Goodbye, Nellie

Nellie Staves shows off one of her fungus etchings.
Nellie Staves holds the fungus etching she donated to the Wild Center.

The Adirondacks and sportsmen everywhere lost a friend this week when Nellie Staves passed away at ninety-two.

We liked to think of Nellie as our friend, too. In 2000, Ed Kanze wrote a nice profile of Nellie that we published in the Explorer. After that, she often stopped in the office when she was passing through Saranac Lake. She was ever  talkative and cheerful.

Nellie was a legend in her hometown of Tupper Lake. When the village held a Nellie Staves Day several years ago, more than four hundred people took part.

She was born in 1917 in the Northeast Kingdom, the wildest region of Vermont, and moved to the Adirondacks in 1949 after her first marriage. Her husband was a logging foreman, and she was the camp cook.

“I cooked for fifty-seven guys,” she said in her interview with Ed. “It was hard work, let me tell you. I got up at 3 or 4 in the morning and often cooked steady to 8, 9, or 10 at night.”

Nellie grew up at a time and place when people hunted and fished to put food on the table. “This is how it was,” she told Ed. “We hunted, we fished, we trapped. Dad was a very good conservation person. Mother was, too. They allowed us to roam the whole mountain. The only restrictions were from my father, who taught us to be careful and never take more than our fair share.”

She also defended trapping against those who thought it cruel. “I trap humanely,” she said. “I’d rather set three small traps to catch an animal than use one big one that will break an animal’s leg.”

She and another Adirondack legend, Clarence Petty, once debated the merits of trapping in the pages of the Explorer. (Like Nellie, Clarence trapped animals when he was growing up, but he later denounced the leg-hold trap as “a torture device.”)

Nellie also was well-known for her elaborate etchings of wildlife in fungi. A few years ago, she donated one of her artworks to the Wild Center in Tupper Lake.

Nellie served in many organizations that advocated for sportsmen. She was inducted into the New York Outdoorsman Hall of Fame last year.

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

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