When Connie Hellyer and her husband donated 535 acres for a wildlife park in Eatonville more than 40 years ago, they wanted children and families to experience Northwest animals in a natural setting.
That gift from Connie and her late husband, Dr. David Hellyer, lives on as Northwest Trek.
Connie Hellyer died Friday in Tacoma. She was 97.
Her husband, who died in 2006, came up with the concept for Northwest Trek, said their eldest of three daughters, Constance Hellyer of Seattle.
“It was his idea,” Constance Hellyer said. “She threw herself into it.”
For years, Connie Hellyer was a volunteer guide and teacher at Northwest Trek’s Cheney Family Discovery Center. In a talk at Northwest Trek last year, Hellyer recalled showing her first garter snake.
“One day, the volunteer who showed them to the children had to go out and asked me to do it,” she said. “I was too embarrassed to say I’d never touched a snake.”
What had begun as a gift to Metro Parks Tacoma turned into a regional draw.
“Northwest Trek is a regional asset,” Constance Hellyer said. “It pleased them (her parents) that it helped attract people to the Northwest and foster an appreciation of Northwest native plants and animals and nature in general.”
Connie Hellyer died at Tacoma’s Laurel House, the assisted-living facility of Narrows Glen retirement community.
She and her husband, a pediatrician, were married in 1936.
Besides her work with Northwest Trek, Connie Hellyer was a booster of music and the arts in Tacoma.
She was on the first board of directors for the Tacoma Philharmonic and helped lead Allied Arts of Tacoma. Hellyer had studied classical piano and wanted to see the arts flourish in Tacoma.
“She wanted to see children exposed to and enjoy the arts,” Constance Hellyer said. “She was my first piano teacher.”
While her legacy includes Northwest Trek, Constance Hellyer remembered a more personal side to her mother.
“She had a gift for making people feel special, for seeing that each person was special,” Constance Hellyer said. “There was just a great abiding kindness about her. She gave everyone the benefit of the doubt and brought out the best in them.”
Connie Hellyer’s survivors include her three daughters, Constance Hellyer, Dorothy Oliver of Puyallup and Tirrell Kimball of New Gloucester, Maine.
Plans for a memorial service are firstname.lastname@example.org