Nina Morean, the longtime manager of the SouthShore Mall and a well-known local actor, board member and past president of Driftwood Players, died at her Aberdeen home yesterday after a lengthy battle with colon cancer.
Husband Gary Morean, an Aberdeen attorney with Ingram, Zelasko & Goodwin, said Nina was in Hospice care but was able to celebrate her 57th birthday with family and a few close friends this past Sunday. She had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in October 2004.
“She has been making it on a wing and a prayer since then and we have had a lot of faithful people who have prayed very hard, but it finally beat her,” Gary Morean said. “We tried to live life as if (the cancer) wasn’t there.”
Born and raised in Aberdeen, Nina was one of three daughters of late Harbor attorney and popular actor Ernie Ingram, who shared “An Evening With Sam Benn” with countless Harborites from the Driftwood Players stage. Ingram died last October at the age of 85.
Nina had been acting at Driftwood since she was in high school, graduating from Aberdeen’s Weatherwax High School in 1973 before leaving for college only to return with her husband after he completed law school.
“This is heartbreaking news,” said John Hughes, former editor and publisher of The Daily World and a longtime friend of the Moreans and Nina’s parents. “The loss to her family is incalculable, but it’s also huge for Grays Harbor. Besides being a terrific wife, mother, sister and daughter, Nina was a first-class manager and a friend for all seasons. She was a talented actress, too — her father’s daughter.”
Gary Morean said he met his wife while both were attending the University of Washington in the mid 1970s — he in a fraternity and she in the sorority next door — and the couple always shared a love of theater. She graduated with a major in theater and a minor in English, while Morean went on to law school at Willamette University in Salem before the couple settled back on the Harbor.
“We just loved being in live theater; attending, being in, participating, acting, directing, whatever,” Gary said. “That is our hobby. My desire was to always live in a town where I could do community theater and practice law, and I got a pretty good understanding that Driftwood provided that opportunity. Knowing that theater was here was important.”
He noted that one of Nina’s most memorable roles was in a play that he also directed, “The Vagina Monologues,” which his wife performed while taking chemotherapy treatments from a fanny pack that contained a pump to inject the drug during the play.
“The last show we did together two years ago, ‘Matchmaker,’ she won best supporting actress for it,” Gary recalled. “She would do her performance, then she would have to sit down, take her wig off and have to be fanned, but from a performance standpoint you would never know that she had any problems at all. The audience didn’t have a clue. She was a good actress, even in the public.”
The Moreans started acting in Driftwood from the time they moved to the Harbor for good in 1981. They were first in “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” Gary notes that there are posters displayed at Driftwood that trace the history of the theater group for the past 50 years, and two of them have Nina on them. One is from 30 years ago (“Philadelphia Story”) and another is from 40 years ago (“Camelot,” which she was in with her father).
Nina won her first best actress of the year award locally for her lead role as Tracy Lord in “Philadelphia Story.”
“That was her first big acting award and she has gotten many over the years,” Gary said. “She is, in my opinion, the best actress we ever had at Driftwood, and she proved it time and time again. Anybody who acted with her knew that.”
The couple would have celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary on June 30.
Bette Worth, Nina’s best friend since the early 1980s and a nurse, said she was holding Nina’s hand just before she passed away yesterday afternoon. Nina had been in hospice for several months since taking a turn for the worse after Christmas, and Worth has helped her fight the disease since her diagnosis.
“She was such a classy lady,” Worth said. “Her fingernails were always polished, and her hair was always in place and she was impeccably dressed … She was just the kindest person who would do anything for you, and we became instant friends.”
In the past few years, Nina’s feet would often swell up from the treatments so much that she could no longer wear her favorite high heels and other fashionable shoes, Worth said. So Gary started to buy her designer shoes as a gift every time she went in for treatment. As a result, Worth said, there is a special shoe memorial room that is a testament to the love that Gary had for his wife.
“These shoes are just beautiful. It’s amazing how many shoes there are,” Worth said. “I look at these shoes and it just reminds me of the love the two of them had.”
In her final days, Nina was “concerned about Gary her husband and her kids, and not to forget about them when she’s gone,” Worth said. “She was always putting her family first — always.”
Hughes, who also has battled colon cancer, recalled a similar spirit in how Nina inspired her family and friends.
“As she fought a cunning, craven disease, she performed the role of a lifetime, consoling everyone who loved her with her pluck,” Hughes said. “She’d want us all to make the 2012 Relay for Life the best ever.”
In a 2009 profile of Nina in The Daily World, Nina talked openly about her cancer and her support for the annual Grays Harbor Relay For Life events to raise money in the fight against the disease.
“A lot of people will say to me, ‘Wow, you’re an inspiration,’ and what I would like to say is truly what is inspiring is the people … in this community who rally and do that Relay For Life,” she said. “That is so inspiring to people who have cancer or who are family members of someone who is battling the horrible disease. To see people rally to try and raise funds to try to eradicate it — that is what is really inspiring.”
While she also had her teaching certificate from UW, Nina only worked as an occassional substitute, and Gary said she had a number of secretarial jobs, including working at the Satsop nuclear plant site before the power project was abandonded. She then went to work as the marketing director at the SouthShore Mall in 1982, and then went on to be general manager a couple of years later.
Gary noted she still held the title after other employees — even those who never worked with her — donated their extra vacation time to Nina during her most recent battles with cancer so she had enough time “where she would never have to go back to work for several years.” He also gave credit to Nina’s hospice nurse, Kim Bair of Harbor’s Home Health and Hospice in Hoquiam, for helping to make her final months peaceful.
“Hospice was incredible,” he said. “I couldn’t have gone through it without them.”
In addition to her husband, Nina Morean is survived by the couple’s son Kyle, 26, and daughter Whitney, 23. Both graduated from Pacific Lutheran University, and Kyle is teaching computer skills at the Thurgood Marshall Academy charter high school in Washington, D.C., while Whitney works as a paralegal for the Seattle law firm of Perkins Coie.
Other survivors include her two sisters, Cynthia Cates of Sacramento, Calif., and Pamela Mehlhoff of Aberdeen.
Services are pending and full obituary will follow in The Daily World. Arrangements are by the Fern Hill Funeral Home in Aberdeen. Gary Morean suggested that remebrances can be made in her name to the Driftwood Theater.
Angelo Bruscas, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3916, or by email at email@example.com