Lee Nelson passed away last week at the age of 90. He is best known as the founder and proprietor of Bluestem Farm and Ranch which he and his wife started in 1961. Today I share some memories of Mr. Nelson and end with something he is credited with doing that changed Emporia’s future in a very positive way!
Bluestem may well be Emporia’s number one tourist attraction. It would be hard for me to count the number of friends and business associates I had in Emporia who demanded time to visit Bluestem while in town.
Rick Tidwell shared this story: He was testifying before a Senate Telecommunications Sub Committee in Washington D. C. and when he introduced himself as being from Emporia, Kansas Senator Conrad Burns from Montana interrupted him to ask “Emporia, Emporia, Kansas – is Bluestem still open?”
Lee Nelson was a good customer for things like telephones, long distance, and radio advertising. Rick Tidwell and Lee were friends making things easier, but Lee still asked the most penetrating questions of any of our customers.
Lee was a long time and active member of the Emporia Rotary club. I have to admit I used the opportunity to sit with Lee at our weekly meetings often to lobby for radio advertising.
Obviously, the rural community was important to Bluestem’s success and the Nelson’s returned the favor with strong support for 4-H and Extension activities. Memorials for Lee are to those groups.
Longtime Emporian and former Mayor Dale Davis and I were talking just a few weeks ago about Lee Nelson. Dale suggested and I agreed that Lee is an unsung hero in our city for his opposition to the proposal to build a federal prison on the old College of Emporia campus.
In case you don’t remember the C of E campus had been occupied by the Way College International since the school closed in the seventies. After the death of the Way’s leader, the school lost favor and the campus was about to go on the property tax roles. A federal minimum security prison was proposed and Emporia was giving this idea serious consideration - enough in fact that a city-wide referendum was called for by the city commission.
While it was never confirmed it was believed that Lee Nelson was the chief supporter of the effort to vote “NO.” The proposal lost by a significant margin.
Dale and I agreed if Lee was the leader of the opposition he did Emporia great favor.
Lee Nelson was a good man, good family man, a veteran and good citizen - and in the final analysis a very interesting person.