Pastors' Memoirs

Wesley Joseph Nelson, 1935 – 2007

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The Rev. Wesley Joseph Nelson, 71, of Ferrum, Va., died Jan. 21, 2007, at his home after a battle with cancer. He was born Aug. 13, 1935, in Beloit, Wis., and was the son of the late Joseph O. and Grace Wheeler Nelson. In addition to his parents, a brother, Herbert Nelson and two sisters, June Zuckerman and Keith Ann Nelson, preceded him in death. Surviving are his wife, Annita Palmer Nelson; a daughter, Deborah R. Nelson, Madison, Wis.; and two sons, Eugene J. Nelson and his wife Theresa Blaser, Madison, Wis.; and Rev. Dr. Michael Lee Nelson and his wife Elaine, Chesapeake; and two grandchildren, Jeremy Alan and Claire Melinda Nelson, Chesapeake. He is also survived by a brother, Calvin R. Nelson and his wife Georgette of Springfield and many brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews.

Wes graduated from Beloit College in 1957 with a B.A. After graduation, he registered as a conscientious objector to the military draft, and worked at the Menninger Clinic for psychiatry in Topeka, Kan., as his alternative service. After two years at Menninger’s, Wes entered seminary at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. In 1961, he was ordained a Deacon in the Methodist Church (in the North Texas Conference as a courtesy to the East Wisconsin Conference), and in 1963 was ordained Elder in the East Wisconsin Conference. From 1962 to 1963, Rev. Nelson served Johnson Creek and Concord Methodist Churches in the East Wisconsin Conference; and from 1963 to 1965 he served Monona Methodist Church in the West Wisconsin Conference. In 1966, he entered the George Peabody College for Teachers, where he earned a Master of Library Science.

In 1970, he and Annita moved to Ferrum, where he was employed by Ferrum College as Associate Librarian for over 30 years, retiring in December 2000. While living in Ferrum, he became involved in many civic and volunteer organizations: He was a member of the Ferrum Fire Department (and later board of directors), a lifetime member of the Ferrum Volunteer Rescue Squad, and the

Ferrum Lions Club. He also served on the board of the Southern Area Agency on Aging, Franklin County Habitat for Humanity and Franklin County United Way. A former chair of the Franklin County Chapter of the American Red Cross, Wes also served many years as an instructor and instructor trainer. He also served for many years as an election official for Franklin County and on the Franklin County Transportation and Safety Commission.

In 1998, Wes transferred his conference membership to the Virginia Annual Conference. In that year, he began serving as pastor to St. James UMC, the church he had been associated with since moving to Ferrum. In 2000, he was also appointed to New Hope UMC between Callaway and Rocky Mount. Wes retired from the Virginia Conference in 2002, and continued to serve both churches for one more year.

There are three things that I think I would want people to remember about Wes Nelson, my dad. The first would be that Dad took very seriously what Jesus called the greatest commandment, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself." Dad knew that it is impossible to love God without loving your neighbor. In Dad’s case, I think it also meant loving the neighborhood, the community. I can see in how Dad lived his life that he believed individuals have a responsibility to contribute to the greater good of the community, and the communities’ responsibility to all those "neighbors," ensuring that even "the least of these" are cared for with dignity and integrity.

The second thing to remember about Dad is how much he loved my mom, and how much she loved him. Especially in those last few months, as Mom was able to be there for him as a wonderful nurse as well as wife. It always eased his mind in those days to know that she was the one taking care of him.

And the third thing that I would want us to remember, is that this is not the end. In the resurrection of Christ, God has given us the greatest gift and the greatest promise of everlasting life in the Kingdom of God. This was symbolized, for my dad, in his favorite funeral story. I know, it sounds kind of odd to have a "favorite funeral story," but this was Dad’s. Many people know that Winston Churchill, the great Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who led them through World War II, took great pains in planning his own funeral to a minute detail. The funeral took place in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and after the benediction a lone bugler stood high in the dome and played "Taps," that universal signal that the day is over, and it is time to rest. But Churchill did not want that to be the final word, and so he had left instructions that as soon as the last note of "Taps" faded, a second bugler began to sound "Reveille," the signal that a new day has dawned and it is time to arise. This is not the end, but for Dad, a new beginning. Praise be to God.

— Michael Lee Nelson




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