When she was a child, Anne Brown’s family members treated themselves to ice cream every year on the date they landed in New York City in 1939 to escape the Nazi terror in their native Germany.
Decades later, Brown and her own family still gather for ice cream every April 16.
So it’s fitting that a community celebration of Brown’s civic contributions in Bellingham on Saturday, Sept. 6, will include ice cream.
Brown is much-loved and much-honored for her work starting and improving programs for children with developmental delays, and their families, and for her years of service to Congregation Beth Israel.
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Now 88, she moved to a Seattle retirement home just over a month ago to be close her grown son and daughter and to other family members. She left Bellingham quickly when an apartment came open, so the community event had to wait.
“I appreciate my friends who want to do this for me,” Brown said. “I’m overwhelmed.”
Brown graduated from nursing school in 1947. She was working in Seattle a short time later when she met her husband-to-be, Will Brown, a college teacher. After several years of moving around, they settled in Bellingham in 1966. Her husband taught physics, astronomy and science education at Western Washington University.
At one point before moving to Whatcom County, Brown worked as a nurse for a preschool for children with developmental delays in the San Francisco area.
After they moved to Bellingham, Brown was hired by Whatcom County as a public health nurse to serve children with developmental delays. She made home visits to the children and their families, and helped them find needed services.
Before such programs began, parents generally had to care for their children themselves or place them in institutions.
“The needs of both the kids and those families were not being met,” said Sandy Berner, former executive director of the Whatcom Center for Early Learning.
Brown also helped improve the special education preschool program, and helped found the Center for Early Learning, which provides early help to infants and toddlers with developmental delays and their families.
“She’s near and dear to our hearts,” Berner said.
Brown also helped start the Coalition for Child Advocacy, a watchdog group for neglected and abused children. She retired from nursing in 1986.
In recognition of her work, Brown was named to the inaugural Northwest Women’s Hall of Fame, at the YWCA of Bellingham, in 1999.
Brown also was an active member of Congregation Beth Israel in Bellingham, where she founded the membership committee to welcome and encourage new members. Her welcoming regimen included ice cream socials in her home.
“Living in Bellingham was a wonderful place for me,” Brown said. “I certainly miss all my friends.”