Friends remember Nelson

The Red Oak community lost another well known and active member of the community on Jan. 16.
Lester “Allen” Nelson, known to all as Al, passed away at the age of 82. Nelson worked for the Learning Resource Center and was a freelance commercial artist. He later worked for McKeown and Associates before his career as Executive Director for both the Red Oak Chamber of Commerce and the Red Oak Industrial Foundation. Nelson also volunteered for numerous organizations in the community including the Classy Chassis Car Club, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks #1304, Red Oak Ambassadors, and First Congregational United Church of Christ.
Ron Crisp was one of many people who knew Al Nelson. Crisp said he first met Nelson when he was serving as the executive director of the Red Oak Chamber of Commerce and the Red Oak Industrial Foundation while Crisp was serving as Red Oak’s city administrator.
“We’d go to lots of meetings together, and we met each other at all these meetings and talked. When we talked further, we both discovered we had the passion of riding motorcycles. It was back in 1991 or so that we took our first trip together to Hot Springs, Ark., for a three day trip,” Crisp said.
After that initial trip, Crisp said he and Nelson and other friends would take a motorcycle trip every year, starting at three days, then moving to five days. One of the last motorcycle trips, Crisp said, lasted around two weeks.
“We went about 4,000 miles. We avoided traveling north in April or May because it was too cold. Sometimes we’d wait until June to head west or Northwest, but we ended up traveling south quite a bit,” commented Crisp. “We had rules for the rides. We always met at a certain spot before we took off. We had to have a full tank of gas. We rode only the back roads unless there was an emergency. Fast food restaurants were not allowed. We always stopped at mom and pop places and stuff, and finally, in the afternoon, at 3 p.m., we had to stop for ice cream. Also, the motels we stayed in had to have a bar, or be within walking distance of a liquor store, and there were no alcoholic beverages on the ride until the end of the day. That was pretty much the rules.”
One of the things that Crisp remembered was the various wildlife they encountered on their rides.
“In Iowa, we encountered pheasants and deer. In Colorado, we encountered an Elk that was in our path that we had to get around. In South Dakota, we had to ride through a herd of buffalo. We also got stung by some bees while we were in that state. Coming out of Mt. Rushmore, wild turkeys flew in front of us. In Oklahoma, a black bear ran in front of all. In Arkansas, we encountered turtles all over the roadway. Then, I believe it was in Mississippi, we encountered armadillos alongside the road. There was something to each trip we went on that was different and that can help us remember what trip it was. But we had tons of fun,” stated Crisp.
Crisp added that being friends with Nelson was a lot of fun, and that his humor was contagious.
“He listened to the “Prairie Home Companion a lot, and I did too. And Al had gone to school in Coburg, so instead of the “Prairie Home Companion,” Al would tell “Stories From Coburg” and talk about the University down at Coburg, and the big Wal-Mart that Coburg had, and he would tell people all these stories about Coburg and they’d be shocked about all the stuff that Coburg supposedly had,” joked Crisp.
Crisp also shared that Nelson was a tremendous person, and they had many memories from their motorcycle trips, which grew in members.
“I remember one trip we had seven people, so we called ourselves “The Magnificent Seven. Al was the leader of the pack, and we would just follow. If we got off track, we’d wait until Al realized we were off track and correct and get back on target to where we were going. He was a very open-minded individual, and very talented. He did many things including the performing arts, and he was in a lot of organizations. He was a very calm individual and looked at life very positively,” advised Crisp. “When we went together on trips, we’d go to meetings and have the tour guides tell us information, and then at the end, Al and I would get together and make up stuff that was the “true” story, and we’d really have them going for awhile. We had a good laugh about that.”
Crisp said there were many things he would miss now that Nelson had passed, particularly the rides where they traveled thousands of miles.
“I’ll miss the friendship and the “Stories Of Coburg,” and I’ll also miss his artistry. He was a talented artist. It was fun to watch him. Wherever we were he’d carry a pocket pad, and he’d take it out and if he’d gone on a trip, he could recount in detail all of the scenery and the houses, and he would sketch that down on his pad. It was unbelievable just to watch him do it,” explained Crisp. “Recently, I would pick him up and we’d go for a ride to Clarinda or Shenandoah and some other people would pick him up and take him places. He really appreciated that. I’m really going to miss Al.”
Arron LeRette was another member of the community that knew Nelson.  LeRette said he and Nelson first met about 14 years ago at the Red Oak Elk’s Lodge.
“Al introduced himself knowing my late grandparents, which is where the stories started. After that our talks about their time together and the fun they had over the years. Getting more to know Al through our Monday night chats. Motorcycles and cars were a major topic. No matter what day of the month it was he would ask if I rode my Harley that day. It could have been the middle of February, with 10 inches of snow on the ground, Al would still ask if I rode. His sense of humor was one of a kind,” said LeRette.
LeRette added that he would most remember Nelson as being a wonderful man and a big supporter of the community.
“He loved Red Oak and he loved to paint. Many of Al’s paintings highlighted Red Oak. One in particular was of my late grandfather’s business, LeRette’s TV and Appliance, now the FiveOne8 building.  He was very curious. Always asking about how my day was and what was going on in the world,” stated LeRette.
LeRette also shared the things he’d remember most about Nelson, and what he would miss.
“I’ll most remember his witty comments, sense of humor, and the fact he was always interested in anything we talked about. I’ll miss the many nights talking with Al over an ice-cold frosty mug at William’s Rec,” commented LeRette.
Drew Swanson is another community member who met Nelson through the Red Oak Elks Lodge. Swanson said his friendship grew with Nelson towards the end of 2017.
“I had just become licensed as an Iowa attorney, moved back to Red Oak and began my career. A couple times a week, I would stop at Williams’ Recreation (the “Pool Hall”) for a mug and some fellowship.  By this time, Al frequented the Pool Hall.  I’ll never forget walking in one day, and Al was looking at me - but not at my face.  He was looking at my feet,” recalled Swanson. “After asking him what he was looking at, his reply was, ‘where’s your running shoes?’  I responded, ‘Al, these are my work shoes,’ to which he replied, ‘Well how the heck are you going to chase ambulances in those loafers?!’  It took me a moment before I realized he was joking with me, making a play on personal injury attorneys. From that moment, I quickly learned how to decipher his admirably unique and sometimes cryptic sense of humor,” explained Swanson.
Swanson also recalled that Nelson was one of those people who instantly put a smile on your face. 
“Even if I wasn’t planning to stop at the Pool Hall or the Elks, if I saw his car outside while driving by, I would try to make a point to stop in and at least say hi. Why pass up a good joke or a meaningful conversation?  Al was full of them, and it was always something different,” advised Swanson.
Swanson said he will never forget Al’s infectious laugh and smile, and the friendship would be missed.  
“If someone was having a bad day, he could sense it, and it seemed as though he made it his mission to turn it around - and it worked, every time. Whether through a joke, a story of the past, or a combination of both (such as his tenure at Coburg’s elite four-year ivy league university), he always had something up his sleeve to bring a smile to your face,” Swanson said. “Trying to list everything I will miss about Al would be impossible, but if it were, it would result in a book larger than ‘War and Peace.’  From his smile and laugh, to his stories, jokes and way of relating to just about anyone, Al was simply one of a kind.”
Swanson also recalled the time a little over three years ago when he mentioned to Nelson that he needed to go to Des Moines a few days later to catch a plane, but was still trying to figure out how he was going to get to the airport. Nelson had the solution.
“Without me asking, he instantly offered to give me a ride. The best part of that trip, by far, was the ride to Des Moines with Al.  We didn’t take the interstate, as most would. Al decided we would take the ‘back roads’ instead. I was okay with this, as it gave us more time to chat. It didn’t take long to realize why he chose the alternate route. Along the way, he told stories of past motorcycle trips along the same route, the history of certain buildings and farmsteads, and descriptions of how much these areas have changed over the years. We finished up by enjoying lunch at the Machine Shed Restaurant in Urbandale. His stories along the route painted a picture of the area that I otherwise would never have seen. As it turns out, Al was just as good at painting a picture with words as he was with a paintbrush,” commented Swanson.
Bill Horner also knew Nelson, saying he got to know him and his family in 1946.
“We all belonged to the Coburg School Family, so that included 11 years of working and playing together, and me watching him draw amazing pictures in the columns of his homework papers,. He was a “fun guy” from the very beginning, but we went our separate ways after graduating from Coburg Consolidated School, me in ‘57 and he in ‘58,” Horner stated.
In was less than 10 years later, Horner said, that he got the chance to reconnect with Nelson.
“When the Southwest Iowa Learning Resources Center came into being in Red Oak in 1966, with a budget for a staff artist, I knew that there was only one person that could fill that position. Al quickly became the heart and soul of the creative part of developing educational materials for students of all ages. His cartoon characters that communicated educational information resulted in nation-wide distribution to schools. Al possessed a God-Given gift for communication,” Horner said.
Horner added that Nelson possessed a God-Given gift for communication, and the privilege of knowing him for almost 80 years was a gift, and his passing left a gap for Horner that cannot be filled.

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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