- About Us
Gretchen was born in Spalding, NE at a difficult moment in the country’s history. Not quite a baby boomer, she was born at the end of the Great Depression, and only a year and a half prior to the US entrance into WWII. She was the oldest child of Harm Timmer, an immigrant from the Nieuweschans area of Holland, and Opal Kasselder, a young farm girl from the Sand Hills of Nebraska. Harm was a Presbyterian minister, and Opal became a 3rd grade teacher in addition to teaching piano and playing for church. The family grew over the years, with the additions of Gretchen’s siblings Charles, Lillian, Jon and Jeane.
Gretchen had fond memories of living in the manse connected to the church in Manila, IA, of being taught in a one-room school house in Divide Center, NE, of listening to her mother teach piano lessons in their home (which is how she developed perfect pitch), and of her father raising bees for honey and extra income during the Depression.
Eventually, the family settled in the small town of Osmond NE, where Gretchen’s father was the minister at the First Presbyterian Church and Osmond United Methodist Church, and where Gretchen started playing for church services as an 8th grader. Gretchen graduated from high school in Osmond, and went on to attend Hastings College (1957-1961), obtaining a bachelor's degree in music education and keyboard performance.
While at Hastings, she met Ron Nelson of North Platte, NE. After marrying right after Gretchen’s graduation, they moved to Omaha, NE, where Gretchen taught high school music at Westside Schools (1961-1964), while Ron attended medical school. When Gretchen was 24 years old, they welcomed their daughter Elizabeth into the world. They moved to Minneapolis during Ron’s medical residency, and then to the Azores Islands while he was in the Air Force. Eventually, they moved back to Nebraska, where Ron established his primary care practice in Scottsbluff, NE. Gretchen worked for many years as the organist and choir director at First Presbyterian Church of Scottsbluff (1966-1975), and directed The Oratorio Society.
In the mid-1970s, Gretchen became the director of the League of Arts in Scottsbluff, and the first arts director for western Nebraska under a statewide program to support the arts. In that capacity, she helped bring to schools in that part of the state gifted artists-in-residence, and also facilitated bringing Chautauqua to Scottsbluff, when that historic educational assembly was revived in Nebraska.
Gretchen was widowed in 1975, when Ron took his own life, leaving her a single parent – a circumstance about which she never once complained. She was a dedicated mother, and worked hard to provide a good home and experiences for her daughter. Gretchen and Elizabeth moved to Lincoln NE shortly after, where Gretchen pursued her master’s degree in music education and piano at the University of Nebraska, and taught elementary music at Beattie and West Lincoln elementary schools.
Gretchen married Don Jacks in 1979, and they moved permanently to Denver, CO in 1988. Gretchen taught elementary music at High Plains Elementary in the Cherry Creek school district for 24 years. After they divorced, Gretchen remained in Denver, continuing to teach.
Although Gretchen retired from teaching in 2006, she missed making sacred music and music with children, and became a treasured collaborative accompanist with the Young Voices of Colorado from 2006-2017, as well as conducting the children’s/youth choirs at St. John’s Cathedral from 2007-2011. In 2011, she took the position of music director at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Lakewood, CO, where she worked through 2015. During that time, she was first diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, and eventually needed to take time off to regain her strength. She became the music director at St. James Episcopal Church in Wheat Ridge, CO in February 2017 (a new job at age 76!), where she took pride in re-establishing the choir and organizing a recital to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the installation of the church’s organ.
Throughout her life, music was at the heart of Gretchen’s life and passions, spanning classical, sacred music, and folk music. She cherished her granddaughter Leela, and also loved traveling to Europe and New Zealand, US politics, the British royal family, and learning about meditation and enlightenment. She got joy from entertaining, making things beautiful, teaching in any (and every) setting, getting things precisely right and organized, and taking on the world in a spirit of celebration and childlike wonder. She had a deep feeling for the welfare of children and those who are in some way vulnerable in the world, giving dedicated support to organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, Native American Rights Fund, even Longhopes Donkey Shelter (in Bennett, CO). Gretchen enjoyed her long friendships as part of the Hastings College “Scharf Reunion Choir” (which Gretchen had organized since the mid-1980s), Colorado Public Radio’s movie club, and the Denver chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
Eventually, however, breast cancer metastasized to Gretchen’s brain. She made a valiant comeback from brain surgery to remove a large tumor in 2017. After two reasonably good years, her health declined rapidly due to another, inoperable brain tumor. She stated often that she was unafraid to die, and indeed made clear that she was looking forward to whatever adventure might come next for her soul. She died very peacefully, with family at her side, in a space filled with roses, frankincense and love.
Gretchen is survived by her daughter Elizabeth Nelson, her son-in-law Cristian Perez-Cobo, her granddaughter Leela Perez-Cobo, her brothers and sisters, and her beloved dog Maddie.
A memorial service will be held at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver (1350 N. Washington St.) on Saturday, May 11th at 2pm, followed by a reception. Please share this information with others who may want to attend.
Donations in Gretchen’s memory can be made by check to any of the following:
St. James Episcopal Church
Young Voices of Colorado
Please write the organization as the payee, put “Donation in memory of Gretchen Timmer” in the memo line, and send to: Elizabeth Nelson, 2285 South Saint Paul St., Denver CO 80210. Any additional questions, please contact: Elizabeth via firstname.lastname@example.org