Nelson Denney was exactly who Tom Brokaw was writing about when he published The Greatest Generation. He was born on September 3, 1919 at his home farm in Redding, Iowa. He was a teenager during the Great Depression and developed the Middle American values that sustained him throughout his long life.
He was educated in the country schools near Redding and attended senior year of high school in nearby Mt. Ayr, Iowa. He went there was because they had basketball and baseball teams and Nelson loved sports. His 15 minutes of fame came at Mt. Ayr when his baseball team played for the state championship. They were defeated but as Paul Harvey, one of Nelsonís favorite radio personalities, used to say this is the rest of the story: The other team had a pitcher by the name of Bobby Feller, who went on to Hall of Fame glory with the Cleveland Indians. So the loss became an element of pride. After graduating, Nelson attended Marysville State Teacherís College in nearby Missouri.
But the greatest test for the Greatest Generation was about to begin. Nelson must have known war was in the wind because he enlisted in the Iowa National Guard in December, 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor. He was on active duty until 1946 and during this time he married Irilene Rowe from his hometown on October 24, 1941. Their daughter, Sue was born on April 12, 1943 while Nelson was stationed at Fort Sill Oklahoma.
The Iowa National Guard, along with the Minnesota National Guard was the first American Army unit to see action in North Africa and there were terrible casualties as the troops learned the art of warfare. Nelson, however, missed this because he was attending Officers Candidate School when they deployed. Upon receiving his commission he served as an artillery instructor and later deployed to the Island of Kauai in Hawaii. The job of his battery was to prevent the enemy from occupying Nawiliwili Harbor. After the war, Nelson served on the occupation force in Japan.
After the war Nelson and Irilene decided to live in Fort Collins, Colorado where one of Irileneís uncles had homesteaded. This was better for Irileneís hay fever than the farmland of Iowa. Nelson built a house and attended Colorado A & M College (now Colorado State University). He worked for the Fort Collins Post Office while a student and they offered him a full time job. He made his career at the Post Office, working his way up to Assistant Postmaster.
Nelson stayed in the Army by joining the Colorado National Guard, retiring in 1965 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He used his leadership skills in all areas of the community, notably helping to build Chapel of the Pines.
Nelson was able to exercise his love for building by constructing and renovating homes in Fort Collins, Red Feather Lakes, Iowa and Arizona. He also built a large addition and a complete home for Sue and her husband, Jim in New York.
Nelson loved to hunt and fish and had an old black jeep which became his field office. Nobody knows how many fish, deer and elk were transported in ďBlackieĒ but the number would be impressive.
Nelsonís other passion was golf. It was on a golfing vacation to Kauai to revisit his earlier experiences, that Nelson and Irilene bought a two-week timeshare. They returned every year thereafter and generously took family and friends along and gave them some memorable golf experiences. Nelson had two holes-in-one during his career and the two trophies, along with Irileneís made an impressive mantle display.
After retiring, Nelson and Irilene bought a place in Mesa, Arizona and became golfing snowbirds, alternating between Red Feather Lakes fishing and Mesa golfing.
In 2002, they moved to Leavenworth, Washington to be closer to family, nearly all of whom were leaving there by then. There was a golf course there but the fishing was much more complicated than casting a fly in the front yard in Red Feather. But Red Feather didnít have world class bratwurst and a Christmas light show for the ages.
Nelson is survived by daughter Sue and her husband Jim, from Ellensburg, Washington, Grandson Jay Briggs and his wife Roxie from Ellensburg and Granddaughter Amy Maher and her husband Bob from Kirkland, Washington. He has four great grandchildren (Jake Briggs, Julia Maher, Madison Briggs and Andrew Maher). Nelson survived Irilene by only 63 days. They are now reunited in eternity and provided a living example of the Greatest Generation.
Graveside services were conducted at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, April 23, 2017 at Redding Cemetery, Redding, Iowa with Rev. Skip Rushing officiating. Militery rites were conducted by
the Iowa Honor Guard and Ringgold Post #172.
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, March of 2017