July 7, 1964 — Oct. 24, 2012
A memorial service was held Saturday, Nov. 17, for Michelle “Shelly” Thorwaldson, a longtime resident of the San Francisco peninsula who “mothered” literally scores of young persons through the youth group of the Peninsula Christian Center of Redwood City and her home-based preschool child care business. She died Oct. 24 following a year’s battle with ovarian cancer and related complications and following two weeks of visits — with joking, talking and singing as her condition allowed — by family, friends and even a number of young persons she had nurtured at some point in their lives, mostly through the Peninsula Christian Center.
Shelly and her husband, the Rev. Ben Thorwaldson, raised in Menlo Park, were the parents of three children: Matea, 12, Logan, 9, and Nicholas, 6. For the past four years, they were engaged in founding a new branch of the church in El Dorado Hills, which was suspended due to Shelly’s illness. In an unusual gesture, Shelly and Ben decided to share the cancer experience through Facebook and an email list, chronicling the ups and downs, hopes and disappointments, and painful episodes of the cancer and treatment.
Citing Shelly’s “fierce love and support” in his life, Ben in announcing her passing at the Roseville Kaiser Permanente Hospital summed up a major part of her life: “All who knew Shelly loved Shelly, and her legacy will live on in all of our lives. She has been another mother to a generation of children and young adults, and radiated God’s love to all who came in contact with her.”
A native of San Bernardino, Shelly moved with her family to Fresno at a young age before settling in the Bay Area and becoming involved in the Peninsula Christian Center, where she was deeply involved for more than 30 years. She also did church work around the world, including in Hong Kong, the Philippines, China, Ireland, Alaska and Mexico. She and Ben met through the church school where she taught and they became best friends. They married in 1991 and spent the next 16 years growing the youth group many times over, often involving young persons confronting difficult situations at home.
Shelly was known in the church for her beautiful singing voice. She and Ben also organized the annual pre-Christmas “Living Bethlehem” on a vacant lot on Middlefield Road across from the church complex, attended by many thousands of persons from throughout the Bay Area and beyond. Real livestock, from camels to donkeys, sheep and horses were a major feature, along with a choir of angels and Roman soldiers on patrol. For four years prior to Shelly’s cancer diagnosis they had been establishing a small discussion-based church in El Dorado Hills, convening in homes and coffee shops — reminiscent of early Christianity in the first centuries after the crucifixion of Christ.
In addition to their children, Shelly is survived by her mother, Heidie Woodward; stepfather, David; her father, Wesley McAllister; stepmother, Roberta; and her older sister, Vicki Gravell and husband, Ron and family.