By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

The full Nelson

Submitted photoLeft to right: Dr. John, Dr. Jim, Dr. Richard, Dr. Nancy and Dr. Chris at a recent Nelson family get-together in McMinnville.
Submitted photo
Left to right: Dr. John, Dr. Jim, Dr. Richard, Dr. Nancy and Dr. Chris at a recent Nelson family get-together in McMinnville.
Submitted photoThe Nelson kids in 1961. From left: Jim, Chris, Nancy and John.
Submitted photo
The Nelson kids in 1961. From left: Jim, Chris, Nancy and John.
Submitted photoNelson family portrait, 1967. Clockwise from lower left: Jim, John, Nancy, Chris, Richard and Norma.
Submitted photo
Nelson family portrait, 1967. Clockwise from lower left: Jim, John, Nancy, Chris, Richard and Norma.

When Dr. Francis Kenyon retired last spring 2012, he created a problem for my wife and me. For the past seven years he had, with a confident smile of reassurance, solved any problems, at least health-wise, that had arisen for us.

But then we were abandoned, so to speak. Cast adrift on a dark sea of doctorlessness. Patients without a port. Our dossiers of care and treatment sent off to gather dust in some unsympathetic storage space.

We kept hearing that all the good, well-established doctors in McMinnville were booked solid. Good luck getting them to accept not just one but two new patients anytime soon.

A friend heard of our plight and recommended Dr. John D. Nelson, whom we soon discovered was a well-known and highly regarded family practitioner with offices on Highway 99 behind Duckett Realty.

Upon calling Dr. Nelson’s office, we were advised by Rose, or was it Stephanie, that the doctor’s patient load was quite heavy. I tried laying on the compliments, all the good things we’d heard about Dr. Nelson, etc.

She relented enough to agree to say she would check with the doctor and see what she could do. I gave her my preliminary information and expressed my gratitude for her assistance.

The gratitude part was no joke. Friends had already given us names of other local doctors, and when we phoned their offices, none were at all encouraging about the prospects of being accepted. The docs were simply too busy with their current workloads.

While keeping our hopes up that Dr. Nelson’s assistant would call back, we continued a fruitless physician search. I even tried to use the influence of a person I had previously profiled, whose husband is a local doctor.

This is a persuasive person; I have no doubt she tried her best. But still no luck. He, too, was booked up for months to come. Who would have guessed this was going to be so difficult?

Finally, I got a call at work. It was Rose at Dr. Nelson’s office, welcoming us as new patients and asking to set up first visit appointments for both of us. If we had been vetted, apparently we passed.

So we had our initial get acquainted meetings/checkups with Dr. John. We’ll call him Dr. John from this point on, since we will be mentioning four other doctors, all named Nelson, as this story progresses.

Dr. John proved far better than either of us had expected: friendly with a sense of fun, an attentive listener, a practical yet resourceful professional, and an all-around good person.

When my wife first went to see him, she was in a wheelchair owing to a fall down our staircase several months earlier. The mishap required the repair of four pelvic breaks, followed by a hip replacement

She would now be his patient, taking the handoff from the talented OHSU surgeon who patched her up and put her on the road toward healing.

When he wheeled her down the hall, out of the examination room and into the entry area, he just kept on going out the door, down the ramp and into the parking lot where he made the wheelchair do a wheelie.

It so happens that Dr. John’s brother, Dr. Jim, has his dental practice right next door in the same building. Not surprisingly the brothers also own the building.

We were in need of a dentist since we couldn’t get my wife in a wheelchair up the stairs into the office of the one we had started going to not long before her accident.

Dr. Jim was on the first floor with nothing but a gently angled ramp from the parking lot to the sidewalk and the street level entry into his office. Before you knew it, we had a new dentist.

A few more visits and conversations between doctor and patient turned to idle curiosity, particularly given Dr. John and Dr. Jim’s obviously close relationship.

As it turns out, they have another brother, Dr. Chris, a pediatrician. He lives and practices in Chehalis, Wash. And they have a sister, Dr. Nancy, a psychologist in McMinnville.

Wow. Four siblings all with a D and other initials after their names. Must have been quite interesting times around the Nelson household back during those crazy years when everybody was in school.

So what did their dad do for a living? Internal medicine. And their mom? Registered nurse. OK. This made sense. The folks didn’t even have to prod them in the health care direction. It was all around them since birth.

Their dad, Dr. Richard Nelson, came to McMinnville in 1956 and set up his practice here. He’s a native Oregonian, born in 1927 in the tiny town of Monitor, where his father was the local blacksmith.

When he was a boy, the family moved to another small community called Laurelwood just south of Gaston. He completed his schooling at the Laurelwood Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist school.

The Adventist faith is a theme that runs through the Nelson story. The schooling Dr. Richard received at Laurelwood gave him the foundation to become Dr. Richard.

From there, he went to Walla Walla University for his undergraduate work in pre-med and then to Loma Linda University in San Bernardino County. Not incidentally, both institutions of higher learning are Adventist affiliated.

Located in the eastern Washington city of the same name, Walla Walla University has a 111-year history as a Seventh-day Adventist school.

Loma Linda University Medical Center ranks near the top among America’s finest health professional training schools. As a faith-based institution, it quite naturally attracts Christian students.

Since its founding in 1905, Loma Linda University has declared that it seeks to “further the teaching and healing ministry of Christ.” Of course, it augments faith to perform this service through the miracle of modern medicine.

When Dr. Richard moved his family to McMinnville, it was a community of 7,000 citizens. His first son, Chris, and daughter, Nancy, were already in tow. Jim was born in 1956, the year they came to town, and John in 1957.

“There was a big dispute between the town’s two hospitals at the time,” Dr. Richard said. “I did my best to stay in everyone’s good graces and managed to become the only doctor of the eight practicing here then who had privileges at both places.”

Even though an office visit was $3 and a home visit $5 when Dr. Richard started out, he managed to build up a good practice and bought some land in the High Heaven area west of town.

That land came in handy some years later when the first of their children started medical school. In the meantime, there was the excitement of a stay, from 1969 to 1972, in India.

“The church asked me to serve at one of their clinics in India and I felt I had to say yes to this commitment. It was both for my faith and the good I felt I could do in a country with great poverty.”

He didn’t realize just how poor it was until he got there and discovered that two things as simple as clean water and better hygienic practices alone could prevent thousands of needless deaths.

Following that once-in-a-lifetime experience, Dr. Richard and his wife, Norma, collected Chris from an Adventist school in Singapore and came back to McMinnville in 1972.

Jim and John had been home schooled by Norma during their years in India and Nancy went to a school in Nepal. Now with everyone together again, they picked up where they left off.

The younger boys returned to Laurelwood Academy while Chris and Nancy were at Walla Walla. When Chris earned his diploma, he went to southern California to begin his medical training at Loma Linda.

In the long run, all of the Nelson children followed the same track: Laurelwood, Walla Walla and Loma Linda. Chris became a pediatrician. Jim a dentist, and John an internist.

Initially Nancy studied pre-dental, then switched to psychology. She ended up earning her doctorate in psychology a bit closer to home at George Fox University.

How did Dr. Richard and Norma manage to keep all those kids in school at the same time? “I’m sure glad I bought that land,” he said. “We had held on to it long enough for the value to go up considerably. So that gave us the money we needed to pay for their schooling.”

All the Nelsons would say that their faith has always helped them. But they don’t proselytize to others. It’s a personal and private matter.

As Dr. John said, “Our dad always told us that the most important thing was to follow “The Golden Rule.” If you do that, everything else should fall into place.”

And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — learning how to follow the full Nelson philosophy: Being positive, having faith and going regularly to the doctor lead to good health.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at or phone at 503-687-1227.

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