What is the measure of a man? If an extensive portfolio and a pile of cash in the bank are the markers required to be a “success”, some might consider Harry Rosen Nelson, who passed away at the age of 96 on March 3, 2019, a failure. However, if a man is to be assessed based upon the lives he touches, the friendships he makes, Harry was a very wealthy man indeed. Good friends were good friends for life, and friendships could be made any time and any where.
Not that he was a poor man or without resources. He would tell you the Good Lord had provided well for him. He and his late wife Dee worked hard and were able to travel and partake of some of the wonders the world has to offer. In his quest to see the world (to be “nosy” as he liked to say) many rich, lasting memories were made. Memories Harry took great pleasure in sharing. The stories were told in great detail, painting a clear picture allowing the “audience” to “see” his experiences. “I walked down the hall and turned right. I’m not sure why I went right and not left….” He knew well that even little choices could change the course of one’s life.
Born in Ogden, Utah on July 22, 1922 to parents Edwin and Helen (Taylor) Nelson, Harry was the younger of two sons. His family moved to Southern California when he was a toddler. His father was a manager at a Piggly Wiggly grocery store; however, he lost his job in the Great Depression and the family struggled to put food on the table. His parents sometimes went without, so he and his brother Ed could eat. Chili was often the family’s go-to meal; his fondness for the dish never diminished. He would also tell you growing up and living in So Cal in the era in which he did enabled him to meet and interact with many famous people. A list he was recently compiling included such well-known names as Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Doris Day, Shirley Temple, Jackie Cooper, John Wayne, and Glen Ford. Watching old movies was an opportunity to see old friends again and often brought a tear or two to his eyes.
Harry was an athletic fellow and a sports fan. While attending Huntington Park High School, Harry played basketball, baseball, and ran track. He also loved music – playing the clarinet and other instruments in dance bands. He was an Eagle Scout; his sash is full of the merit badges he earned including one for semaphoring, a system of signaling with the use of flags. This experience ultimately led him to raise his hand when a group of new Coast Guard recruits was asked if any wanted to
go to signalman school (the fact that it was in Hawaii was also a plus). Training behind him, Harry was assigned to the USCGC Taney and served as Signalman 1st Class. He considered it his “home” for the three years he was aboard and remained a dedicated shipmate throughout the years, being instrumental in organizing reunions and preserving the ship as part of a floating museum in the Baltimore Inner Harbor.
At the end of the war and with discharge papers in hand, Harry headed to college on the GI Bill, graduating from George Pepperdine College in Los Angeles in 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physical Education. During his college years, he helped to form the Beta Tau Delta fraternity and was fortunate to have been a part of the 1946 inaugural Waves football team, beating Nebraska Wesleyan in the Will Rogers Bowl in Oklahoma at the conclusion of the season. For his part in their success, he was later inducted into the Pepperdine Athletics Hall of Fame. Pepperdine’s Volleyball Coach Emeritus Marv Dunphy described Harry as “an All-Time Great Wave!” for his years of dedication to the institution. Most importantly to Harry, however, were the friendships he made that truly lasted a lifetime.
Later, while working at USC in the Student Activities Dept., Harry earned his Masters Degree but even more importantly he met the love of his life and future wife Dee. They tied the knot on July 29, 1955, enjoying a delayed honeymoon at the 1956 Summer Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. Thus
began the couple’s lifelong passion for travel. At last count, Harry had visited 103 countries and many amazing places such as the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon. In the midst of all the travel, Harry and Dee found time to raise their two children: son Chad and daughter Lynn. The children enjoyed many family vacations with their parents including ones in Hawaii, Canada, and Europe.
In 2012, having attended 17 summer games, Harry was awarded a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “#ONE FAN” of the Summer Olympics. He and Dee went on to attend two additional games – London in 2012 and Rio in 2016, so his current certified record with Guinness is 19 games attended. With encouragement from his friends Dar Horn and Keith Dolan, Harry also authored a book about his Olympic adventures, “Following the Flame – A 76 year Olympic Journey”. His sights were set on the 2020 games in Tokyo, and tentative plans were in the works for his attendance with his son Chad, whom he had tasked with getting him there. The fact he would have just turned 98 at the start of the games was not a deterrent to Harry. Where there was a will; there would be a way. In the end, the Lord had another plan. Harry will, no doubt, be there in spirit.
Harry is survived by son Chad (Judy) Nelson of Kent, OH; daughter Lynn Nelson of Reno, NV; grandsons Michael (Mallory) Danks and Justin Nelson; sister-in-law Nan Nelson, and many loving nieces and nephews. Harry was preceded in death by his parents; brother, Edwin L. Nelson; and wife, Delores “Dee” (Henson) Nelson. Following cremation, Harry’s ashes will be interred with his wife’s at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, CA with a nearby nameplate memorializing them forever as the “World’s Greatest Olympic Fans”.
**Donations may be made in Harry’s memory to**
Pepperdine Football Players Endowed Scholarship Fund via a dedicated site for Harry:
and/or the USCGC TANEY Hull Preservation Project via the Historic Ships of Baltimore donation site:
Donors should note in comments “Gift in honor and memory of Harry R. Nelson to support the USCGC TANEY”.