Gaila Jean (White Waugh) Gilliland, 78, of Tacoma, WA passed away on April 22, 2023 at a care facility with family by her side.

Originally from Shelby, NE, Gaila was born to Howard and Gladys White on November 19, 1944. She was born in Lincoln, NE at the same hospital where her dad Howard was recovering from a lightning strike he had sustained earlier in the fall.

Gaila was raised in the Shelby area, graduating from Stromsburg High School in 1963. Gaila often dreamed of living in New York or Chicago with ready access to libraries, shopping, and museums. She took a different path though, marrying her first husband at 18 and residing in rural Nebraska outside O’Neill. There, she was a homemaker and raised 4 children whose ages span nearly two decades.

Gaila didn’t always enjoy farm life but did have lasting affection for Ker-McGee, a cat named by one of her older boys. She made gardening interesting, trying her hand at “exotic” plants such as peanuts and eggplant alongside corn, beans, and other basics. She loved catching lightning bugs and listening to meadowlark.

By 1987, Gaila returned to work outside the home, taking on various bookkeeping, economic development, property management, and retail sales jobs.

After divorcing in the early 90s, Gaila remarried in 1993. Her specialty was leading economic development efforts in rural communities across Nebraska and later, Michigan. She understood the needs of small business owners, saw opportunity in rural areas, and supported efforts to honor the unique heritage of small communities. She fully immersed herself (and her family) in annual events like the Oakland Swedish Festival, AuSable River Canoe Marathon, and the Wayne Chicken Show.

Gaila pursued her bachelor’s degree, starting with night classes at University of Nebraska-Omaha. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1996 and Masters in Leadership in 2000, both from Bellevue University. Gaila went on to earn her Master’s of Public Administration from Capella University in 2012.

Gaila had striking blue eyes that would catch most anything or anyone. (She effectively convinced at least a few of her kids that she did actually have eyes in the back of her head). Gaila was a proud introvert, content to spend the day tearing through a good book with an endless cup of Earl Grey tea. She was known to drive while reading on occasion, deftly balancing a hard backed book on the steering wheel while traversing the Nebraska expanse. She had an eye for fine jewelry, interesting art, and tailored clothing, believing that one should buy the best to last a lifetime. Gaila was always on the hunt for a good retail sale and “bottomless” bags of buttered popcorn at the theater. She had a narrow comfort range for her household temperature, held exacting standards, and relished a Starbucks white mocha with everything on top.

Gaila had a close relationship with God and always sought a church and faith community wherever she lived. In Tacoma, Gaila was an active member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, maintaining her involvement by email, phone, and prayers when it became more difficult to go in person.

Gaila was also an avid genealogist, storyteller, and artist. Genealogy was her primary interest, soaking up history and stories from ancestors long ago. Her genealogy adventures included a series of calls with a New York bookstore owner in the early 1980s from the party line phone, deep dives into each set of newly released Census records, seemingly endless gravestone rubbings and cemetery visits as part of family outings, and microfiche escapades at the Norfolk Library. Gaila was an artist with ranging interests in paper crafts, painting, and sewing. In recent years she created “junk journals,” engaging friends to leave them behind at grocery stores and parks to brighten someone’s day.

Gaila was also a fighter. Diagnosed with diabetes in her 40s, she managed this life-altering condition daily for 36 years, before broader awareness or automatic blood glucose readers. She trained her children to easily differentiate by taste between Coke and Diet Coke at the Hardee’s Drive Through. After retirement in Tacoma, WA, Gaila underwent treatment for aggressive breast cancer, surviving for over a decade.

Gaila is predeceased by her parents, Howard and Gladys White, along with many beloved aunts and uncles.

Gaila is survived by sons John (Kris) Waugh, Kevin (Robin) Waugh, Seth Kirby (Anna Shelton), and Frank Waugh IV (Diem Duong); 6 grandchildren; siblings Art White, Gloria White, and Bobbi Miller; and nieces and nephews and their spouses. The family wants to acknowledge former caregiver and friend Nalanda Akers and many others who were part of Gaila’s extended family.

Gifts in Gaila’s memory can be made to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Tacoma where she was a member, or the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation. People are encouraged to plant tulips, especially orange ones, as a way to remember Gaila and her favorite flowers.

The family is coordinating a celebration of life at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Tacoma, WA and a graveside service in O’Neill, NE. Details to follow.

  1. Lynette (a/k/a Nettie, Lynn) Converse says:

    Gaila definitely has earned her entrance to heaven. All of her pain has been wiped away. I will always treasure our childhood memories on the farm with Gaila & our other cousins. Also, one of her “junk journals” will remain on display in our guest bedroom. It is always a great conversation starter about younger days. ❤️. RIP, Gaila. You will be missed.

  2. Russ Gifford says:

    Gaila, your energy, your efforts, your skills, and your knowledge made our city and our state a better place. The college now in South Sioux took the first steps to be there due to your efforts. The businesses located near it were also part of your endless patience and solid partnership building. At least two factories a mile down the road from those successes are in South Sioux mainly due to your skills. They continue to provide local people with meaningful jobs and opportunities at all levels, and the paychecks they generate roll over many more times in our town and our region. These are just a few of the ways you changed the world, Gaila, for more than just a few people, but for a community.

    I think of the projects we worked on, and no matter how heavy the work, you brought the group together and we always had fun.It was your efforts to get people focused on the future made much of this happen. It also meant you created the groundwork for things to continue, even if you were no longer there. Your willingness to work for big goals and your 100% involvement in any effort you took on paid dividends. You have always brought out the best in people.

    That was certainly true for me. I appreciated our decade together, and I enjoyed our calls and conversations that continued for two more decades. It is hard to think I knew you for 30 years now. And yet you are still gone too soon. Every year was a joy, and it has all gone by too quickly. I am glad your pain is over, but I will miss you forever, my friend. I will always treasure your joyous smile, your sly sense of humor, and just how wonderful it was to be around you.

    Heaven has gained an angel, but we have lost a force of nature that made the world a better place by her presence. Rest in peace, my friend. You earned your place in heaven. Thank you for everything.

  3. Sharon says:

    My deepest sympathy to her family and friends. Thank you for the loving and thoughtful tribute to your mom. If Bobbie is anything like her, I am sure I would have enjoyed the journey. Take care of each other. These days disappear all too soon.

  4. Ann Cech says:

    Gaila and I were high school classmates and reunited on Facebook. I enjoyed her positive outlook and her deep outlook on her faith

  5. Shawn Moser says:

    I worked for Gaila at the Wayne Chamber Office. She was a wonderful boss. Very kind and witty. Loved her laugh. She was so generous and we shared our Scorpio birthdays as mine is only 8 days before hers.

    I have kept in touch with Gaila over the past few years as we reconnected through Facebook. She always had some nice to say about my daughter whom she had never met but I so wanted her to.

    My heart breaks… Prayers for the family.

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