Kenneth Herbert Nelson was born on the Sells place in Apple Valley near Parma, Idaho in the summer of 1930. He was the first of 8 children born to Herb & Dora Nelson. Herb was farming the place with his dad, Andy, who came to Apple Valley to plant apple trees and then settled there around 1900.
During the hard times of the 1930s, Herb entered into a share crop arrangement with the Johnsons of Parma. And though the land has changed hands & people have come & gone, Ken continued to sharecrop a portion of those original Johnson properties until 2018. Herb moved his family to the Number One Farm – irrigated cropland plus house, barn & outbuildings at the corner of Hwys 20-26 & 95. The family and the farm operation grew from there. Ken purchased part of that farm years later; his youngest brother, Steve, still lives on the home place.
Kenny went to Apple Valley grade school. Twenty-five years later, his children also attended Apple Valley and found his initials carved in a brick on the west wall of the old school building. Since it was against the rules to deface the bricks, he denied putting them there - but had a smile on his face when he said it. Ken did well in school although his 5th grade teacher complained repeatedly that “Kenny reads too much” on his report card. Ken claimed that he read every book in the Apple Valley library at least twice. Obviously, he was a boy hungry for knowledge. Or entertainment! He was an avid, lightning-fast reader his whole life, speeding through newspapers, Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Pat McManus, Tom Clancy and whatever else he could get hold of and had time for.
After graduating from Parma high school, Kenny enlisted with the US Army. He was stationed in Virginia and enjoyed his time there in green country. He had matured into a man of intelligence and discipline with a well-organized mind and the Army was keen to keep him on. But his dad needed him on the farm and there was this girl back home…
So Kenneth came home to the farm. And the girl. In 1954, he married Norma. Together, they went hand in hand through a lifetime of farming here – good years and not-as-good years. They had 4 children, all of whom went out into the world, checked out their options and came back home to the farm like their dad did. Ken’s whole family all lived and worked on the farms at one time or another. It was a family farm operation for five generations; the harvest of 2018 was their last.
Ken was lead irrigator for the farm for many years and “Set my water,” Check my water” and “Change my water” were phrases his kids heard all summer long. He rode a motorcycle to irrigate - modified to carry his shovel - and always whistled while he worked. The children would hear the thrum of the motorcycle and a lively whistled tune and knew that Daddy was heading home.
Of course, it wasn’t all work and no play. Touch football, softball and volleyball dominated family get-togethers and Ken was competitive, skilled and played with enthusiasm. He loved hunting and hiked the fields, hills and mountains looking for game. Pheasant, quail, ducks, geese, deer and elk all ended up on his table. He was an avid fisherman, escaping every moment he could to cast a line. He fished the Salmon River for steelhead, crappie from the Owyhee Reservoir and happily pulled big fat trout from Shake Creek. If he couldn’t get away, he fished the nearby Snake River for whatever was biting. One of his proudest moments came in March of 1978 when he pulled a 6 pound 13 ounce smallmouth bass out of the Brownlee Reservoir, destroying the 16 year old record in Idaho by 15 ounces. He donated his record bass and it hung in the lobby of the Idaho Fish & Game office until July 2020 when his son, Herb, retrieved it for Ken’s 90th birthday.
Ken became the head of the family when his dad died in 1965. He was a conservative but astute business man and purchased several farms and rented other properties until Nelson Farms became a fair-size enterprise. With Norma’s help, they did their own bookkeeping and payroll. Planning happened every morning at “Coffee” when Ken met with all involved to talk about the work of the day. And maybe… fishing or football or hunting or even a little bit about how the crops were doing. And probably some more about fishing.
Ken was a great story teller with a dry and sneaky delivery. He loved words – invented a few – and had a well-worn collection of pithy sayings. His children dreaded the infamous “You can sleep when you’re dead” that shoved them rudely out of bed on school days. Or the casually cruel - but funny - “You couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel.” But there were a few words that were chinks in his armor. So payback was hell when we’d give Daddy an unexpected hug and whisper sweetly in his ear “flaccid.” He’d shudder and push us away, succinctly defeated.
“Hard-working” could have been Ken’s middle name. Long, long days were followed by nights in the office doing his books. He was very involved in the farm community and sat on boards and committees, attending meetings all winter long. He didn’t retire his shovel from his war against kochia until he was 87 years old. In October 2019, Ken took an ill-fated walk down the driveway. When we asked him “Why?!” while they stitched him up in the ER, he told us he was going to work. And we’d be willing to bet when he left us at sunrise on November 2nd, that’s where he was going.
Graveside services will be held at 2 p.m., Tuesday, November 10, 2020 at Parma Cemetery. Condolences may be shared with the family and a full obituary can be read at www.dakanfuneralchapel.com
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