Albert F. "Fred" Nelson, 92, passed away peacefully from complications of pneumonia on December 17, 2019, at the Ida Emmerson Hospice House in Eureka, CA.
Fred retired as the Postmaster of Eureka in 1985, after 40 years with the postal service.
He was preceded in death by Rita M. Nelson, his wife of 64 years. He is survived by his four children, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren, as well as other extended family.
Visitation and Rosary Service will be 6:00 - 8:00 pm on Friday, January 10, 2020, at Sanders Funeral Home, 1835 E St, Eureka, CA.
Funeral services will be at St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Eureka on Saturday, January 11, 2020, at 11:00 am.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in his honor to Hospice of Humboldt
Albert Frederick “Fred” Nelson, of Eureka, California, died on Tuesday, December 17, 2019 at the Ida Emmerson Hospice House in Eureka, following complications of a short bout of pneumonia and chronic kidney disease. He was 92 years old.
Fred was a proud citizen of Eureka, and took great pleasure in community activism by participating in numerous groups and projects, as well as supporting various local performances and organizations. He was a tireless advocate for the American Merchant Marines and all U.S. Veterans. His recall of local history was extraordinarily noteworthy. He enjoyed a good joke and consciously strived to be a complete gentleman. He was an ardent reader of non-fiction history and politics. As a family man, Fred applied a straight-forward approach, using respect and honesty. He described his future wife Rita as a quiet, frank, reserved and attractive young lady who liked the same things that interested him. They dated for about a year before he proposed to her at Confusion Hill in 1950. She accepted at once, and they were married on August 11, 1951 at St. Bernard’s Church in Eureka. Together, they raised four amazing children, including a 1964 “Flood” baby: Martin, Regina, Randal and Christopher. Fred contended that the most enjoyable portion of his life was his marriage and the raising of his children. As a grandfather and great-grandfather, Fred went out of his way to be loving, caring, understanding, extremely generous, and encouraging.
A third-generation Eurekan, Fred was born to Henry Oscar and Eva Nelson on July 5, 1927 in the front bedroom of the same house where his mother had lived since she was two years old, having moved in in 1892. Fred was the youngest of three children. He was named after his mother’s brother, Albert Frederick Nicholson, who had passed away just a few months before Fred was born. Fred’s father Oscar worked as a painter and, along with his brothers, had the Nelson Bros Paints and Wall Paper business at 328 Fifth Street, which kept the family from the Great Depression’s grasp. In the 1930s, Oscar would occasionally take Fred to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP) station on 2nd street to visit the candy counter and then watch the trains arrive and depart, which helped cement Fred’s lifelong love of trains. Some of Fred’s favorite childhood pastimes included camping, fishing and hiking, as well as playing card games like “Whist” with his family, hanging out with his good friends, and participating in the Boy Scouts. Fred had recalled that he did not have “trick or treat” and did not know there was a tooth fairy when he was a boy. He mentioned that he wanted to be a machinist or a pilot when he grew up.
Fred attended grammar school in the old Washington School at 1910 California Street (now the site of Humboldt Senior Resource Center), then Eureka Junior High School, and finally Eureka Senior High School. He always had a good amount of friends, but considered himself fairly quiet and not a stand-out at school. The two-step and box step were the dances of the day, and his favorite radio show was “The Shadow”. Zoot suits were in, and so were wearing the dirtiest cord trousers. According to Fred, “I would not let my mother wash my cords. In school, the fad was to let the pants get so dirty that they would stand up by themselves.” Whenever he received a new pair of trousers, he would take them into the backyard and kick them around on the ground until they were dirty enough to wear.
Fred enjoyed participating in the creation of music. He received excellent grades in band, orchestra, and choir. His favorite item in his home growing up was the family’s piano. He played the trombone from the 6th through 12th grades and was a member of a high school dance band. The song he liked to play most on his trombone was “American Patrol” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Fred and his friends would go to the Eureka Municipal Auditorium or the Loleta Pavilion to listen to the big bands that were touring the country at the time. These big bands included Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra, to name a few.
From the age of 14, WWII was always in the back of his mind, with the blackouts and brownouts, and gas and food rationing. He was unable to attend his high school graduation ceremony on June 8, 1945, as he had enlisted and was sailing on board a merchant ship at the time, off the coast of Mexico, headed for the Panama Canal and then on to France. His U.S. Postal Service employment crisscrossed with his military service in the early days. What began as Christmas relief help spawned into a long and industrious career.
In his own words:
“To meet the demands of increased mail volumes during a Christmas season in the ‘forties,’ the post office doubled the work force for a period of about two weeks. Each regular carrier was asked to find a person to work as a “helper.” The carrier assigned to the route where I lived (Route 3) was a fellow by the name of Ray Coupal. Ray always tried to help out some high school kid each Christmas. There was a war on and older persons were hard to find as everyone was employed in the war effort. I was approached by Ray Coupal for work as his helper for the 1944 Christmas season. After very brief training (no time or money allotted), I was sent out to carry various portions of Rte. 3 each day.” During this two-week period, in regards to the dirty cord trousers fad, Fred states that he had an advantage over the other students by working at the post office. He had access to the window area where all of the rubber stamps were located and used just about every one available to stamp his trousers.
After that Christmas season ended, Fred was contacted by the Post Office in January 1945 and asked if he would like to work part-time.
“I was going to high school as a senior, attending only part of the day. On January 16, 1945, I was appointed as a Temporary Sub Carrier. The following was my daily schedule: Finished the school day just after 12:00 p.m., ate lunch, changed clothes and reported to work at 2:00 p.m. I left the Post Office in May of 1945 to serve in the U.S. Merchant Marines.”
“Although we did not realize it when we left Eureka in May of that year, we were fortunate that the war was winding down. The questions regarding our futures were not about which college or university we were going to attend. They were more along the lines of, which branch of service should we choose or should we wait for the draft to call us and, most likely, end up in the infantry. What’s the better way to die; Join the Air Corps and crash, the Navy to drown on a sinking ship, or the infantry to get blown apart by exploding shells? Three of my classmates urged me to join them and enlist in the Merchant Marine, never knowing at the time that the highest mortality rate had been among merchant seamen.”
Fred was deployed aboard the S.S. Sea Pike and proceeded to Le Havre, France via the Panama Canal, picked up 2600 troops and then continued to New York, N.Y. Once there, he signed off the S.S. Sea Pike and flew to San Francisco, where he signed on to the S.S. Kansas. From there, the Kansas proceeded to Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands in the South Pacific to supply the U.S. Navy task forces. After he returned to San Francisco, he signed off the S.S. Kansas, successfully completing two deployments.
Following his several-months’ long Merchant Marine deployments, and reaching the rank of Acting Able Seaman, Fred proceeded home to Eureka, where he enlisted in the U.S. Air Corps on February 12, 1946. Stationed in Tokyo, he served as a Sergeant in the Allied-Occupation Headquarters during the postwar occupation of Japan. He was honorably discharged under demobilization on July 23, 1947.
“…I returned to work at the Post Office two weeks before my military discharge was final because of the need for postal workers at that time. I held them off for a week so I could enjoy some of my leave and get myself settled in. Again I was appointed as a Temporary Sub-Carrier effective July 14, 1947. Men were returning from military service and being hired very quickly in all areas of employment. The women, as a general rule at that time, were anxious to stay at home and raise their families. After taking and passing the Civil Service Examination, I was placed on the hiring list and became a Classified Sub-Carrier on July 1, 1948. By August 1, 1948, I became a Regular Carrier.”
Throughout his career, Fred held various positions with the U.S. Postal service, which included those related to management, finance, and safety of the facilities. During the 1964 flood, Fred, then the Assistant Superintendent of Mails, was tasked with inspecting the physical damage incurred by all of Humboldt County post office facilities. Inspections required him to go from office to office via Coast Guard helicopter over a multi-day span. At one point, there was the unexpected crash of a Coast Guard helicopter near Trinidad, which killed seven people, making the risks of what he was doing all the more real. On May 16, 1965, Fred received a Superior Accomplishment Award in recognition of notable performance for his role during that devastating event.
By 1975, as Management Sectional Center Director of Customer Services, Fred was responsible for 35 post offices from Redway to the Oregon border, and as far east as Burnt Ranch and Mad River. In 1981, Fred was promoted to Postmaster. He was responsible for the postal operation of Eureka’s Main Post Office and three classified stations, as well as two contract stations. Fred retired on January 2, 1985, having served nearly 40 years with the U.S. Postal Service.
Following retirement, Fred began to fill his days with long put-aside hobby interests, which included baking and cooking (especially cheesecakes, fresh bread and pasta), wooden garden art creations, and extensive U.S. and Canadian travel by car. His interest and recall in sharing and preserving local history was remarkable and a great contribution to the community as a whole. He enjoyed a lead role coordinating dealer trade drivers for a time for local car dealerships, utilizing his business acumen to greatly organize the process. He also attended, and participated in a few, Humboldt County community concerts and productions.
Following is a known list of his participation in, or an advocate or member of:
Volunteer Air Raid messenger, 1941-1943
Volunteer Firefighter with Eureka Volunteer Fire, Company #3, 1948-early 1970s
Humboldt County Grand Jury and chairman of the “Cities Investigative Committee”, 1990-1991
Eureka City Schools Citizen’s Oversight Committee, 2002-2006
Barbershop Quartet “The Foamy Four”
California Redwoods Chorale
Humboldt Light Opera Company (HLOC)
North Coast Honor Flight for Veterans
Community commentator on KINS radio, from 02/28/97 to 11/08/2019.
Eureka Senior High School 1945 Reunion Committee Coordinator
Humboldt County Historical Society: About 1987, Fred answered an ad seeking help in organizing their mailings. Margaret Murchi contacted him to begin work and, along with a few retired postal friends, helped improve and streamline the mailing process, making it more efficient. Fred enjoyed doing that on a regular basis for a number of years.
Eureka City Schools “Principal for the Day”
Advocate for Eureka Sister City Project for Kamisu, Japan, beginning October 2008
Eureka Exchange Club
Humboldt Taxpayers League
Society of Humboldt County Pioneers
One of Fred’s great loves was music. He participated in choir and band since grade 6, and was a member of the Eureka High School orchestra as well. He attended his first community concert as an usher, while still a student at EHS in 1943-44. He has supported the Humboldt Community Concert Association, as well as the following over the years: Eureka Senior High School symphony orchestra, Redwood Concert Ballet, Humboldt Light Opera Company, HSU Summer Festival, Redwood Coast Music Festival, Humboldt Arts Council, Arkley Center for the Performing Arts, and many others.
In 1961, as one of the founding members of the Humboldt Harmonaires, Fred received a certificate from the Society for the Preservation of Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.). Earlier that same year, along with Conrad Walla (tenor), Lee Smith (lead) and Bob Bauer (baritone), Fred (bass) formed the first quartet within that organization called, “The Foamy Four”. Their group sang numerous songs associated with the sea, hence “foamy”. They disbanded in 1963 due to the pursuance of careers, but regrouped for guest appearances in 1980, 1986 and 2011 at the Humboldt Harmonaires annual show.
Beginning in 1976, under the direction of then Humboldt State University professor Leland Barlow, Fred sang bass with the California Redwoods Chorale. He treasured the Chorale’s European tour in 1978 that covered Switzerland, Austria and Germany. The culmination of the tour was the Chorale performing a concert in the historic Cologne Cathedral in Germany. His sister Lorene was able to accompany him on that trip.
The year 1987 saw Fred turn into the hairiest of creatures, with long hair and full beard as he prepared for his role in the then H.S.U. Department of Theatre and Music’s full dress opera production of Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. It starred New York Metropolitan Opera’s Jerome Hines in the title role. Jerome signed Fred’s show bill: “Jerry Hines, 3:16”. Fred had the time of his life.
Fred joined Facebook in 2012, at the age of 85, in order to participate in the group “Remember in Eureka When…” He enjoyed the camaraderie and historical aspects of it, and would post readable copies of his most current Community Comments there. As one member of the group described Fred’s passing: “A library has been lost.”
Fred is preceded in death by his loving wife of 64 years, Rita Marie Nelson; his parents, Henry Oscar and Eva Nelson; his sisters, Lorene Massini and Elizabeth Pine; and niece, Kay Elgaaen. He is survived by his children: Regina Porter (Don), Christopher Nelson (Luana), of Eureka; Martin and Randal Nelson, of McKinleyville; his grandchildren: Robin Littlejohn-Hill (Christopher), of Mesa, Arizona, Stasia Sefton (Chad), of Hydesville, Jenna Nelson, of McKinleyville, and Audrey and Thomas Nelson, of Eureka; his great-grandchildren: Cayden, Logan and Caleb Sefton, of Hydesville, and Vivian and Connor Hill, of Mesa, Arizona. He was very close to his nephews, Terry Ramos (Jeanie), of Brentwood, CA, and Greg Pine (Tracy), of Nashville, Tennessee, as well as his very special companion, Colleen Foster, of Fortuna.
Visitation will be held Friday, January 10, 2020 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Sander’s Chapel, 1835 E St, Eureka, with Rosary Service at 7 pm. Funeral service will be held Saturday, January 11, 2020, 11:00am at St. Bernard’s Church, with graveside service to follow at St. Bernard’s Cemetery, 3975 Broadway St, Eureka at approximately 12:30pm. Reception to follow at 1:30 p.m. at Elk’s Lodge, 445 Herrick Ave, Eureka.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in Fred’s name to Hospice of Humboldt, 3327 Timber Fall Ct., Eureka, CA 95503.
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Hospice of Humboldt
3327 Timber Fall Ct, Eureka CA 95503