Born in Libby, Mont., on Aug. 30, 1929, to Gwendolen and Sprague Stevens, Sharon Mae Stevens Dilkes Harmsen grew up in Boise, Idaho, with brother Sprague and sister Carol. She graduated from Boise High School in 1947, excelling in music and journalism.
She married Walter Eugene Dilkes and raised children Ed, Janet, Greg and Shari in towns across the Northwest while her husband, Gene, edited newspapers.
In addition to leading her kids on adventures during their childhood, she sold newspaper advertising, wrote features, wrote a column titled “Shopping with Sharon,” worked as a public assistance case-worker and served as volunteer coordinator at the Columbia Park Training and Rehabilitation Center in The Dalles.
In later years, she was the relief postmaster at the Underwood Post Office where she got to know nearly everyone in her community.
Sharon and Gene divorced in the early 1970s and she moved to The Dalles. She met Bob Harmsen at a dance at the Elks Club on Valentine’s Day; they married in 1975 at his home on Underwood Mountain, Wash., with a view of Mount Hood and the Columbia Gorge as the backdrop.
Bob asked Sharon to join him in retirement so they could enjoy their time together. A younger generation of children made their way to Underwood, adding a new kind of joy: being a grandma.
Sharon knew how to make summer visits fun: swimming at the Elks, playing dress-up, visiting Big Cedars and the Ice Caves and picking raspberries.
Underwood was more than a home for Sharon; it truly was a community. Good friends abounded and they all cared for one another through good times and challenging ones.
The home at Underwood was a beacon for friends of all ages as Sharon and Bob decorated for the holidays. From a changing roadside display to “witch bears” suspended from the beams, decorations delighted visitors during all seasons.
In 1990 Sharon began a project that exemplified her giving spirit. She took a liking to teddy bears and sent a bag of pre-loved critters to the ambulance service in Leavenworth, Wash. The idea was a good one, and “Gramabear,” as she was nicknamed, began processing bears at her home.
As the system developed, donors would leave used bears at thrift stores, local hospitals or on her doorstep. These were washed, brushed, mended and then redistributed to nursing homes, hospitals, hospices and homeless shelters.
Sharon, with help from an extended network of volunteers including the “Critter Repair Crew,” recycled approximately 25,000 animals.
After receiving a cancer diagnosis in January, Sharon and her many visitors and care-givers continued work on the critter project. She personally delivered her last bag of bears to Skyline Hospital in June.
Surrounded by the peaceful setting she loved at her home, Sharon took her last breath on July 10, 2010.
She is survived by her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, many adopted family members and friends. They will join together to celebrate her life at the Underwood Community Center on Sunday, July 18, at 10:30 a.m.
The family requests remembrances to Hospice of the Gorge.
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