Etta at 25: Fundraising ensures Etta's work, memory live on

Nine years after her death, South Kitsap teen’s mother, friends  celebrate her birthday by supporting the country she loved - Courtesy photo
Nine years after her death, South Kitsap teen’s mother, friends celebrate her birthday by supporting the country she loved
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Pennye Nixon-West, of Port Orchard, has raised $1,785 towards ecological composting toilets as a memorial for her daughter, MaryEtta Clancey Turner, who most people knew as “Etta.”

Turner would have celebrated her 25th birthday on Jan. 25 if she hadn’t died in a car accident in Bolivia on Nov. 25, 2002.

She went to Bolivia as a 16-year-old on a year-long foreign study program sponsored by Rotary International.

“On her last night in the U.S., her best friends, boys and girls, spent the night,” wrote Nixon-West in a letter on a website dedicated to her daughter. “They stayed up all night talking, taking pictures, dividing up her clothes and shoes until she got back, and basically just loving each other’s company.”

The next day, they went to the airport to say goodbye.

“Fun and laughter were the themes until she had to go through security,” wrote Nixon-West, “and her dad, her friends and I said a tearful goodbye.”

According to Turner’s father, “We thought it was for a year but it was for a lifetime.”

Turner died during a bus ride from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba.

The trip was divided into several segments.

On the night of the second day, they started a seven-hour bus ride to from Tarijo to Tapiza.

Turner and Sarah, a fellow exchange student, tried to go to sleep, but had a difficult time.

“They finally settled back into the other seat and snuggled together holding each other with arms wrapped around the other for warmth,” wrote Nixon-West. “They had even teased the four boys after finding this comfortable position that they should give up their inhibitions and try this position with each other, as it was without a doubt the warmest and most comfortable.”

The two fell asleep, and around 3 a.m., and the bus driver did, too.

The bus fell off the side of the mountain, killing seven of its 21 passengers, including Turner.

“The Good Lord took her from us, but a lot of good has come from it,” said Danny Brown, president of the South Kitsap Rotary club.

The South Kitsap Rotary Club, for example, built the downtown Etta Turner Memorial Park in her honor, worth about $100,000.

“There’s actually a rock next to the gazebo, and it has a picture of Etta and a little bit about her history,” Brown said.

Rotary also named a feeding center in Bolivia after Etta.

Nixon-West visited the center and realized it was underfunded.

So she founded Etta Projects to help those living in Bolivia.

Their vision is a Bolivia “free of hunger, poverty, illiteracy and inequality.”

About 240 malnourished children are fed there each day, about 140 women receive job training and about 50 preschool children receive nutritional supplements.

Etta’s friends also have contributed to efforts in Bolivia.

The Valentine’s Day after she died, her friends bought one heifer, one water buffalo, two llamas, two goats, one sheep, two pigs, one group of tree saplings, two trios of rabbits, one hive of honeybees and three flocks of chicks through The Heifer Project International, which provides gifts of animals to underdeveloped countries.

“Every year, the group creates a virtual event to celebrate Etta’s birthday asking folks to donate money to the Etta Projects,” wrote Brittany Gidican in a letter.

“For every year that Etta would have been, everyone donates that amount of money,” she said. “For example, this year Etta would have been 25, so everyone is asked to donate $25.”

This year, the group raised enough money to put 3.5 ecological composting toilets on the ground.

“The women in one family will not have to get up at 4 a.m. to go do their business in the dark because that’s the only way they have privacy,” wrote Nixon-West. “All the children in this same family will feel safe about going to the bathroom and not fear something will crawl out of the hole and bite them.

“In this country,” she said, “we never think that a bathroom gives us dignity, privacy and security but we just did this.”

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