Obituary of Elsie Heinz
Elsie (Wlasichuk) Heinz, 84, of Tucson, Arizona, passed away January 26, 2023 in her home surrounded by her family. She was in hospice care after an aggressive lung cancer was discovered just 10 days prior.
She was born on a homestead farm in Veregin, Saskatchewan to Steve and Madeline Wlasichuck on July 28, 1938 as the third child of four siblings Stan, Mildred and Len. She grew up in a small Ukrainian and Russian Doukhobor community. She went to school in a single-room, schoolhouse called Tolstoy School-Number 6. She developed her deep compassion for life and living things when, as a little girl, she took care of all the pets on the farm. She especially loved her cats.
At 16 years old, her parents sold the farm and they moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she graduated from Isaac Newton High School in 1956. She was a track star who gained the nickname of “The Weasel '' as a hurdler. She spent the evenings and weekends working at a local movie theater. She would then attend one year of local business college, but due to money constraints in the family, she couldn’t finish and ended up working for Northstar Oil doing clerical work.
An adventurous spirit at heart, Elsie left home and immigrated to the United States, landing in Milwaukee in 1967 as a medical administrator for a Pathology Practice. In 1968, she would meet Merrill Heinz. The fire that burned between them kept them warm in the Wisconsin winters, as Merrill drove Elsie around in his VW Bug that didn’t have heat. They married in Sussex, Wisconsin August 7, 1971. Elsie established herself as a gravitational center for the community she would continuously cultivate. She developed life-long friendships and brought people together from all walks of life: neighbors, bar-owners, service workers, housewives, co-workers, technicians, doctors, and corporate executives.
In 1972, Merrill took a position overseas and they moved to Hong Kong. While Merrill worked at the plant, Elsie loved going into the bustling local markets with her amah, Ah Fung, to shop for food. Ah Fung taught her how to cook authentic Cantonese cuisine from her family’s recipes. In 1974, they moved to Taipei, Taiwan and moved into their first house. After cutting her teeth in the markets of Hong Kong, she would wrangle the local markets in Taipei on her own. She enjoyed entertaining others with her newfound culinary skills and evenings of playing Bridge.
In 1976, Merrill was transferred to Mexico City. Elsie spent her days exploring the city, walking their dog Pogo. Elsie connected the expat community by continuing to entertain at home cooking meals. She loved exploring in and around Mexico City in the wonderful museums and archaeological wonders. She organized her friends to advocate for and visit American citizens who were incarcerated in Mexico. In 1977, they had their first and only child, Douglas Heinz.
The next 18 years, Merrill’s career would take the family from El Paso, TX to Myrtle Beach, SC, Oak Ridge, NJ, Tucson, AZ and then Devon PA.
For the first 14 years of Doug’s life, Elsie was a stay-at-home mom. She loved being a mother. She did all of the routine things like driving Doug around to sports practices, guitar lessons and friends houses, while having to endure the sounds of Doug’s constant obsession with Van Halen and Iron Maiden coming from either the car speakers and his bedroom stereo. She often drove him and his friends to concerts. She was always up for hosting sleepovers and cheering Doug on at all of his various sporting events. Her love and nurturing extended far beyond her son, to his friends, their parents, coaches, teachers and anyone who came into their orbit. She made everyone feel like they had a safe and warm place to just land and be themselves.
Everywhere she went, Elsie made friends and would bring people together with her authentic 7-course Chinese meals once a year, as well as regular evening dinner parties.
In 1993, Elsie would return to work as a Medical Administrative Assistant. She would end up working for Bryn Mawr Rehab retiring in 2005. Elsie and Merrill would move back to Tucson in 2006, the one place in all of their travels that truly felt like home to her.
Elsie never slowed down. She was active locally in groups such as Old Pueblo women’s club as President, Desert Skies United Methodist Church for the meal ministry, and Republican Women’s Club organizing events and speakers.
Elsie and Merrill would continue their passion for exploration by going on long road trips and traveling overseas. They would often visit their son in San Francisco and drive throughout the US and Canada exploring the national parks (Yosemite, Banff, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Skagway Alaska, Butchart Gardens, eating oysters at Pt Reyes were some of her favorites). They would travel to Costa Rica and the Bahamas. But her adventure of a lifetime came in 2018 for her 80th birthday going to Kenya on safari with her family. The lions were her favorite. Not only did she make friends with all local guides and camp staff, she would stay in touch with them regularly over social media and text. She always seemed to find ways to connect personally with new people and give them love.
One of the highlights of the last few years of her life was building a deep relationship with her daughter-in-law, Lisa. They exchanged text messages every morning and talked regularly. They planned family gatherings with Lisa’s boys and her family and spent holidays together. She finally got to be a grandparent. She loved her boys.
She is survived by her loving husband, Merrill; son, Doug Heinz of San Francisco, CA, his wife Lisa Patterson-Heinz; brother Len Wlasichuk of Winnipeg, MB, sister-in-law Janine Wlasichuk of Winnipeg, MB; sister Mildred Tolton of Sechelt, BC; grandchildren Landon and Brennan Aquilina of Dublin, CA as well as beloved nieces, nephews and many dear friends.
Family and friends are welcome to attend a Celebration of Life for Elsie, which will be held at Desert Skies United Methodist Church on February 18, from 11:00-12:30 pm. There will be a luncheon served after the service for all attendees.
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In lieu of flowers, the family asks that all memorial donations can be made to Hospice Family Care https://www.gentivahs.com/about/donate/