Nelson was a gentle leader who was not afraid to get involved
By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN In the game of chess, the object of the game is to checkmate your opponent’s king, but for Drew Solomonson, the game became one of togetherness for the Delano seventh grader and his mentor, Sam Nelson.
Sadly, Solomonson’s chess partner and mentor Nelson passed away peacefully Oct. 4 at his Delano residence.
“He was like one of my first best friends,” Solomonson said last week. “He meant a lot to me. Some days we just talked. Some days we would play games.”
Nelson and Solomonson were part of the Connecting Links Mentorship program at Delano Public Schools.
About nine years ago, Nelson was approached by his friend, Dale Vander Linden, about becoming part of the Connecting Links Mentorship program, and was planning to resume his meetings with Solomonson and other students last Monday, according to Delano Schools Superintendent Dr. John Sweet.
Nelson was elected to the Delano School Board in November 2008, and took his seat in January of this year.
“He was a real booster for the school as a whole, but Community Ed in particular,” Sweet said. “He was on that advisory council for quite awhile.”
At what would be his last school board meeting Sept. 28, Nelson’s report to the school board was promoting the activities and classes that Community Education has in the works, and Sweet said Nelson always had a strong backing for that program.
“He led not by charging out ahead and doing things, but always by being there and persistent,” Sweet said. “He was someone you could always count on being at the meeting. He didn’t say a lot, but when he did, people listened. I just think he had a real sense of community about him. He was always about town . . . he just had a high interest in community affairs, and that included education.”
Sweet noted Nelson’s mentoring, along with volunteering in the school lunchrooms, and promoting Boys State on behalf of the Delano American Legion.
“He was a loyal Legion member,” Sweet said.
Along with his involvement in the school system and Legion, Nelson had also been on the Delano Municipal Utilities Commission since his appointment in 2002. He was named secretary of the commission in 2003.
At Tuesday’s Delano City Council meeting, a moment of silence was observed for Nelson.
“He was so active and such a great man, who will be dearly missed,” commented Mayor Joe McDonald at the meeting. “We sure loved Sam . . . when he spoke, he had a gentle voice and such a presence. He will be dearly missed in the City of Delano.”
One in particular who will miss Nelson is good friend Harlan Lewis. The two met at a meeting regarding the projected Highway 12 corridor not long after the Nelsons moved to Delano. Lewis and Nelson struck up a conversation about what the new corridor through town was going to mean to Delano, and opportunities and challenges that might come along with it.
Nelson had been involved with the Dream Team and had done some work with the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls, and Lewis said Nelson suggested he get involved with the group.
“The idea was, ‘what else can we do for Delano?’ It grew from that. In the last three years, we’ve at least talked every day and had coffee three or four times a week together,” Lewis said. “What would be good for Delano that was our conversation basically, all the time. We kind of played off of each other. I enjoyed finding out information, and Sam was saying we ought to check into this or that.”
In the last few years, the two men quickly became known for becoming involved in and caring about Delano. One would be at one meeting, and the other at a different meeting, and it wasn’t uncommon for the two to meet up at Dave’s Town Club after the meetings to compare notes.
“We tried to get involved where we felt we could help,” Lewis said. “What are little things in Delano we might have an influence on?”
One thing Lewis said Nelson was passionate about was the development of another industrial park in Delano.
“We talked a great deal about the industrial park site and the issues that were out there,” Lewis said.
At Nelson’s last Dream Team II meeting Sept. 23 at the Delano Middle School, he was a part of the task force that set its goal of creating 300 living-wage jobs in Delano.
Nelson’s gentle nature, along with a determination to learn the facts, was something Lewis and many others who worked with Nelson appreciated.
“Sam would not speak ill of anyone,” Lewis said. “That just wasn’t his nature. He basically would say, ‘In addition to that, what else can we say? What else can we look at?’ He was very willing to check out the story, find out what was behind the scenes, rather than just agree with what was said. He validated the facts before he really took an issue with him.”
Nelson, Lewis, Vander Linden, and other friends and associates routinely met for Wednesday morning coffee at various locations around Delano to discuss Delano.
“The Wednesday morning coffees got to be the thing we’d all look forward to then,” Lewis said.
Along with his community activism, he was a husband to high school sweetheart, Jody, a father, grandfather, and great- grandfather, and a friend. He also volunteered with Community Education, Dream Team, Boys’ State, Initiative Foundation, Delano American Legion, Delano Library, Youth As Resources, Meals on Wheels, Delano United Methodist Church, and the food shelf, as well as many others.
Originally from Kansas, the Nelsons moved to Delano, and both jumped right in and truly made Delano “home.”
A full obituary can be found in this week’s Delano Herald Journal.
Celebration of life set for Sam Nelson
A celebration of life remembering Sam Nelson will take place Saturday, Oct. 24 at Delano United Methodist Church at 11 a.m.