Benefit planned for Nelson family
WORTHINGTON -- A series of tragedies and unimaginable loss over the past decade has left a Worthington man to raise four of his grandchildren. Jeff Nelson lost his high school sweetheart and wife of 36 years, Sandy, on June 12. The couple was rai...
WORTHINGTON - A series of tragedies and unimaginable loss over the past decade has left a Worthington man to raise four of his grandchildren.
Jeff Nelson lost his high school sweetheart and wife of 36 years, Sandy, on June 12. The couple was raising four of their grandchildren, including Dillon and Dalton Nelson, who lost their mother, Christianna Alm, in a car crash in February 2005; and Jeffrey and Nevaeh Becker, who lost their mother and the Nelson’s daughter, Amanda Becker, in October 2011 at the age of 25.
Sandy, who had been hospitalized for nearly four months before her death, requested her husband promise to keep the kids together.
“When we told my wife she was going to die, the first words out of her mouth were, ‘You have to promise me, Jeff, that you will never break those kids up. They’re our family, they’ve lived at our house and this is what they know,” he shared. “She was very adamant about wanting those kids to stay where they are - this is their family.”
Jeff has no intention of breaking that promise, and for the past month he and the grandchildren have developed a routine. Now, the Manna Food Pantry - where both Jeff and Sandy volunteered - plans a benefit for the Nelsons from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Linda Sanchez, coordinator at Manna Food Pantry, said Sandy was a 25-year volunteer for the program and Jeff helped as well.
“With her having such high medical needs, (they need) help in paying the bills out there,” Sanchez said. “Raising four grandchildren, they pour their heart out to those kids.”
The benefit will include a meal of pork sandwiches, baked beans, corn and beverages in exchange for a contribution to the Nelson family. In addition, several gift cards were donated by local businesses and will be offered through a silent auction. If additional businesses would like to contribute gift cards, gift certificates or donations toward the auction, contact Sanchez at 329-1951.
Jeff said his wife “lived and died” the food pantry, asking how things were going at the pantry even while confined to her hospital bed. The couple began volunteering there in the late 1980s, as it is located in the church they attend, Westminster Presbyterian.
“Sandy and I were both elders and served on all the boards at our church,” Jeff said. “She was a (Christian Education) teacher for many, many years. Way back, even before we started at the food pantry, she was teaching Sunday school.”
Sandy had been hospitalized this spring to have her second leg removed due to complications with calciphylaxis - a calcifying of the muscle tissue. She had one leg removed last summer.
Jeff said she went through surgery “with flying colors,” but problems arose after she began therapy.
“She didn’t eat for the last month,” said Jeff, explaining that it was the result of medication his wife had been given.
With her death, Jeff said the thing he misses the most is not having Sandy around to talk to - to council with about the care of the grandchildren.
“That is part of being in a good marriage -- when you ask each other all the time about the ‘what ifs?’” he said. “We went forward with the attitude every day, ‘Am I going to have a bitter or a better day?’ She always got up with, it’s going to be a better day.”
It was that optimism that helped her through the car crash that killed their son, Travis’, fiancee Christianna, and seriously injured grandsons Dillon and Dalton, and then again when she lost her daughter Amanda, who was eight months pregnant when she had a seizure and subsequent heart attack. With her death, they also lost their granddaughter, Josie.
The Nelsons have raised Dillon and Dalton since the crash as their son wasn’t able to do it alone. Dalton had suffered a brain injury and had to relearn how to eat, talk and read. When they lost Amanda, her husband needed help in caring for Nevaeh and Jeffrey. The Nelsons took in Jeffrey, now 6, and Nevaeh, 3, within months after Amanda’s death.
“(They) were all we had left of our daughter,” Jeff said.
Today, Dillon is 17 and Dalton is 15, and they both help take care of their younger cousins, making sure they get to daycare or school when Jeff is at work. He works in maintenance full-time at Holiday Inn Express.
“It’s a blessing in disguise with those two older ones,” said Jeff. “In between them and Matt and Cassie (Jeff’s other son and daughter-in-law, who reside in Worthington) and their dad (helping out), it works out perfect.”
Helping to sponsor Thursday’s benefit are Thrivent Financial, Fareway, JBS, HyVee, Wal-Mart and Holiday Inn Express.