Donald James Nelson, 69, of Whitefish, passed away at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, on Feb. 17, 2017, from complications following a motor vehicle accident in Thailand.
Don was born in Scobey to Wilfred Nelson and Ruth (Tande) Nelson. His family moved to Whitefish in 1947 and purchased the Marshall Wells hardware store, now Nelson’s Ace Hardware. They resided in the apartment above the store while Don was growing up, and spent summers in their cabin on Whitefish Lake. Don graduated from Whitefish High School in 1965 and attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He married Laura Hovland of Duluth, Minnesota, in 1968 and graduated from Concordia with a degree in chemistry in 1969. He was then commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Naval Air Force, and attended flight training in Pensacola, Florida, serving as a navigator in a P-3 Orion submarine surveillance squadron until 1974.
He returned home to Whitefish to partner with his brother Rick in operating the family hardware store until his retirement in 2005. He began travelling and developed a love for the infectious smiles and colorful cultures of places such as Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, India, Thailand and Myanmar. For the past twelve years, he operated a trekking and import business which allowed him to share his passion for the cultures he visited. He was a gifted photographer who used his talents to raise funds to benefit the people he met in his extensive travels.
Don was an active Whitefish community member. He served as a founding member of the downtown advocacy group, the Heart of Whitefish, and was instrumental in the development of the Downtown Master Plan. He served on the Whitefish City Council from 1998 to 2002 and was honored to be on the court of the Whitefish Winter Carnival as King Ullr XLIV in 2003.
Don was an amazing father, grandfather, brother and friend. He had a smile for everyone, helped out without hesitation, and made friends with ease. He made the best of his time. He was always up for an adventure, be it on rivers, lakes or hiking in Glacier Park, the Beartooth mountains, or trekking in Nepal. He loved skinning up the mountain and riding his bike with friends, and on more than one occasion he surprised a bear along the way. He served as a volunteer backcountry ranger in Glacier National Park last summer, sharing his love and extensive knowledge of the outdoors.
He is survived by daughter Jennifer Golan and her husband Alon of Columbia Falls, son Chris Nelson and his wife Christy of Whitefish; grandchildren Noah and Kai Golan of Columbia Falls, and Sierra and Olivia Nelson of Whitefish; older sisters Yvonne Bradford, of Missoula, and Lana Nelson, of Columbia Falls, and younger brother Rick Nelson and his wife Marilyn of Whitefish; former wife Laura Cherrington of White Salmon, Washington, and numerous members of his extended family and friends the world over. Don will be greatly missed by all.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, in the Continental Divide room at Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish. Please come and celebrate Don’s life. There will be a display of his photography and slides of his adventure travels. Don was a fierce advocate for and supporter of the people of Nepal and a memorial fund has been established to continue this legacy. Donations, in lieu of flowers, can be made at the Whitefish Credit Union, to the Don Nelson Memorial Fund or online at www.gofundme.com/don-nelson-memorial-fund.