Duluth's Woman of the Year: Elaine Killen

Body: 

Three area women were nominated to receive the Woman of the Year award, based on their outstanding volunteer contributions to the community, at the Port Cities luncheon May 3 in the Radisson Hotel's Great Hall.

This year's nominations were Phillis James, nominated by St. Luke's Volunteer Service Guild; Shirley Eichenwald Maki, nominated by Altrusa International Club of Duluth; and Elaine Bourestom Killen, nominated by Duluth Woman's Club. Killen won the award for her "gracious and generous nature," according to Duluth Woman's Club president Ellie Dryer.

"Elaine is so willing to give of her time for so many different causes," Dryer said. "She's been a very busy lady and I just can't think of anyone more deserving."

The purpose of the award is to honor and recognize one female volunteer for her hard work and service each year. Port Cities began the "Woman of the Year" award in 1948, making Killen the 69th woman to receive this honor.

"It was overwhelming and unexpected to say the least," Killen said. "One of the most heartwarming things for me, because of my long Duluth history, was seeing on display on tables, the pictures of every woman who has received this award. Many of these ladies, when I was a young woman, I just admired and thought so highly of. It's just such an honor for me to be in their company. It's a legacy that Duluth has been built on volunteer work by amazing women."

Killen was born in Duluth and raised in the Hunter Park area. She attended Stanbrook Hall high school and later the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis to become a teacher. She met her late husband John Killen at the University while he was attending school for journalism. Later, she taught fourth and fifth grade in Duluth and in the Minneapolis school systems while her husband attended law school.

Killen likes to say she had three careers: a teacher, mother and retailer.

"I loved teaching, but in those days, when you had a child, you had to resign," Killen said.

Nevertheless, she continued to be involved in education, volunteering with the PTA, the Girl Scouts and as a classroom helper while she raised her two daughters, Rebecca (Hawthorne) and Amy (Vargas). Later in life she returned as a reading buddy at Grant and Homecroft elementary schools.

"I remember one year at Grant, I had a little first grader I'd work with. I'd read a sentence and then she'd read a sentence and I loved doing that," Killen said.

Killen took over the family linen business when her father died in the 1980s. As a child, Killen remembers running merchandise between her family's two stores, Bourestom's Linens on Superior and First Streets.

"The old-timers like me might remember going to Bourestom's to get sheets, monogrammed towels, table linens," Killen said. "I never thought I'd go into retail because I was a teacher, but it was quite an experience."

Killen found that she liked retail and after she closed the shop in 1996, she volunteered at the Tweed Museum as a docent and as a gift shop clerk.

Killen's list of volunteer positions and organizations is quite extensive. She volunteers with the Junior League of Duluth, the Philanthropic Educational Organization or PEO, the Duluth Library Foundation, the Duluth Woman's Club and the Depot Foundation. She's a lifetime board member of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra.

She's known as an "office angel" at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where she can be found every Monday morning answering the phone, directing people and assisting the church secretary.

"Sometimes if our secretary is gone, I'll also step in for the day," Killen said.

She was a founding member of the Duluth branch of the now defunct Lawyer's Wives and Advocates. Through that group, she lobbied for 10 years for the creation of the Arrowhead Juvenile Center to house teenage offenders away from adult offenders.

"That group was so inspiring," Dryer said. "It took them about 10 years, but they pushed through and made a difference. Elaine was president of the group when they opened the doors."

When asked why she put so much effort into volunteerism, Killen says she looks at volunteering as a privilege.

"Volunteerism is a luxury that a lot of young people today cannot take part in any longer. Today's lifestyles make it difficult to volunteer. In my generation, we were fortunate to be able to give of our time," Killen said. "Now the people who find time in between working two jobs and raising families, they're quite impressive. I just did all that I could."

The luncheon also recognized the following area high school students for their volunteerism: Dylan Hatten, Harbor City International School; Lauren Bonin, Lakeview Christian Academy; Morgan Pirsig, Duluth East High School; Natalia Benson, Hermantown High School; Abigail Rohweder, Proctor High School; Kayla Ceryes, Duluth Denfeld High School; Rachael Tuve, Superior High School and Josie Fobbe, Marshall School in Duluth.