Third in a series of pioneer profiles
When you love the place you live, introducing it to others is a pleasure.
And for 21 years, Lois Arneson did just that: as a Welcome Wagon hostess, she was one of the first points of contact for Nelson’s new arrivals.
“It’s very interesting because you meet all sorts of people from all different areas of the world,” she says. “And a lot of them became friends.”
For the last three years, she welcomed all comers, but prior to that primarily looked after the baby program, and greeted newborns at the hospital — over 2,000 of them.
“It was maybe ten a month, times 12 months, times 18 years,” she says.
Arneson isn’t the only Welcome Wagon hostess with remarkable longevity: Edna Whiteley, who recruited her, did it for 44 years before retiring. Frances Welwood has been at it for 26 years.
Only Valerie Lidford is a recent recruit, taking over from Arneson.
“Welcome Wagon was always very pleased with us because we had such a stable workforce,” she says. “We enjoyed it, were all very keen about our town, and felt we were ambassadors promoting all the good things about Nelson, which we were happy to do.”
Arneson is a life-long resident.
Her parents, Bert and Jeanne Whimster, arrived here in the early 1920s. Her father was a printer at the Daily News, and then bought out W.H. Jones commercial printing in the bottom of the Madden Hotel.
“My dad belonged to every organization in town so they all had to have their printing done at H.M. Whimster,” she says. “He did very well and was very proud of his business.”
Soon after her birth in 1928, the family moved to 3rd Street in Fairview, where Arneson and her elder sister (well known in Trail as Muriel Griffiths) were raised.
They also had a “wonderful” cottage at Crescent Bay called No-Eats — which her father wryly named because there was always plenty to eat.
“He absolutely adored this cottage by the lake. The more people that came, the better he liked it,” she says. “So he had the place filled.”
The cottage was a popular destination for her friends, and as she and her sister got older, their families.
Both girls attended UBC. Lois graduated in 1950, then worked at the provincial health lab in Vancouver for a year, before returning to the Kootenay and commuting from Nelson to the C.S. Williams clinic in Trail by bus.
“There were many buses in those days between Trail and Nelson,” she says. “If you missed one, there was always another.”
After Arneson’s father died in 1951, her mother ran the printing business a further ten years, but when the Madden block was demolished to make way for a new Woolworth’s, she had to move to the rear of the Medical Arts building, where Kölmel Jewelry is now.
In addition to her long service with the Welcome Wagon, Arneson has contributed years of volunteer work to a myriad of organizations such as the Overture Concert Society, University Women’s Club, Touchstones Museum, West Kootenay Music Festival, and United Church.
(Although she took music and dancing lessons, she does not consider herself a musician: “I enjoy music, but somebody has to be in the audience.”)
Her retirement from the Welcome Wagon ranks was marked with a luncheon this month.
“I was born and raised here, my children were born and raised here, and their children were born and raised here, more or less. So I am very fond of my little town,” she says. “It was a wonderful job. I think this is a special place and love telling other people about it.”