by Tina Gianoulis -
Special to the SGN
Born in East St. Louis, Illinois on November 1, 1936, Yvonne Eldresse became a member of Seattle's thriving lesbian community during the 1980s. With her long white hair, flamboyantly graceful style, and candidly erotic poetry, she forged an inspiring identity as a unique and memorable lesbian.
Growing up in southern Illinois, Yvonne often felt that she did not fit into her conservative family. However, her indomitable and colorful personality shone through at an early age as she earned the 'royal' titles of Cookie Queen and Princess of Job's Daughters. She majored in journalism at the University of Illinois where she was named Miss Photojournalist. In 1957 she married a Navy officer and began the migratory life of a military family, raising her three children in such widely varied locations as the Philippines, Midway Island, Rhode Island, California, and North Carolina. Yvonne always followed her own heart rather than convention, and no one in her family was surprised when she came out as a lesbian in 1983. As she developed her new women-centered identity, her relationships with her children and her ex-husband remained warm over the years.
Shortly after the end of her marriage, Yvonne and her first woman partner moved to Seattle. At 47, Yvonne was older than many of the other Seattle dykes working to build women's culture, and, as a pioneer in confronting ageism, she chose the name Eldresse to reflect the pride she took in her years. Yvonne became involved in the Lesbian Resource Center where she became an active member of Lesbians Over Forty, an ongoing support and discussion group. During the 1990s, she also helped to found the Crones, a more intimate sisterhood of friends negotiating the challenges and liberation of aging.
Like many lesbians, Yvonne's love of women was closely bound to a love of nature. She was a passionate gardener who found a way to create beauty wherever she lived, including the rooftop of the apartment above the Belltown Senior Center that was her home during the last years of her life. She loved to walk, often pointing out elements of natural beauty to her companions, and once, when a beloved tree in her neighborhood was being cut down without a permit, she climbed up and occupied its branches for hours in an attempt to prevent its removal. Unfortunately, too much damage had already been done for the tree to be saved.
Yvonne's creativity also expressed itself in poetry that resisted society's tendency to de-sexualize old age. She read her work frequently at open-mic's, and once won first prize at the Wild Rose Tavern's talent show for a reading of her erotic verse. She was a lover of the expressive art of film, and, when the Seattle International Film Festival started each year, friends and family knew to expect to find Yvonne immersed in the movies.
Yvonne died in Seattle on December 6, 2016, following a series of strokes. She is survived by her son Eric Earnst, her daughters Kristin Earnst and Karin Earnst, her grandchildren Brienne Earnst, Jennifer Reno, Sadie Smith, Thomas Earnst, and Zoltan Earnst, her two great-grandchildren, Ella Moore and Gunnar Bell, her sister Karen Sheppard, and her brother Dwain Ogden. Her many friends in the Seattle lesbian community will miss her deeply and treasure her memory, especially her surviving sisters in the Crones group. Although she returned to her maiden name, Ogden, during her later years, for many of those in the Seattle community, she will always be an honored Eldresse.
Donations in Yvonne's memory may be sent to Seattle Tilth, SAGE USA (Support and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders), or Lesbian Connection Magazine. A memorial and celebration of Yvonne's life is planned on Saturday, February 25, 2017 from 12:30 to 3:30 pm at the Ballard Senior Center, 5249 32nd Avenue NW. Friends are welcome.
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!