Willis Gray Nelson passed away December 1, 2004. Born July 23, 1910 in Oakley, Cassia County, Idaho, one of nine children born to Swanty William Nelson and Sarah Penelope Betteridge. Growing up in Oakley he learned the value of hard work, responsibility, honesty and integrity. He liked to say he was one of the dam kids from the Dam School having attended grade school in a one-room school just below the Oakley Dam. He went to the Oakley Rural High School participating in sports and music. Furthering his education he graduated from Ricks Academy in Rexburg, Idaho, later receiving a BS from BYU and Masters from USU. At Ricks Academy he met the love of his life and eternal companion, Xenia McKinlay. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1934. As an educator he excelled as a teacher, principal, elected superintendent of Madison County schools and superintendent of schools for the Bear Lake and Bonneville School Districts. A devoted member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he served in many callings including teacher, bishop, counselor in stake presidencies, patriarch and counselor in the Idaho Falls Temple presidency for seven years. He and Xenia served as missionaries in Alabama. He loved the Gospel of Jesus Christ and was a life long student of the scriptures. He possessed a natural gift for the arts. He played the tuba in high school and taught himself to play the piano. Willis and Xenia sang duets at many weddings and funerals in Rexburg. In his later years he lead a chorus at the Temple View RV Park in St. George, UT where everyone was invited to come, sing and enjoy themselves. He also led the branch choir. His oil paintings grace the walls of the homes of his family. He wrote poetry and received national recognition for his poem entitled The Superintendent's Dilemma, which was read on radio by President Ronald Reagan. Many of his neighbors in Sandy have heirloom furniture in their homes, which he lovingly restored. His loving wife, parents, brothers and one sister, preceded him in death. He will be dearly missed by two sisters, Ethelyn Rock and Gertrude Black, children Gail Timms (Derek), Kyle B. Nelson (Peggy), Evan W. Nelson (Helen) and MarJean Christianson (Frank), many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Services will be held Saturday, December 4 at 11:00 a.m. at the Cameo Park Ward, 8909 So. 1700 E., Sandy. Friends may call Friday, December 3 from 7-8 p.m. at Larkin Sunset Gardens, 1950 E. 10600 So., Sandy and Saturday from 10-10:45 a.m. at the Cameo Park Ward.
Published in Salt Lake Tribune on Dec. 3, 2004