Alief Bernice Nilsen was a gift to everyone who loved and knew her. She was a pioneer woman entrepreneur who could work circles around anyone.
Bernice was born to Romie and Ammie Eddins in Shelbyville, Texas, on a wooded 19-acre farm. Her dad died when she was six, so Bernice’s mom became the provider for the family. Since there was no government assistance in the 1920s, her family worked hard by growing cotton and peanuts; they raised cattle, laying hens, hunted, and fished in the Sabine River. They relied on their garden for fruits and vegetables and then preserved the food to help feed them through the winter.
She loved school and became a teacher after attending Nachagdocous College for two years. She soon moved to California to be near her brother, Arlie Lamar Eddins. Once there, she began working at March Air Force Base in Riverside, fixing military airplanes. Bernice was one of many Rosie the Riveters, and this is where she met her husband, Norman Nilsen. In 1945, they moved to their 1914 Nilsen family homestead in Phelan, CA, where they started a poultry farm and raised 200,000 laying hens.
Norman invented and developed a chicken watering system; their new business was called Swish Manufacturing Company, where Bernice worked putting together the chicken waterers and ran the office. Swish Manufacturing was where Calvary Chapel is located today. She then built Nilsen’s Market, where she worked every day; she would show compassion for people by cooking and serving them food on Thanksgiving Day and would feed them throughout the year with her homemade burritos. She also became the town’s loan company when people ran short for that month. Bernice then built Nilsen’s Restaurant and Lounge next door and worked there for years. She owned and managed commercial buildings and rental houses that she took care of herself.
Her passion was gardening and maintaining her five-acre yard. She would wait until the sun came up to go outside (she did not want to step on any snakes) and always wore her “Little House On The Prairie Bonnet.” She worked in her yard past her 100th Birthday. She taught and inspired everyone who knew her. They would say, “If Bernice can do this, so can I.” She was loved by all her family, and she became their hero for living a hard-working, honest Christian life. She was a huge inspiration to all who came across her path. Bernice will dearly be missed; we know she is now dancing with angels.
Bernice leaves behind her son Norman Nilsen Jr. and his wife Carol Nilsen, her son David Lamar Nilsen and his wife Marlena Nilsen, 8 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-granddaughter.
Memorial services were held Friday, September 2, 2022, at 11am at Calvary Chapel in Phelan and a repast followed at Arturo’s Kitchen Bar and Grill (AKA Nilsen’s Restaurant and Lounge). Family and friends attended to share stories and memories of Bernice.