Don Paul Nelson was born September 21, 1941 in Los Angeles, California, as the oldest of four children. He was active in scouting and became an Eagle Scout. Don’s father died when he was seventeen years old and family finances were tight. Don managed to pay for his college education by working one semester and going to school for one semester.
Don was drafted into the Army in 1964 and thoroughly enjoed basic training. It was in basic training that Don discovered a passion for running that remained strong for the remainder of his life. Following basic training, Don was stationed in Alaska where he learned to ski. After winning a race at Ft. Richardson, he was asked to try out for the U.S. Army biathlon unit. Competing against men who had been skiing all their lives, “Stringy”—as his teammates called him—began winning races. He had fortuitously stumbled into a brotherhood that would be the catalyst for some of his greatest joys in life.
Don married Carol Corkett December 29, 1968. After Don completed his bachelor’s degree at California State University in 1971, they moved to Corvallis. Carol taught music at Adams Elementary School and Don continued his education at OSU and began training for the Olympics. He earned his master’s degree in physical education in 1975.
Don went to the pre-trials for the 1968 Olympics and did very well, but during the trials he woke up one morning with all four wisdom teeth infected, so he wasn’t able to complete the competition. He tried again in 1972 and came quite close, but didn’t make the team. He was asked to be an Olympic official, which took him to the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, the 1987 World Championships, and the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. Don thrived on the Olympic ideals of unity and good role models, the pursuit of athletic excellence, and the nobility of the human spirit.
Don and Carol raised three children. Their daughter Sara was born in 1973, and their sons Scott and Andrew were born in 1975 and 1978, respectively.
While at OSU, Don went to work for Brand-S Corporation and continued with the company in sales management for 28 years. Teaching became his avocation. He taught skiing classes for a while and worked closely with the track and cross-country teams at the high schools, especially with Joe Fulton at Philomath High School. He served for a term as president of the youth running club, Timberhill Harriers. Until OSU’s track team was cut in the 1980s, Don was a Pac 10 track official. He was also active with the Corvallis First Church of Christ Scientist and Boy Scout Troop 2.
After Brand-S closed, Don was recruited by Rubberstamp Madness. He became a familiar figure in the downtown area as he made his twice-daily rounds to the post office and visited with people along the way. “They used to call him the Ambassador of Downtown,” said Carol.
Don was a positive and happy person whose favorite word was “absolutely.” His pet phrases were “absolutely delighted!” and “absolutely marvelous!” “That was how he approached life and people,” said Carol. “He thought they were delightful and marvelous.” Don died peacefully and unexpectedly on June 1, 2004. After a race, Don would always say, “Did you see that kid? He was absolutely flyin’!” That phrase is a fitting reminder of Don’s enthusiasm and zest for life, and Don’s family created the Don Nelson Absolutely Flyin’ Fund to support track and cross-country at Corvallis High School, Crescent Valley High School, and Philomath High School.