Donald Dewey Nelson passed away Sunday, July 5, 2020, in Red Bluff, Calif. He was born June 8, 1938, in San Francisco, to Dewey Francis and Leila Crabtree Nelson. An only child, Don’s affinity for horses began at an early age when he would take the bus from his suburban home to a riding stable – toting his saddle along the way. His parents fully supported his growing livestock and agriculture interests and his mother shared and fostered this passion by traveling with him to the family ranch in Oakdale at every opportunity.
While pursuing his B.S. degree in Animal Science at California State University, Fresno, Don rode bulls and bareback horses for the rodeo team and cowboyed in Nevada in the summers. It was also there that he met the love of his life, Suzanne Phister, in a cattle feedlot class where he raised his hand stating he would be her partner for a class project. Married in 1958, the couple moved to Clovis, Calif., where Don began his career teaching Animal Science at CSU, Fresno, while also working as an AQHA and APHA judge. Their lives were filled with many happy activities involving their four children in 4-H and FFA livestock shows as well as Quarter Horse shows. As a lifelong learner, Don obtained his M.S. in Animal Science from University of California, Davis and his Ph.D in Animal Nutrition from The Ohio State University.
Don’s distinguished career included serving as general manager of Agricultural Operations at the Bixby Ranch Company in Los Angeles, Calif., executive vice president of the American International Charolais Association in Houston, vice president of Policy Coordination for the National Cattlemen’s Association in Denver, and assistant director of the Ranch Management Program at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
In 1989, he was hired as Extension beef specialist for the Department of Animal Sciences at Washington State University in Pullman. Don implemented innovative managed livestock grazing models to assist ranchers as they developed sustainable alternatives to restore land coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program. He was most proud of his project directorship for two major Kellogg Foundation funded state/regional efforts where participants were trained in holistic management, leadership and overcoming group conflict.
Once described by a colleague as an “innovator, visionary, leader, collaborator, contrarian, sage, mover and shaker, educator…” Don was nationally recognized for his capacity building efforts in the areas of holistic decision-making, consensus building, leadership development and livestock ranch management. He was also known for his meticulous note taking, his pocket filled with 3 x 5 index cards fondly referred to as “Dad’s Pocketpedia.” Don could always bring an audience to laughter with his pithy quips.
Don enjoyed nothing more than the family dinner table when his children from California, Idaho and Texas were visiting. It was at the table where spirited discussion about the politics of the day took place and laughter rang out as favorite family stories, pet antics and cherished memories were shared.
Don is survived by his children Stuart (Sarah), Heather, Montgomery (Heather), Holly (Kirk) Slaughter; grandchildren Heather and Will; and brother-in-law Stuart (Mary) Phister. Don was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Suzanne.
A celebration of life service will be held later this summer in Clovis, Calif.