Snelson leaves legacy of leadership

POULSBO — Honoring the memory of the beloved Ruby Watland, three former Miss Poulsbos sang “Happy Days are Here Again” at the Miss Poulsbo/Kitsap Pageant last Saturday evening.

Little knowing that they’d soon be bidding goodbye to another dear friend.

George Furman Snelson, 91, died March 26 in Poulsbo. A true pillar in Poulsbo’s formation, friends and family remember him as a dapper man-about-town who was known for a myriad of civic activities.

“You could never doubt his commitment to his community or to his family,” Snelson’s granddaughter Michele Nilsen Wasson said. “He and Ruby (Watland) and Frank Raab are a few of the folks who really set forth what Poulsbo was in terms of the community clubs and everyone helping each other.”

Snelson came to Poulsbo in 1951 and opened Snelson’s Department Store, which was located where the Golden Dragon is today. When a group of business owners met to establish a chamber of commerce in 1954, he was right in the thick of it. Snelson acted as chairman of its organizational meeting and then became a charter member. He served as chamber president in 1960 and was named Person of the Year in 1964.

Through his chamber work, Snelson helped found the Miss Poulsbo Pageant as a way to market Poulsbo to the region. The organization turned 50 last year and is now a Miss America-affiliated program.

“He was very proud that it was still around and of what it had become,” Wasson said of the title.

Lions International was another mode by which Snelson made his mark. Among his work with the Poulsbo Noon Lions, he helped member Elda Armstrong pick out the material for the original 44 of the club’s famous red and black Norwegian bunads, volunteered many hours with the club’s paper drives and put significant time and effort into creating Lions Park off Fjord Drive. Though he may have slowed down with time, Armstrong said Snelson’s dedication to the club never wavered. She gave the example of a recent kids’ fishing derby put on by the Lions. Calls went out to the membership to volunteer and bring worms for the kids. Snelson didn’t have a place to dig worms, so he traveled to East Bremerton to buy some.

“He was a neat, neat guy,” Armstrong said. “He was one of the town fathers.”

Snelson was president of the Poulsbo Noon Lions from 1955-1956. He moved to Arizona in 1974 but remained active in Lions there. When he returned to Poulsbo about 20 years later, he rejoined his original club and was a regular attendee until his health deteriorated recently. Poulsbo Lions recently named Snelson a Lifetime Member — an award that meant he did not have to pay dues or lunch fees.

“We wanted to give that to him because we knew it was something that would mean a lot to him,” Armstrong explained.

Liberty Bay and boating was another lifelong love of Snelson’s. He was active in the Poulsbo Yacht Club and served as its commodore in 1967. More recently, he was a regular fixture at the club’s morning get-togethers.

Wasson recalled her grandfather as a strong-willed, opinionated man with an exceptional work ethic. The oldest of seven children, growing up on a farm in Arlington, Snelson would be up before dawn and often working until late into the evening. That habit remained with him throughout his life as even after he retired, he worked as a carpenter and handyman until moving to Martha & Mary two years ago.

“So until he was 88 or 89, he was working,” Wasson said. “But that was what he loved to do. It gave him pride.”

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