Port Orchard Names Roundabout after “Great Dane” Niels Nielsen

On Tuesday, the Port Orchard City Council formally approved a resolution naming the roundabout at Bethel Road and Mile Hill Drive after the late “Great Dane” Niels Nielsen, a long-time member of Rotary clubs in Bremerton and Port Orchard.

Nielsen, born March 24, 1932, in Kalundborg, Denmark, died Dec. 2 of a heart attack while cruising the Rhine River in Germany with his wife Margie. The couple have lived in South Kitsap for many years.

The Port Orchard Rotary installed and maintains landscaping on the roundabout, which includes flowers, shrubs and a flowing fountain. Kristy Ewing, representing the organization, said the tribute would be fitting because of all Nielsen did both locally and abroad on behalf of Rotary International.

“He was the consummate Rotarian,” she said. “He was a humanitarian who exemplified the Rotary motto of service above self.”

As I found out covering his memorial on Jan. 1, he also was a colorful and exuberant character who pretty much broke the mold.

“There’s no way to describe Niels,” Ewing said.

As a Rotary ambassador, he traveled to scores of cities in all continents but Antarctica. He helped found new branches of the service organization and promoted humanitarian projects, for which he was honored by the Rotary Club of Port Orchard with its first ever Lifetime Achievement Award..

During the 1990s in Russia, he helped fledgling Rotarians embrace their new-found freedoms. He later traveled to Vietnam more than eight times to help establish orphanages and programs for children injured by land mines, through Rotary’s Kids First initiative.

On one of Nielsen’s trips to Vietnam, in a remote area, the group was offered blood from a snake freshly killed at the table. While most of the party choked back gags, Nielsen happily added the proffered liquid to his beer and offered up many a toast to his awestruck hosts.

When it came to securing speakers for Rotary meetings, Nielsen was known for pushing the envelope. His guests over the years included a nightclub owner with alleged Mafia ties and a former prostitute, who founded the Seattle organization COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) seeking to decriminalize prostitution.

Several members of the city council who knew Nielsen, agreed that honoring him by naming the roundabout after him was an appropriate gesture the city could make.

“He was great guy, very energetic,” said Councilwoman Carolyn Powers. “It seemed like he was always laughing and smiling but serious about Rotary and his business.”

Even Councilman Jerry Childs, who doesn’t believe city property should be named after people, said he’d bend the rules in recognition of Nielsen’s reputation and the Rotary club’s dedication to maintaining the roundabout. “I’m really pleased with what the Rotary’s done,” he said.

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