After retirement, former administrator built an award-winning program at a senior center with service from students.
Editor's update: Myron Nelson passed away October 8, 2023. We share our condolences with his family.
Myron Nelson spent 69 years in education, including as a fourth-grade teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and director of federal funds. For 31 of those years, he worked in Rosemead Elementary School District, but he didn’t leave education.
Instead, he retired in 1985, but went back to work as a substitute at his old school district. Then he and his wife bought property and moved to Castle Rock, Washington, and built a house on several acres of land, growing apples in an orchard. In 1986, he became a substitute teacher for another 12 years, but his work wasn’t done.
Nelson helped start the Bridging the Generations program, with high school students serving lunch and talking with their elders at the senior center.
The idea came from a consultant working with the city of Castle Rock. “There was a paragraph in the city plan about an effort to unite the youth and seniors in the community to bridge the generations. Then nothing was done for about four years and a new superintendent came. I was president of the senior center at the time, and I came up with the idea of having students sit with seniors.”
Students serve lunch and bus tables but also get to know the people at the senior center. The graduating seniors also write essays for scholarships.
He headed the program for 17 and a half years. Nelson, who uses a wheelchair and a scooter for mobility, recently decided it was time to take a rest. “You know, many people would give up in my condition, but as long as I have a brain that is working, I am going to keep a positive attitude and contribute when I can,” Nelson said.
At 94, he and his wife send out an email newsletter to keep friends and family informed. They celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and give updates on the latest in the vegetable garden. It’s another way to stay connected to everyone they’ve met in his years in education.
Always busy, always volunteering
Nelson edited and created a series of videos from his trips and cruises after taking classes at a public access television station. He shared them with retirement communities and senior centers and the station awarded him Producer of the Year.
“When I retired and moved to Washington, making videos and writing travel stories wasn’t in any of my thoughts and to be involved with high school students was the furthest from my mind. I happened to meet the right people, at the right time and with support, and here after 69 years, I still enjoy working with students.”
After retiring from substitute teaching, Nelson made things for teachers in his home workshop—everything from teaching aides, bookcases and reading carts. He also taught a 55 Alive driving class for older drivers for 20 years, participated in local civic groups and was recognized with numerous awards, including the Washington State Andrus Award for Community Service in 2021.
Why did you become a teacher?
“I had an uncle who was a chiropractor, and I wanted to be a chiropractor too. He had a nice home and a nice car, and this was right after the Great Depression. Because the chiropractic college said you had to have a foreign language, I signed up for a German class but did poorly. I had to change to something else, and there was a lot of demand for teachers, so I went into education. I’ve been in it for 69 years, so I’m glad I changed. It’s been a great ride for me.”
Before becoming a teacher, he was in the Army for two years. “The interesting thing is I ended up in Germany, and I spent 18 months working with the German railroad.”
As soon as Nelson was discharged from the Army, he found employment with Rosemead Elementary School District, where he spent his entire career before retiring for the first time.
He talks about the changes he saw during his career, including working as a principal with teachers he had worked alongside. “It was a good relationship. That school, we were the first in the district to have Title I. The staff piloted a book for mathematics for three years. We had a project for equal opportunity in the classroom in Los Angeles County schools.”
Nelson said he missed not being able to know all 750 kids in his school, but he said it was also a time when Title I schools were allowed to hire parents to be aides in the classroom. “One of the parents, I told her go get an education. You’d do well in the classroom. That’s what she did. She graduated, became a teacher and became a principal. That made me proud. I could see early in her that she was going to be a good teacher and administrator.”
Did you have a favorite teacher?
Nelson said his favorite was his fourth, fifth and sixth grade teacher. “She had excellent discipline but a unique way of teaching.”
What’s one thing you’re proud of doing as an educator?
As administrative assistant for the district, Nelson created Project APPLE (Always Present Positive Learning Experiences) to feature work of the schools in local banks. The manager of one of the banks was so impressed that she donated money to the program and tellers took turns before work to go to one of the schools to help with a reading program.
“The program really unified our district. I still hear from some of my teachers, and they still talk about Project APPLE.”
In his work in Washington, Nelson is most proud of the Bridging the Generations program at the senior center. The students build relationships that extend beyond high school. “We just had a lunch for the kids, and we took five students who received scholarships to the city council meeting. They read their scholarship applications so people in the city knew what was going on in the senior center.”
Tell us about your family
Nelson met Mary, “the wind beneath my wings,” when they were in high school in Wisconsin. She lived with his aunt and uncle so she could go to school in a larger town with a high school. “I got to meet Mary and go to the movies and things like that. When I was in the Army, we started writing letters. We called it a letter romance. When we got together after the Army, we visited for a month, and I asked her to marry me. That was 69 years ago.”
Nelson says his wife always lets him have the glory. “She supports me in so many ways, and yet when it comes to being honored, she’d rather me be honored than her. Lately, people have realized it’s a partnership and now the two of us are honored.”
The Nelsons have two children, David and Pam, and four grandchildren, and his pride is evident as he listed their accomplishments. Pam lives with them and helps as a caregiver.
How did you end up in Washington?
Nelson’s parents moved to California while he was in the Army, so he ended up in the state with Mary. They liked to visit Washington on vacation each summer, camping in a trailer. “When we retired, we said this was where we wanted to go. We bought property, improved it, moved up here in 1986 and built our home. We’ve been here ever since.”
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