Verna Nelson Obituary (1921 – 2022) – Sioux Falls, SD

Verna Jean Nelson
July 15, 1921 – June 29, 2022
We are sad to announce the passing of our beloved Mother, Jean Nelson. She died peacefully in her sleep on the evening of June 29, 2022 at her home in Houston, Texas where she spent her last days with her two daughters, Nancy Sherwood and Karen Flavin. She was treasured by those in her senior community for her sweet nature and charismatic smile, and was known by many as “Mama Jean.”
Jean was born in Brookings, SD on July 15, 1921 where she spent her childhood and early adult years. It was the Great Depression, and the hardships growing up during that era impacted her life with a commitment to wise spending and an inherent refusal to be wasteful, especially of food. Junior, as Jean was nicknamed by her older brother Allen, grew up in a loving family that managed to instill in their children a lifelong love of music and a joy in creativity despite their need for thrift and saving. Her best childhood friend was her Cocker Spaniel Skeezix.
After graduating from high school, Jean enrolled at South Dakota State College. She attended for one year before she began working to help out at home. Her job for a local medical practice provided training that proved valuable when caring for her own family a few years later. Through friends in Brookings, Jean met her life’s love and partner, Norman Nelson, a recent graduate of South Dakota State College. Norm intended to be a science teacher, but after their marriage in 1945, the young couple relocated to Sioux Falls, SD where Norm began working as a teacher of Morse Code and radio operations at the nearby air base. Jean worked for a fashion store in downtown where she slowly acquired a large collection of stylish shoes, also a lifelong love.
The birth of their two daughters soon followed, Nancy (1948) and Karen (1951); and Jean gladly took on her favorite job, that of being a mother. She was a good seamstress and delighted in creating trios of matching dresses for the Nelson girls. She also kept up her skills in knitting and crocheting. She loved cooking, baking and sharing recipes with friends over numerous cups of coffee, also a lasting tradition in her social life.
After World War II, Norm started his career in the dairy business. During these early years of their marriage, the couple bought their first home on West 15th Street, and became Charter Members of a new Lutheran congregation in Sioux Falls, Our Savior’s Lutheran. Jean cherished the friendships she created with both neighbors and fellow church members. While Norm traveled the nearby South Dakota counties setting up a dairy cooperative, Jean enjoyed a busy social life. She participated in Ladies’ Aid, Circle, and taught Sunday school, connecting her with other young mothers. She also played Bridge and Canasta regularly with her working friends, and joined a social society, Beta Sigma Phi. She was able to enjoy her social activities because her father, Robert Eugene Phelps came to live with Jean and Norm. Grandad gladly took on baby sitting duties as needed.
Jean’s list of activities continued to grow along with her daughters. She insisted on her girls getting music lessons, and instruments to play. A piano was installed in the home. She made sure to support the Community Playhouse, and the local Symphony, reflecting her family’s deep love of music and the fine arts.
The Nelson family planned and built a new home on South Western Avenue when Nancy and Karen were still in grade school. Once Jean deemed the girls old enough to fend for themselves after school, she accepted a job at her beloved church, working in many capacities from helping to record offerings to serving as secretary to several of the senior pastors of the Our Savior’s Lutheran congregation. She worked to build a college fund for her daughters, guaranteeing their opportunity for a college education. This was her generous and principled nature in action.
The Nelson family enjoyed travel together. Every summer included two weeks at one of the lakes near Alexandria, MN. There were yearly trips to Minneapolis, MN to indulge Norm’s love of the Twins and Jean’s love of the Minneapolis shopping scene. And there were long road trips to the New York City area to visit Jean’s brother Allen and his family. They attended the New York World’s Fair, saw “Oliver” on Broadway, visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and ate at the Automat.
After Jean was widowed in 2003, she and her girls took a cruise to Alaska; flew to Sanibel Island, Florida, to visit brother Allen; went back to Broadway to see “The Lion King”; and shared a Spring Break tour of the Napa Valley wine country.
Jean and Norm shared a happy marriage of 58 years. In their retirement, they downsized to a condo in Sioux Falls from which they could make many trips to Houston, Texas, to visit their daughters and Karen’s son Stephen, their only grandchild. They enjoyed warmer winter weather each year, and often spent Christmas in Houston.
At age 88, being widowed for 10 years, Jean decided to move to Houston to be close to her family. Jean shared in the social life of her daughters, and was welcomed at many of their gatherings, her special smile endearing her to a new circle of friends and caregivers. During her Houston years she resided in a series of apartments and senior living communities. She enjoyed all the provided musical entertainment and took up watercolor painting as a creative outlet. She continued her knitting for many years.
Jean is preceded in death by her husband Norman (2003) and her brother Allen (2006). Her survivors include daughter Nancy Sherwood (John), daughter Karen Flavin, and grandson Stephen Flavin.
Remembrances can be entered on the website for Sioux Falls’ Heritage Funeral Home or sent to the Heritage Funeral Home, 4800 S Minnesota Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57108. Memorial gifts to honor Jean can be donated to No Kid Hungry at
A celebration of life service will be held 1:00pm Friday, July 15 at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church Chapel, Sioux Falls, SD with a private family interment at Greenwood Cemetery Saturday, July 16, 2022 at 11:00am.
There is a Celebration of Life gathering planned for Jean in Houston in September. Details to follow.

Published by KELOLAND on Jul. 8, 2022.

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