McPherson resident Harold Nelson grew up in a time when phone lines were unreliable, electricity was a novelty and the only news was printed weekly.
McPherson resident Harold Nelson grew up in a time when phone lines were unreliable, electricity was a novelty and the only news was printed weekly. Still, he credits what he learned in his early years with giving him the determination to stay busy helping others over the past seventy years.
"Scandia is a small Swedish community along the Republic River," Nelson said. "When I grew up in the 1930s, we didn't have electricity...in many ways, it was a peaceful life. It was a hard life with the Depression and all that, but it built character."
Nelson's father was a farmer who endured many tough years, even losing his farm in 1926.
"Dad was always before his time; he beat the crash by three years," Nelson joked.
Finding a place to rent for the family was not easy, and Nelson said he ended up living in seven different houses in Scandia.
"I've been mobile all my life," Nelson said.
Nelson has clear memories of the Dust Bowl, grasshoppers, hot summers and the Depression.
"We had all that and we had no air conditioning. Going to a country school, we'd look at the cracks in the window and they'd be just as red as can be with the dust coming up from Oklahoma," Nelson recalled.
Nelson grew up attending the Scandia Swedish Methodist Church.
"People don't realize there are a lot of different ethnic churches that came to this country...[immigrants] came here and brought their church with them," Nelson said.
Nelson worked on the family farm for a short time after high school, then decided to attend Kansas Wesleyan University. His thoughts of going to seminary and entering the ministry were delayed by the U.S. becoming involved in World War II.
Nelson was drafted into the Army in March of 1943 and went to basic training in Kentucky, where he found his farm work ethic came in handy.
"I was always kind of light-framed; I was fearful I wasn't going to be able to handle my basic training," Nelson said. "But every 50 minutes, they had to give you a 10 minute break for those who wanted to smoke. I thought, 'This is a snap!'"
Nelson said he was shown how to destroy German tanks with Molotov cocktails and how to kill people with a bayonet. Not wanting to participate in hand-to-hand combat, Nelson opted to join the Army Air Corps.
"At that time, during World War II, the different branches of service had an air corps; there was a Marine Air Corps, an Army Air Corps, a Navy Air Corps — that's the way it was," Nelson recalled. "I took quite a bit of training at different places. I ended up as a tail gunner on a B-17 and was stationed in Foggia, Italy."
Nelson flew his first mission to Germany in December 1944.
"To my left going up there was the Alps," Nelson recalled. "I learned what it means to fly at sometimes 29,000 or 30,000 feet high in a plane that does not have any heat in it."
Though they wore heavy jackets, temperatures could drop to 59 degrees below zero, Nelson said.
"The planes at that time...they were open. You didn't have the nice planes you have now. In some ways, being in the tail, all the cold air came out my direction," Nelson explained. "Our biggest problem was flak. There was nothing you could do about that. You just prayed and hoped to get out of there as soon as possible. There was a sigh of relief when the war in Europe ended. Every time you went up, you didn't know if you were going to get back."
After being shipped back to the U.S., Nelson was on furlough when the war ended and he was discharged in the fall of 1945.
"When I got out of the service, my heart had been in wanting to be a farmer," Nelson said.
Nelson used the $30 a month he was paid in the Army to buy war bonds and had saved up enough to put a down payment on a 160-acre farm in Jewell County. His nephew still farms the land, growing corn, wheat, soybeans and milo.
Nelson had not forgotten his desire to become a minister, so he went back to Kansas Wesleyan University. For a time, he thought about becoming a missionary.
"I remember how cruel the Japanese were to the Chinese back in 1937. I kind of had a feeling that I'd kind of like to go there and be a missionary," Nelson recalled. "I don't know if I could have been a missionary, but I couldn't go to China, because that's when they became Communist. So I decided to go into ministry anyway."
Nelson met his wife at Kansas Wesleyan University, and they have been married for 68 years.
"Plus two years of courtship makes it 70 years," Nelson pointed out.
Nelson said he has worked with Methodist churches since 1947. He went to seminary in New Jersey, graduating in 1949.
"Basically, I've been involved in serving churches until I retired in 1991," Nelson said. "I feel that I always made an effort to live out my faith and values."
Nelson moved to McPherson in 1987 and now works with the First United Methodist Church.
"This is the longest I've ever lived in one place," Nelson said. "I like the location, it's a thriving community. Both my wife and I were actively involved in the restoration of the opera house."
Nelson helps with funerals, visits church members who are sick or shut-in and checks the church bulletin each week for members who are celebrating birthdays.
"I just call them and wish them happy birthday and I have different ones share some things for rejoicing or some things for concern," Nelson shared.
When people comment on his busy schedule, Nelson attributes it to the work ethic he learned from his father.
"It's good for me," Nelson said. "I'm better off if I'm doing something. To me, it's therapy."