Nancy Jean Koenig | Passages

Nancy Jean Koenig (affectionately known as “Gramma Nana,” or “the Marimba Lady”) passed May 4.

A celebration of Nancy’s life will be held on Sunday, Aug. 25, at Odd Fellows Hall in Eastsound. A potluck at 5 p.m. will be followed by stories, marimba and other local music. All are welcome.

Born in 1959 in a log cabin in the Missouri Ozarks, Nancy was the youngest of seven children and the only one born at home. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was a young child. She always wished to live in the country again. Intelligent and hard-working, she graduated at the top of her high school class and attended Humboldt State University, where she majored in ecology. She also worked with her brothers logging in the mountains. In 1980, she left college and married William Limbach. They settled in Seattle and had four children during their 10-year marriage. Nancy birthed three of their children on her own at home and became a strong advocate for natural birth and childrearing.

In the late ‘80s, Nancy fell in love with Zimbabwean music and began taking lessons down the street from her Seattle home. She joined her teacher’s marimba band and took her four young children with her to concerts. She became known in the band as the only one who was always smiling, jumping up and down and whooping! Soon she had built a set of marimbas and begun teaching her children and their friends, then a moms and babies class. In 1997, Nancy traveled to Zimbabwe with two of her children for three months. After the trip, they moved to Orcas Island, a wish come true. She taught marimba and mbira music on the island to students of all ages and backgrounds. She and her family and students often performed for Summer Solstice, Music in the Park, farmers markets, Fourth of July and countless other community events throughout the years. Her children and grandchildren hope to continue the tradition.

During her 20-plus years on Orcas and Lopez islands, Nancy served the community as a caregiver and gardener, but her service extended beyond work. She was always feeding people and looking after elders, mothers and children in the community. Her happiest times were connecting with an elder or a child, playing music or gardening. She was also a photographer, basket weaver, potter, painter and seamstress. She made clothes for her children and grandchildren. She was a lay midwife and home birth and breastfeeding educator.

Though Nancy often served as a community hub, she also had a rich inner life and enjoyed solitude. She wrote a lot and intended to write a book. She maintained a practice of writing letters by hand.

Nancy spoke with eagles and seals and they communicated back.

She felt deeply connected with all life and had a profound and precise intuitive understanding of soil, plants, animals and people.

Nancy left her body peacefully, at home on Orcas, attended by her children, after saying her goodbyes to family and friends over the preceding few months. She knew she was dying since December, though it was a surprise at age 59, and she made the most of her limited time. She was able to be present for the home birth of her daughter’s first daughter in February. She also connected with many friends and family members and played a lot of music, right up to her final week. She was an artist and community builder to the end. Her dying process itself was a beautiful creation and one more gift to her family and community. She has earned a peaceful rest.

Nancy is preceded in death by her parents Alvin and Mary, and her sisters Karyn and Carmen. She is survived by her brothers: Richard and Jon; her sisters: Tina and Carol; her children: Lucas, Davis, Learner and Ruby; and her grandchildren: Morgen, Robin, Cora and Meara.

Gifts in memoriam may be made to the FARM Fund of the Orcas Food Co-op to further her vision of sustainability and regenerative agriculture in the islands.