnt. It’s also where she enjoyed bible study, bridge, happy hour and her giant whirlpool bath tub.  She died in her room on August 8, 2015, with her daughter Mary and dedicated staff by her side.
Elaine is preceded in death by her husband Tolle; daughters Thea, Margaret and Lylis; parents Ida and Willis Cowan; and niece Karen Tollefson.
Elaine is survived by her daughter Mary and husband Doug Vap of McCook, NE; granddaughter Nicole Vap, her husband Drew Sidener and their daughters Zelda and Harper of Denver, CO; her grandson Aaron, his wife Alicia, and their children Eleanor and Elliot Vap of Minneapolis, MN; sister Lylis Bowden and her family of San Diego, CA, and numerous friends who will miss her at bridge and by their sides drinking red-beer during Nebraska Football games.

Visitation will be held at Blase-Strauser Memorial Chapel, Gothenburg, Nebraska; Wednesday, August 12, 2015, 1:00 pm - 8:00 pm.

Services will be held at American Lutheran Church, Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 10:30 am with Pastor Jon Mapa officiating.

Interment will be in the Maplewood Cemetery, in Luverne, MN, next to her husband.

Memorials may be given to the American Lutheran Church, 1512 Avenue G, Gothenburg, NE 69138.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Elaine Tollefson, please visit our flower store.


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