PRINCETON — Longtime Princeton entrepreneur and community leader Richard “Dick” Nelson is being remembered as a highly successful businessman who believed in giving his business team the credit for his success, who loved his family, and still took time to give back to his community.
Nelson died Friday at the age of 79.
Princeton Mayor Keith Cain said he greatly respected Nelson. The two had countless conversations spanning a variety of topics throughout the years. Together, they took a lot of political trips, and Cain said Nelson visited him at his office a couple times a week.
“We’d talk about anything and everything — politics, business, city things,” Cain said. “He was definitely a proud American. He loved his country.
“Dick Nelson was a great man,” Cain continued. “You always knew where you stood with Dick. He liked everyone. I highly respected the man, and he was probably my closest business associate ... He was very community-minded and always interested in getting things done. He helped a lot of people in his life, and he gave everyone a chance.
“Dick had a good heart. He loved his family and the people who worked around him. He always said his success was because of the people around him,” Cain said.
Jeanie Gelsomino and her husband, Vince, have been friends with Nelson and his wife, Judy, for years, living nearby each other as they were raising their children. Their sons, Steve Nelson and Danny Gelsomino, were playmates and good friends. The Gelsominos and Nelsons went through years of Cub Scouts, Little League and school activities together, Jeannie said.
About three years ago, Nelson asked Jeannie to help him write his autobiography, “Paving the Road to Success,” which told of Nelson’s journey through life and in management. Nelson wrote out his thoughts on legal pads, and Gelsomino got them organized and put into book form.
“It was a privileged opportunity for me because I got to know Dick as not just a highly successful entrepreneur, but I got to know him more as Dick Nelson, the man. I learned how good he was, how very caring he was. He did a lot for the community which people wouldn’t know of because he did a lot anonymously. That’s the way he was,” she said.
Nelson was very much involved in his community, serving on the Princeton Park District Board for 20 years, including a year as president. He also served with the Bureau County United Way and as a former Cub Scout leader, Little League coach and church board member. In 2009, Nelson was grand marshal for the Bureau County Homestead Festival parade.
“He was a real treasure for Princeton,” Gelsomino said.
A graduate of Princeton High School, Nelson would often say he had a “bachelor of common sense degree from Life University,” Gelsomino said. Nelson led a large enterprise, held patents and was respected nationally and internationally. But, to her,what was so memorable and impressive about Dick Nelson was the fact he always gave the credit for his success to his team. He would take time for his employees, nurture them and mentor them, she said.
On a personal note, Gelsomino said she also liked Nelson as a person. They both had diabetes, and Nelson could understand how she felt sometimes, and vice versa. He was also very supportive and caring of Jeannie and her husband when their son, Danny, got cancer and they became caregivers for their son. When Danny passed away, it impacted Nelson as well.
Gelsomino said she thought Nelson would like to be remembered most for his autobiography which was written because he wanted his story to live beyond him. He had heard the quote by Perry Garner that “when a man dies, a library burns.” Nelson didn’t want that to happen, and his book would be that lasting legacy that would live long beyond his years on Earth, she said.
“Dick considered his book his legacy, but his family was the most important part of his life”, Gelsomino said. “I feel very privileged to have known and worked with Dick.”
The business relationship between Nelson and Mike Maynard, president of TCI Manufacturing & Equipment Sales, extends to 30 years. The two began working together at Production Engineered Products in 1984, and together, they later formed TCI in January 2000.
During the years, Maynard said he learned many things about Nelson. Most importantly, he was a family man first and was a truly dedicated, accomplished individual, Maynard said.
“He was a very accomplished businessman, which led to his ownership of several businesses, most of which he started. Dick had no fear of taking risks or working hard,” Maynard said. “If he was involved in a project, it was going to be a success, and he would not quit until it was. He had extreme determination, which inspired many.”
Maynard said some people may not know that Nelson was an inventor. He was always looking for a better way of doing things, and he usually found it.
“Besides his family, one of his main concerns was always his employees,” Maynard said. “He knew the value of good employees and understood their contribution helped him to be successful.”
Nelson always took the time to attend every event he was invited to by his employees — regardless of their position in the company, Maynard said.
“I would hate to guess how many weddings, funerals, graduations, etc. that Dick attended for his employees through the years. If Dick was invited, you could count on him being there,” Maynard said.
Nelson will be sadly missed by many in the business world and in the community, Maynard added.
“We will also miss him in our daily business decisions. He was always available to offer his opinion if he was asked and always encouraged us along the way,” Maynard said. “Most importantly, I will miss Dick Nelson as my friend.”
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