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Woman of the century says, ‘Let your word be impeccable’

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Dee Nelson, of River Falls, just celebrated her 100th birthday. She's shown next to a table she keeps full of souvenirs from all around the world, which have been given to her by friends.2 / 2

A lot has happened in the last century -- for the world, for the country, and especially for Dee Nelson.

The River Falls resident turned 100 years old on Dec. 23. She celebrated with a big party at Belle Vinez winery in the town of Clifton.

“It was a glorious celebration,” Nelson said, “Lots of people, lots of friends that I hadn’t seen for a long time.”

Dee Nelson’s son Anders said someone at the party commented on the number of people who had come to see Dee.

“He said, ‘You know, most people become well-known because they put themselves out there...and we’re all there (because) of the exact opposite reason,’” Anders said, “‘because your mom is this person who’s expressed herself in a really gentle way and it shows such grace and wisdom.’”

Dee Nelson was born and raised in St. Paul, Minn. She and her husband George, who she married in 1941, built a house in Elk River, Minn. And then the United States entered World War II.

“We got the word that...the Army wanted him,” Dee Nelson said. “And he was gone for four years without ever returning.”

It was a long four years. But Nelson said the day she found out the war was over was wonderful.

“I was in Washington D.C., across from the White House, when the president came out and said the war has ended,” Dee said. “That was a big day for me.”

Dee said she just happened to be there with a friend of hers. The two women were finishing a summer vacation spent in New York that year.

The friends had gone to Washington for dinner when the end of the war was announced.

“Instead this word came,” Dee said. “The restaurants were closed, people were throwing toilet tissue into the trees, they were screaming and yelling. It was a night to remember.”

After the war ended, Dee and her husband returned to Elk River for a while. George worked at a bank in Elk River but wanted to try something else.

“So, we were looking for anything that came along,” Dee said. “One day, he came in, just driving around looking for something...he heard about this farm in Wisconsin, and he went out in Mann Valley to see it.”

“He thought it was so beautiful, and we bought it without ever asking me if I wanted to...When he came home...that night I remember saying, ‘You bought it and you never consulted me?’”

Dee said George told her it was such a great piece of property that she’d love it. So they got in the car and drove off to see the land George had just bought.

“It looked all right in the dark,” Dee said. But when the couple drove out the next morning to see the farm again, Dee said, it was clear the farm was in need of some upkeep.

“We had a project going before we ever moved there,” she said.

Dee said it took what felt like “forever” to fix up the farm, with its old country house built in 1868.

She and George moved to River Falls in 1951, and started farming.

They ran a dairy farm for 15 years, then started a nursery and antique shop, which Dee said the couple just loved.

“We gardened heavily... I had all kinds of flowers,” Dee said. “We liked what we were doing so much.”

They had trees and shrubbery, and Dee had a garden with a lot of variety.

“My pleasure was sharing a garden with people,” she said. “People would come to help me garden, and we used to have wonderful times around a great big, flat stone, and stones all around it. We called it the Fred Flintstone dining set.”

Dee and George had three children -- Kristin, Scott and Anders.

After George died more than a decade ago, Dee lived on the farm for one more year before moving to River Falls where she now lives -- right next door to her church.

“She’s an amazing person,” said Anders. “She’s absolutely incredible, and an inspiration. For somebody 100 years old, I mean...reading, wisdom what an inspiration to so many people, she truly is.”

When asked to share a piece of advice for others, Nelson had this to say:

“One thing I cling to, and think about and hope to live by, is ‘let your word be impeccable.’”

For the complete story, see the Jan. 7 print issue of the River Falls Journal.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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