A History of the Burns Family
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1 - D.A. Burns
2 - Big Lake
3 - Ada & Guy
4 - Ebba & Elna
5 - Don & Helen
6 - Dave & Wilma
7 - Bob & Betty


It is with great sadness that the family of Evelyn Burke announces her death on March 15, 1998 at the Ida Culver Home in Seattle, Washington. Because Ebba was so modest about her own successes, those of her who knew her best as sister or aunt now find ourselves in awe of all she accomplished in her 92 years. As we say goodbye to Ebba, we wanted to share some of her history with the friends and family she leaves behind.

Born May 9, 1905 in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio to David A. Burns, Sr., founder of D.A. Burns & Sons, and Ada Marian Burns, Evelyn was older sister to brothers Donald, David, and Robert.

She received a B.S. in Biology from Akron University in 1926, a diploma in Nursing from Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Western Reserve University in 1930, an M.A. in Education in 1941, a Public Health Nursing Certificate in 1943 from the University of Washington, and did 60 hours of post-Master’s work in sociology, social work, and nursing education.

From 1930 to 1935 she was a staff nurse, head nurse and supervisor in medical nursing in Universities Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. From 1935-1940, she was an instructor in the fundamentals of nursing, and a clinical instructor in medical nursing and pediatric nursing at Western Reserve University.

In 1942, Ebba joined her family in Seattle, where her parents and brothers had established D.A. Burns & Sons, a rug cleaning firm. From 1942 to 1947, she was staff nurse, supervisor, and educational director for the King County Health Department, and the Visiting Nurse Service. From 1948 to 1970 she was instructor, Assistant Professor Associate Professor, Director of Public Health Nursing, and Director of the Graduate School of Public Health Nursing at the University of Washington. She retired in 1970 as Professor Emeritus.

During her tenure at the University, she maintained active roles in local, state, regional, and national nursing organizations. She was an officer board member, or committee chairman to the following organizations, among others: Washington State, Western Regional, and American Health Associations; King County, Washington State, Western Regional, and National League for Nursing; National Council of Family Relations; National Child Study Association; Council of Planning Affiliates; King County UGN; Planned Parenthood; King County Visiting Nurse Service; Senior Citizens, Inc.

In 1967 she received the Washington State Public Health Association annual award for outstanding contribution to health in the state of Washington. In 1973, she was the recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award for “being a distinguished teacher, lecturer, and researcher” from the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing. She was also a charter member of the Psi chapter of Sigma Delta Tau, the national nursing honorary, and Phi Sigma, the national biology honorary.

Following her retirement in 1973, she moved to the San Juan Islands, where she and long-time friend, Eleanor Howard, started a printing and publishing business, Longhouse Printcrafters. There she remained active in community affairs. She was a board member of Cascade-Islands Community Mental Health Center and the San Juan Community Administration Board. She helped in the development of a comprehensive land use plan for San Juan County, and in the establishment of the Whale Museum at Friday Harbor. Even in her later years she continued to contribute generously to many organizations devoted to the welfare of children, family planning, mental health, conservation, civil rights, and social justice.

In 1994, she returned to Seattle with Eleanor to live at Ida Culver House. She was an avid reader and lover of nature. Until very recently, she maintained an active correspondence with friends and family, and she rarely forgot a loved one’s birthday. The family bookshelves are lined with volumes she gave throughout the years for every conceivable holiday, from St. Swithin’s to Japanese Girls’ Day, all signed with the hand-drawn owl that became her trademark.

Ebba was preceded in death by her brother Donald D. Burns, and is survived by her brothers David A. Burns, Jr. and Robert M. Burns, M.D., and her sisters-in-law, Wilma and Elizabeth Burns.

Ebba was a remarkable person who will be sorely missed by her family, whose lives were greatly enriched by her love of books, poetry, music, and nature, and to whom she gave unstintingly of her time and affection throughout her life – especially her nieces, Patty Rasmussen, Linda Johnson, Penny York, Katherine Burns Vaughan, and Rebecca Burns, and her nephew, David A. Burns, III. She will also be missed by the many great-nieces and -nephews who knew and loved her, and by her many friends and colleagues.

[Family announcement]

Daniel's tribute
Seattle Times article


Author's Note

In the mid-'40s. after Ebba moved to Seattle with Gerry, she received a series of letters from a doctor she had worked with back in Cleveland, T. C. Harper. He was commissioned as a Lt. in the U.S. Navy and eventually sent to the Philippines. His letters are suffused with a sense of hopeless love for her. After her divorce, Ebba had a brief fling with Dr. Harper -- who became known to the family as "The Mystery Man" -- flying over the San Juan Islands in his plane, among other things, but it came to nothing in the end.

Ebba divorced Gerry Burke in 1948, after taking court action to prohibit contact with her or the family. Bob Burns recalled that Gerry, in retaliation, informed the FBI of the family's association with the Socialist Workers Party. Some G-men came to Wilma's door one day, and she politely told them she knew nothing about it.


Eleanor Frances Howard

Eleanor F. Howard, print shop owner, staunch Democrat, and dedicated San Juan County Commissioner in the early 1980s, died Friday in Seattle.

Howard, 80, served as county commissioner from 1979 through 1984, and as a county planning commission member in the 1970s during spirited contention over land-use planning. Plans are pending for a memorial service on San Juan Island.

Friends recalled Howard’s gentle approach to local issues.

“Eleanor used to wear a button that read, ‘You Have To Be More Careful With An Island,” said Dick Grout, former planning director who was appointed to the Board of Adjustment by Howard. “That was as a good summary of her philosophy and approach as there is.”

“She was a reasonable person who wanted people to have their say,” he said. “If they disagreed with her, she would rather persuade them than impose her view on them.”

Howard was known for being a dedicated county worker.

“Eleanor just gave her heart and soul to the job. She was devoted 24 hours a day,” said Diana Sheffer, who worked as the commissioners’ secretary during Howard’s tenure.

She was so concerned and caring. She was a wonderful person to work for. You couldn’t ask for a better boss, Sheffer said.

Howard, an avid island conservationist who made annual trips to see the wildflowers on Yellow Island, was a founding member of Friends of the San Juans.

“Eleanor was really committed to preserving the beauty of the islands,” said Nancy DeVaux, who worked in Howard’s print shop.

“I admired Eleanor for her determination. She put up with a lot,” said DeVaux, noting Howard served when women were less accepted as public officials.

Karen Vedder, who covered the county commission beat as a reporter with the Island Record, recalled Howard broke the Republicans’ long hold on county commissioner positions.

“Eleanor’s election opened island politics to the idea that maybe there was a two-party system here. Before that, elections were considered decided in the primary,” Vedder said.

Vedder and DeVaux also remembered the cozy Long House that served as Howard’s home and business, Long House Printcrafters.

“It had the feeling of a one-room house,” said Vedder. “There was a huge book collection. It was the kind of place you imagined being asked to housesit and then get stuck there during a storm for several months.”

Howard met her partner, Evelyn Burke, on a yachting vacation in the San Juans in 1957, and they both fell in love with the islands. They bought a small cabin on Mitchell Bay in 1960, where an Indian longhouse had once stood. They constructed their new home and print shop in the traditional Northwest style.

Howard moved into the house in 1968, and Burke came in 1970, after retiring as director of the Community Health Nursing Department at the University of Washington. They bought a letterpress printing press from the Church of Grace and Truth in Seattle, and the church provided the rest of its printing equipment as a bonus.

With this antiquated equipment, they published the “San Juan Islands Almanac” annually from 1974 through 1986. They also published books of local interest, including “Friday Harbor Then and Now,” by F.H. Van Cleve, and “100 Days in the San Juan Islands,” by June Burn.

Before being elected commissioner, Howard served seven years on the county planning commission, including several as a chair. She was also a member of the committee that helped established the San Juan Senior Services Center.

She narrowly defeated Einar Nielsen for the District No. 3 position in 1979 in an election to fill the unexpired term of Alton Boyce, who had been recalled. She soundly defeated Barbara Fortner in 1980.

Howard worked diligently to establish a trail along or near the old military road between English Camp and American Camp, which she hoped would be named after Einar Nielsen.

In addition to being active in the Friends of the San Juans, Howard was a member of the Friends of the San Juan Island Library, the San Juan Community Theater, and the Nature Conservancy.

Memorials may be sent to any of the above or to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Howard was born in Norfolk, Virginia on December 15, 1914 to Frank B. Howard and Coralie Stevens Howard. Her mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918-1919, so Howard barely remembered her. She did remember her mother making chocolate for her and her siblings and loved chocolate all her life, Burke recalled.

Howard also remembered, as a small child, going on a bus with the African-American handyman who worked for her family and whom she adored. She was bewildered and horrified when he had to sit in the back of the bus and she in the front. She couldn’t understand the segregation then and always remembered the injustice of it, said Burke.

She attended Wayne State University in Detroit, and worked in public relations for Michigan Bell Telephone, and Parke, David, and Co. as a freelance writer 

Howard was preceded in death by one sister, Coralan Howard Martsolf of Kansas City, and one brother, Harold H. Howard of Detroit. In addition to her dear friend Burke, survivors include a sister, Frances A. Howard of Detroit, two nieces and three nephews.

[From the Journal of the San Juan Islands, May 17, 1995]