Olga “Ollie” Nellis
Olga “Ollie” Nellis was born on September 18, 1924 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to Wasyl (Bill) and Anastasia (Nastia or Nettie) Swystun, immigrants from Eastern Galicia (now Ukraine).
Bill ran a regional bus line where Ollie would help with operations when she wasn’t diligently practicing violin, with younger sister Stephanie nearby.
After graduating from Gordon Bell High School in Hazelridge, Manitoba and briefly attending the University of Manitoba, Ollie met a dashing RCAF navigator named Cliff Nellis, whom she married in 1945. Ten months later she gave birth to their beloved son, Bryan.
Within a year the family ventured west to Vancouver, BC, where (along with Bill) Ollie and Cliff owned and operated a coffee shop and a rooming house.
Dreams of sunny California beckoned. Ollie, Cliff, and Bryan moved to Ontario, CA in December 1953. Ollie taught music and played violin with the Claremont Symphony Orchestra for many years, while also catering to Bryan and the family dog Sable. Frequently poolside.
Ollie and Cliff divorced in 1974. Ollie moved to Santa Barbara (and then Carpinteria) to be closer to Bryan, his wife Michel, and their children Ann and Doug (“Annie and Dougie” to grandma).
Newly single, Ollie focused on a career. As it turns out, assisting her dad at the bus company was a kind of internship, and Ollie began working as a travel agent, first at Ask Mr. Foster, and then at Your Travel Center, where she was an office manager for several years. She didn’t fully retire until May 2000—it’s hard to give up those travel perks!
Ollie LOVED to travel. Through Egypt, India, China, Kenya, Malaysia, Australia, Poland, Panama, Russia, and more. She visited every continent except Antarctica, drinking a few martinis (or the local equivalent) and making new friends on each.
In her final decade, Ollie’s brain slowly fell victim to dementia. Unable to live on her own any longer, she moved to Seattle to be near grandson Doug and his wife, Susan.
Dementia is no picnic, but those final years were more comedy than tragedy. Visits to the symphony. Conversations with goldfish. And lots of laughter. As she moved through assisted living and memory care, caregivers would tell family, “We’re not supposed to have favorites, but Ollie is my favorite.”
Although her memory slipped away, her spirit and sense of humor never wavered. She was smiling and joking until her final days. Ollie Nellis passed away on November 20, 2022 of something that can only be described as “old age.”
Lower the curtain and cue the orchestra. It was a good run.