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Saturday, June 3, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Quiet philanthropist `Kitty' Nordstrom dies

Seattle Times staff reporter

Five years ago, with a generous gift from Katharine J. "Kitty" Nordstrom, St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif., built an ecumenical elementary school that the congregation named the Katharine Nordstrom Campus in her honor.

"She was the signature donor," said Brooke White, a spokeswoman for Nordstrom.

But Mrs. Nordstrom and her husband, Elmer Nordstrom, contributors to many projects and causes, preferred to remain anonymous and out of the spotlight, said granddaughter Kristin Brandstrom of Seattle.

"They gave millions (of dollars) everywhere, but they never wanted their name on it," she said.

Mrs. Nordstrom, 89, the daughter of the founder of Seattle's Swedish Hospital and the widow of the former co-chairman of Nordstrom, died yesterday at her Madison Park condominium.

She was the only daughter of Nils August Johanson, who founded Swedish Hospital on First Hill in 1910, and a lifelong Seattle resident.

Family members said she and Elmer Nordstrom met when she was a child on Hood Canal, where their families maintained summer homes. They were married in 1934 and shared 59 years before his death in 1993.

Mrs. Nordstrom was never on the payroll of the retail chain that her father-in-law, John Nordstrom, started in Seattle as a shoe store in 1901, but she was known throughout the company.

"She never received a salary from the company because women didn't work, but my grandparents were really a team," Brandstrom said. "During the Depression, when the business was almost lost, she would go to the store with him and help out doing windows or in any way she could."

Mrs. Nordstrom and her husband were supporters of Swedish Hospital, the Northwest Oncology Foundation, Planned Parenthood and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Seattle, among others. They also were supporters of Harmony Hill, a retreat and wellness center on Hood Canal in Mason County.

She was a longtime member of the Seattle Yacht Club, the Seattle Golf Club and the Sunset Club. The Nordstroms also maintained a residence in Palm Desert.

"She was a very doting grandmother and definitely the matriarch of the family," said her granddaughter.

Surviving are her son, John, of Bellevue, seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Another son, James Nordstrom, died of cancer in 1996.

A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Laurelhurst. Remembrances are suggested to the Northwest Oncology Foundation, 515 116th Ave. N.E., Bellevue, 98004.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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