Modest man leaves bold gift in Fargo
The late Gary Nelson (pictured) ate lunch at The Salvation Army in Fargo, N.D. almost every weekday for well over a decade.
Surprisingly, he was not poor. The retired Vietnam veteran had earned plenty of money during his 30-year career working for two prominent agricultural companies.
“If Gary wanted to, he could have eaten at restaurants every day,” said Charlotte Bates, widow of Nelson’s best friend, Peter Bates, who died last year.
Instead, Nelson ate his lunches at the Fargo Salvation Army for two simple, humble reasons: to support his friends, and to make new ones.
“He cared about people,” said Major Elaine Medlock, co-leader of the Fargo Salvation Army. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
Oftentimes, Nelson drove to his friends’ houses to pick them up for lunch. He almost always brought his little dog – a Dachshund named Peaches.
One of Nelson’s friends was Carl, 77.
“I ate here with Gary for 10 years – probably more,” said Carl (pictured). “Gary was a common, ordinary man. He didn’t live a flashy life. He liked to come down here because he was a people-person.”
Carl and Nelson first met in Fargo when Nelson was a teenager. Carl spent most of his life working as a laborer, and he went on to self-publish several books.
“Gary will be missed,” Carl said. “He helped so many people.”
Interestingly, Nelson rarely spoke with Salvation Army staff members. He was always too focused on listening to his friends and helping them through their struggles.
Dave Crane, staff accountant at the Fargo Salvation Army since 2003, talked to Nelson more than any other current employee. Nonetheless, their conversations were few and far between.
“I didn’t know Gary great, but I could tell things about him,” Crane said. “He was a simple person, but in a good way. He never seemed to get too excited, or too up or down, about anything. He just liked to talk to people. And he loved his little dog, Peaches, who’d stay out in his car while he ate.”
The infrequency of Nelson’s interactions with Salvation Army employees did not reflect his admiration of the work they did. He loved The Salvation Army, and he proved it soon after he died on July 1, 2017 at the age of 70.
Not long after Nelson’s death, Charlotte Bates contacted the Fargo Salvation Army with exciting news: Nelson had left the Fargo Salvation Army $50,000 for its food programs.
“Unbelievable,” said Medlock (pictured). “That’s enough money to pay for almost an entire year of meals. We are grateful for Gary’s gift. What an incredible blessing.”
The Fargo Salvation Army serves breakfast and lunch to about 160 people every weekday. The meals are cooked and served by two caring staff members and 140 dedicated monthly volunteers.
Bates was proud to deliver the news.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better guy than Gary,” said Bates, executor of his estate. “If anybody ever needed help, Gary would help. He never asked for anything in return. He had such a good heart.”
Nelson was the last of his kin. He never married, and he was the final surviving member of his family.
“His legacy will continue at the Fargo Salvation Army forever,” Medlock said.
Nelson’s story illustrates how ordinary people who perform small acts of kindness can have enormous, lifelong impacts on the people and world around them.
His story also shows how The Salvation Army can use your financial blessings to create a legacy that is purposeful and lasting. To learn more about including The Salvation Army in your will, call 651-746-3504 or 800-456-4483.
We can also provide information about donating stock or real estate, along with giving options such as charitable annuities.