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Gary Kent Nelson

Nelson, Gary Kent
5/17/13. There is a template for this sort of thing, a pattern we're all supposed to follow: Gary Kent Nelson was born July 12th 1935 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and died in Mesa, Arizona, May 17, 2013. These are the people who came and left before him, his father, Angus M. Nelson, Master of the Mississippi and Lake Pleasant; his mother Nora Netterloe Nelson, organist extraordinaire; and his best friend and sister, Patricia Guest, Master of the Messiah. Halleluiah! God bless you Aunty Patty, so happy you met him at the Gates. His father and mother-in-law, Grandpa Lester Moen, Builder of Dams; and Clarice Moen, inventor of cinnamon toast, keeper of galoshes, hats, gloves for every grandchild that entered her house, (5 loaves, 2 fishes). Miracles still happen: the parents of the one and only love of his life. Then there are the "survivors," as though his life beat against us, when in reality it nurtured us, fed us, loved us. "Survivors," those of us who had the pleasure to know him all his life and love him: His wife of 53 Years, Juanita Nelson, (nee) Moen. Met him in St. Louis (seriously) while he served in the army and she was working as a nurse. Old school. A Lutheran Church. Met in the choir. He Baritone. She Alto. Together, great music, the greatest of loves. Our mom, his wife, the best nurse, mother and, lover there ever was and still is. The center of his universe and ours. His other brothers and sisters, the term, in-law, does them no justice: Oscar, Uncle O! Master of Fire, protector of our Patty; Tillman- a rocket scientist, seriously; David an engineer who turned water (salty) into fresh; Solveig a nurse and a lefse legend; Cora Lee, a teacher, a bender of words; Diane, another nurse, sour dough goddess; Monica, an accountant, gone too soon, a lover of numbers and John Denver; and Layne, a legend, a cowboy, an engineer and an older brother to us, the Nelson boys: He had four sons: (#1) Bradley Kent Nelson (Becky Oelke) (#2), Byron Keith Nelson, (#3) Douglas P. Nelson (Stacy Mammo), (#4) and Gregory Neil Nelson (Amy Bozutto). We were named after generals, a golfer, and an astronaut. And I can tell you, without question that we never became any of the above. Well, we all golfed, but we sure ain't golfers. We are husbands, fathers, singers, plumbers, healers, nurses, brothers and survivors, and sometime writers. We are the four most loved children there ever were. And you should know something about our dad: He loved the heroes of the 40's 50's and 60's. Short hair, straight shooters, solid hearts and a good word for all. That's not to say we didn't have our 70's, 80's, and 90's, God knows we did! But every time it went to hell, he and she were there. And somehow we survived. Of course, there are his grandchildren, all Nelson's: Hey, he had four boys: you know who you are: #1: Haley, Emily. #2 Will, Audra, Bradley, Benji, and Brandon. #3 Leah and Garrison. #4 Briley, Lilly, and Zach. There are other survivors: nieces and nephews: Guests, Moens, McGowens, Springers, Wolfes, Moen's and more Moen's: God knows he loved you all. Too many to count, and yet you always counted. And, of course there are his friends here and gone: People of Hope: James and Jordyce, Don and Judy, Danny, Cynthia and Mike, Bob (my hero) and Nancy, Nathan and Paul, Pastors Pete Thompson, Rodger Vegdhal, Robert Giles, and of course Roger Gordon. And his brothers and sisters in heaven: Ruth and Leonard, Homer, Chris, Eunice, Lowry, and Arnold. Thank you for keeping his eye on the prize. And those he worked with and for: Frank Saggarino, Patience Huntwork, Justice's Feldman and Martone, Sandra Day, believe it, she once worked with him, and of course, Florence his secretary, historian, and friend. And so many others whom I can't remember, but who no doubt recall his wonderful whistle, his jaunty step and his thunderous laughter. Thank you. So now I should tell you about my dad: Came to Arizona in 52 with his parents from Fort Dodge, Iowa, and graduated Phoenix Union High School in 1953 with honors. He enrolled in Arizona State University. He excelled, he played in the marching band, and while he never made a tackle, I'm sure he imagined he did. Aside from God, Country and Family, he never loved anything more. He was the "flying judge" in the gold coat behind the bench. The loudest voice in the referee's rabbit ears. He was also a member of the Arizona State Alumni Association for longer than I've been alive and served as its President in 1988. Go Devils! Favorite Players: Joe Caldwell, Art Becker, Reggie, Rick Monday, Bob Horner, Lionel Hollins, Rudy White, Danny White, Woody Green, Benny Malone, Jonny Nash, Larry Gordon, Junior Ayou, Sam Williams, Fat Lever, Kurt Nimphius, John Jefferson, Mike Moon, Pat Tillman, Randall McDaniel, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Silky Holliman (my man) Jack Schrader and every Sun Devil that ever was. And of course, the gods: Ned Wulk, Frank Kush, and Jim Brock. Still, he had to grow up and out; he graduated ASU ROTC: which meant he served in the army, in the Army Intelligence Service, chasing phantoms and my mom around St. Louis. He didn't serve in war and yet he served with honor. God bless all you who served before and after. He served in peace, and yet he signed his name on dotted line, and if we don't know anything else in this day and age, we know that just that, is heroic. Then he went to law school at the University of Arizona. He graduated, again near the top of his class. He won the national Moot Court Trial. He made lifelong friends with Jack and Diane Redhair, and Kimball and Carroll Rose. God bless you for your support for our dad throughout the years, especially those years, and of course for finding us tickets when none were to be had. He then served as law clerk for then Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, Fred Struckmeyer. After a brief foray into private practice which didn't suit him, he went to work for the prosecution in the state Attorney General's office in 1962. Eventually, he won that office at the polls, the first time by the narrowest of margins, and the second in a landslide. During that time, he served as the President of the National Association of Attorney's General, and lost one of the most famous cases in history. In 1974 He was appointed to the Arizona State court of Appeals by Governor Jack Williams. Four years, and many false allegations later, he lost the election to retain his Judgeship. For most men, the loss of that dream, injustice that it was, would have crushed their spirit and made them crumble. Not our dad. Bitterness, Cynicism, Regret, Revenge, Self-Pity: these were not in him. His Faith was in Christ. His Joy was to serve, which he did again, as Chief Staff Attorney for the Supreme Court of Arizona from 1979 until his retirement in 1997. Throughout all, his was a life of service. He was President of the South Mountain Lions Club and the best Christmas tree salesman there ever was. He was on the board of the South Phoenix Boys Club, where he served with Jesse Owens, he served as president of the church council at Hope Lutheran where he was Choir Director as well, (baritone, voice of an angel)! He also served on the Board of the Salvation Army. He loved the Phoenix South community. It was there that he spent his money and his time. In the end more than anything else: he was a teacher of truths: That justice, wasn't just the man he worked for, but a fairness of mind that keeps us decent and on the right track. That you can be honorable without the honorific. That when the world puts your feet to the fire, you scream the truth and know that God is with you, even if no one else is. That to love one another is still our only hope. That a benediction is more than blessing. It also a command: Go in Peace. Serve the Lord! And he did: Both. A memorial for Gary Nelson will be held at 11:00 on June 5, at King of Glory Church Lutheran Church at 2085 E Southern Ave, Tempe, Arizona.


Published in The Arizona Republic on May 31, 2013
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