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1927 Mary Ellen 2022

Mary Ellen Gehl Adams

March 26, 1927 — April 9, 2022

Mary Ellen (Gehl) Adams was born on March 26, 1927, in West Allis, WI, to Reuben John Gehl and Amber Agnes Gault.

Her father, Reuben, had been a soldier during the first world war. His experiences and the effects of mustard gas poisoning eventually led him to take his own life. Mary was a young child when she witnessed his suicide. No doubt, this had a profound effect on Mary for the rest of her life.

During her high school years at Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, WI, Mary was a good student. Even though she had what is now known as “dyslexia”, she was active in many school activities, including cheerleading during 11th and 12th grades. After completing high school in 1945, Mary Gehl began nurses’ training for her RN degree through the United States Cadet Nurse Corps. At the time nursing was not an academic subject, but a certified degree. She graduated as an RN in 1948. In 1949 she married John Quincy Adams and moved to Seattle WA to start a new life.

After moving to the Pacific Northwest, John, Mary and their growing family would, time and again, pull up stakes and travel across the country - from Washington state to Florida to Washington and back again. Nomads for the Boeing Company, they set up housekeeping in seven different homes, five in the Seattle area and two in Florida.

Having seven children, being on the road for years and caring for her terminally ill mother eventually took a toll on her marriage. After a bitter divorce, Mary, through sheer willpower and strength of character, resumed her nursing career in the Tampa Bay area. In the early 1980s she returned to the Pacific Northwest to be near her children, working first as a private RN, then in a hospital in the Chehalis area and eventually as a cardiac nurse at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue.

Throughout these difficult times, Mary found solace in her children and the enjoyment and pursuit of visual art. She was never one to be typecast and had a talent for reinventing herself, restructuring her life and focusing on new goals. But it was not until she retired from nursing that she really came into her own. It was then that Mary picked up the camera as a creative tool and found photography to be her ideal artistic outlet - as well as a way to overcome the social anxieties, insecurities and shyness that had been part of life since her divorce. Portraiture through photography was the means for her to meet new people and show them how beautiful they looked through the camera lens. It was during these years, the mid 1980s through the 1990s, that Mary Gehl built not only her photography business, Gehl Portraiture, but also her own lovely small home on Whidbey Island, WA. Eventually Mary settled on Bainbridge Island where she continued to actively enjoy the company of her children, improve and learn new artistic skills, and care for her beloved Boston Terriers.

Mary Ellen (Gehl) Adams was the quintessential artist. She took whatever she had or could find and made it beautiful. Small spaces opened and enlarged with her visions of proportion and symmetry. Whatever she touched was filled with her unique creative spirit, a spirit that was never about bombast, popularity or winning prizes, but instead more like a song dedicated to the love and cultivation of beauty. Even though she has passed, Mary’s love, strength and creativity remain, a testament to a freedom that defied, overcame and, in the end, transformed trauma, heartbreaks and disappointment into a good life, well lived - a true work of art - a life of integrity that her family and friends can continue to admire and that will remain for us a source of new strength and courage.
Mary Ellen (Gehl) Adams passed on April 9th, 2022. She was preceded in death by her daughter Diane Martin, her sister Jean Schalk and stepbrother Clarence Sloup. Mary is survived by her brother James Gehl, by her remaining children Gail Gross-Smith, Mark Adams, Jean Clark, Janet Jizba, Margaret Oswald and Anna Eben-Buonto, as well as by 18 grandchildren and 26 great grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in memory of Mary to Paws of Bainbridge Island and Kitsap at Paws of Bainbridge Island and Kitsap at

Arrangements are entrusted to the Cook Family Funeral Home of Bainbridge Island.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Mary Ellen Gehl Adams, please visit our flower store.


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