If you were a member of Donald Nelson's family and were the slightest bit curious about the family's history, Donnie was the man with all the facts. We're talking about dates of births and deaths and all the other minutiae of genealogical information, which he had committed to memory and was always ready to share with a story about the old days.
And there weren't many bored yawns when he was reciting those old dramas, because Donnie could make them fascinating.
Although Donnie was 82 when he died Saturday, his death from a heart attack shocked the family because he was a health nut, always looking for new herbs and vitamins to keep himself robust. He also was the supplement industry's best salesman. When he heard about someone's indisposition, he would say, "You ought to try this," and proffer some herb he felt would take care of the complaint.
"I used to call him 'Mr. Herbalist,' " said his daughter, Donna Lynne Nelson.
Donnie Nelson, who lived in West Philadelphia, knew what hard work was. In his youth, he toiled as a gravedigger at the Eglington Cemetery in Clarksboro, N.J., working with his grandfather, Seldon Nelson. They used shovels in those days.
"His feet were messed up from stepping on the shovel blade," his daughter said.
Donnie moved on to somewhat less physically demanding work in maintenance for the company that developed the UNIVAC, the first commercial computer produced in the U.S., at 3747 Ridge Ave., in the early '50s.
From there, he moved on to the Martin Fischer Real Estate Co., where he was in charge of maintenance on the company's rental properties, and pretty much ran the business when Mr. Fischer was away. He retired in 2009.
"He was very dependable," his daughter said. "He was always there for the family. He was a jack of all trades. He taught me a lot."
Donnie was always willing to use his handyman talents to help family members with maintenance problems, but he wouldn't just do the work and depart. He would show how it was done and get the others to do the jobs themselves.
"He showed me how to move heavy furniture," his daughter said, "how to get a big piece down the stairs. How to slide a rug under something you wanted to move and drag it along the floor. Little things like that."
Donnie was a man of fixed habits. Every Friday night, he would have a dinner of fried fish with potatoes, cole slaw and corn bread.
Of course, he didn't cook it. His wife was the cook. Donnie's idea of a meal, which he would prepare for himself if his wife was away, was hot dogs and boiled eggs, cooked in the same water.
Donnie was born in Gibbstown, N.J., to Mabel Nelson Dabney and Roland Cooper. He grew up in Paulsboro's Hill section and attended the Greenwich Township public schools, including Gibbstown High School.
He met his future wife, Mildred "Moy" Hamilton, when she was in the eighth grade at Clarksboro Elementary School. They married in 1957.
Donnie enjoyed hanging out with men he had known since school days. During football season, they met at Paulsboro High School games.He was the last survivor of the group.
To relax, he would visit the Atlantic City casinos, play card games on his computer and listen to jazz CDs. He was a fan of Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis.
Besides his wife and daughter, he is survived by three other daughters, Sharon Griffin, Nadine Fields and Cheryl Lewis; a son, Mark Morris; seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Services: 11 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church of Jericho, Deptford, N.J. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Gates of Heaven Cemetery, Mount Royal, N.J. n