Sadly, we share the news of Jon Benjamin Ostby’s death, age 75. Our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and former owner of Nelson’s Market in Bellingham’s York neighborhood died at home January 22, 2023, with his loving wife by his side. His battle against kidney cancer was brief but courageous.
Born April 28, 1947, in Granite Falls, MN, the son of Lester M. and Shirley (Nelson) Ostby, he grew up in Kennewick, WA, graduating from Kennewick High in 1965. He attended Columbia Basin College until 1967 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam. He served honorably, receiving these decorations – Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal for Valor, and Combat Infantry Badge.
After discharge in 1969 Jon moved to Bellingham, WA, and attended Western Washington State College where he joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. In May 1970 Jon participated in an anti-war demonstration on I-5 from where he jumped the fence, walked down Potter Street, and wandered into a little corner store to buy a six-pack. He bought the store 14 years later.
The historic 1895 Nelson’s Market is where Jon raised his two sons while living in the upstairs apartment, as many previous owners had done. Gradually each son had their tours of duty working for their dad, either in his industrial landscape maintenance Grounds Crew company, in the market, or its Marlins’ Café that son Paul helped open in 2014.
Jon met his new wife here. Together they kept the “mom and pop” store alive for their beloved York neighborhood hosting holiday caroling parties, annual community clean-ups, and serving free ice cream cones to kids on the last day of school. Nelson’s Market was a safe place for all to come – to call mom if she forgot to pick you up after school; to count out your pennies for Jon when you bought candy; to drop in years later to show off your own kids; and to talk.
Second only to Jon’s love of family and community was his love of baseball. He studied baseball, played baseball, talked baseball, umpired games, and coached many kids’ teams. He was a second father to youngsters and college-aged neighbors and never met a stranger. He was a brother to all.
Predeceased by his parents, Jon is survived by his wife, Anne Mackie; sons Jay Ostby (Sarah Andrews) of Seattle and grandsons Alyn and Beckham; son Paul Ostby of Bellingham; step-daughter Jacqueline Perry (Darryl) of Bellingham; step-son James Passey of Casper, WY; brothers Mark Ostby (Patti) and Matt Ostby (Tara) all of Kennewick. Most notably, Jon is survived by Nelson’s Market, a “stationary float in the parade of life.”
A celebration of Jon’s life will be held Sunday, March 19, 2pm to 4pm, at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, 355 Harris Avenue. In lieu of flowers, donations in remembrance can be made to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Whatcom County, 1715 Kentucky St., Bellingham, WA 98229; or https://whatcomclubs.org/donate.