STEPPING TOWARD 100
Mickey Nelson of Clarks Grove could be called a perfect human specimen.
Mickey has exhibited perfect health for most of his years leading to his 100th birthday, which he will celebrate on Saturday, June 27.
"I have been using my good health as an opportunity to help others, Mickey says with determination.
This soon-to-be 100-year-old has spent all of his days in Clarks Grove. Asked where he was born, Mickey beams: "Right here." That means he was born in the house where he currently resides.
Mickey is becoming a celebrity of sorts after his two daughters, Michelle of Faribault and Kathy of Clarks Grove, convinced him to walk 100 miles before the summer ends, doing it to raise money for charity.
His two daughters challenged him to complete miles, emulating a British soldier's goal of walking 100 laps around his garden.
British war veteran Captain Tom Moore lifted the hearts of a nation in lockdown. His initial goal was to raise 1,000 pounds for the National Health Service. He smashed that total by ending up raising over $30 million.
Mickey and Captain Tom share a common thread, both serving their country. Nelson is a World War II veteran, serving in the U.S. Army from 1944-46.
As of a week before his 100th birthday, Mickey had raised over $95,000. His initial goal was $5,000. The beneficiary of Nelson's efforts will be the Salvation Army of Albert Lea.
The magic $100,000 figure looked like a certainty for Nelson to achieve.
"Oh, I just saw the little guy going out for another walk," chimed a neighbor as he waved at Mickey beginning his daily walk. "People drive by and honk their horns; I like that," Nelson says.
Nelson has a regular route he follows, from his home, to the post office, over the railroad tracks, around the Baptist church and back home.
Mickey Has become a topic for the media in the past few months. Boyd Huppert of KARE 11 featured Nelson on his "Land of 10,000 Stories" segment on May 24. Huppert hosts and produces this weekly KARE 11 program.
Nelson has been interviewed by other news teams, national and local. He was even interviewed by a Hollywood news show.
Because of this exposure, mainly due to the promotional talents of his children, Nelson has raised $95,000 from 1,300 donors. Michelle says her dad's efforts are monitored on a Salvation Army fundraising page.
"His fundraising is calculated on my e-mail.Every time he gets another donation, my e-mail goes off," Michelle laughs. Rather than just a solo ding, it sputters with repetition.
Nelson said his pastor also convinced him to walk for a cause. "I'm going downhill now," he says, indicating that he is over half way to his goal of 100 miles. He likely will make his goal in mid-August, says daughter Michelle.
Michelle says she checks on her dad's mileage by using a special APP.
Sitting comfortably in a lounge chair on his deck, Nelson reminisces about his career in transportation, about his years in the Army and, of course, about his family. In addition to his two daughters, Nelson has a son Ken.
Nelson drove bus for 58 years. He started his bus business by placing a wooden bus on a gravel truck chassis. That was before the state funded school transportation.
In his second year in the bus business, Nelson bought a 36-passenger bus. "That bus burned so much oil, we kept it only a year and traded it for a 72-passenger bus," said Nelson. His bus routes covered Clarks Grove, Hollandale, Geneva and Manchester.
Nelson said he doesn't necessarily care to read about someone's historical highlights but admits that he enjoyed the movie, "Forest Gump." Gump walked much of his life, using his good health.
Told by this writer that he was going to be asked about his growing up years, Nelson relented.
He said he was born in the home where he currently resides. He received his nickname, Mickey, from Lillie Ditlevson. "It was because of my small size and also because it was about the time that Mickey Mouse was created," he recalls.
Nelson has lived in four houses within a two-block area of Clarks Grove. Nelson's father was a gravel contractor.
Mickey and his first wife, Dardenella, were married 67 years. She died in 2008. He then married Marguerite. They have been married 12 years. She is a resident at Oak Parks care facility in Albert Lea.
"I call her Margie and we talk at least twice a day," says Nelson.
He says he and Margie keep one another young and at times I can make her laugh.
Michelle said her father asked her what she thought of him getting married again. "It's rather soon, father," she replied. "Yes, but I'm 88 years old," he countered.
Longevity definitely runs in Nelson's family. His father Norman lived to be 99. Grandfather Nels (maternal) lived to be 88 and paternal grandfather Lauritz Nelson lived to his upper 80s.
Asked what his secret is for having a long life, Nelson said it is no secret. It's just keeping active physically and mentally, he believes.
Nelson admits that we are living in challenging times. How do we get past the pandemic? "I wonder," he ponders. "Stay home and be safe," says Nelson sternly.
"Things are going to change," 'Nelson predicts.
He remembers the Depression when there was no work. "I had no money as a kid and begged all week for a nickel and then gave up." He said now, kids would throw a nickel away.
Mickey recalls wanting a .22 rifle as a kid. "I didn't get it until I could afford it," he says.
Looking ready to go for another walk, Nelson says he received a pair of SAS shoes as a gift from SAS Shoes, making his walks less of a challenge. Mickey also recently received a "throw" from the Faribault woolen Mills.
"Where should we put our museum?" Nelson asks his two daughters, hinting that his history could be framed in a museum. "I've been to the Truman Museum (Independence, Mo.), says Nelson. "President Truman did the right thing," sanctioning the Atom Bomb in 1945.
Turning to his military career, Nelson said he wasn't in combat but served in a tank unit in Fort Knox, Ky. and at Camp Roberts, Calif.
Nelson hunted and fished at a young age and has always had a love for gardening. His other interests include square dancing and singing in the church and American Legion choirs. "I am not a soloist but can say I was in the choir," he chuckles.
Nelson's faith is very important to him. His mother asked him to join a local Baptist church at age 12. "I joined and accepted Jesus Christ as my savior; I didn't argue with her."
Nelson said he went to many prayer meetings as a youngster with his mother. In his later years as a deacon, Nelson said Margie was his secretary.
Nelson says he and Marge pray and hope that the pandemic will end soon.
Now, it's time to go for a walk, smiles Nelson. "That's my love," he affirms.