Nelson leaves lifelong legacy of service

The sudden death of Tim Nelson, chief executive officer of Hammer Residences, Inc, and board chairman of The Arc Minnesota, […]

The sudden death of Tim Nelson, chief executive officer of Hammer Residences, Inc, and board chairman of The Arc Minnesota, has stunned and saddened those who worked with him. 

Nelson, 58, died Aug. 16 while hiking with his wife, Jean, in Colorado.

His life’s work in helping people with developmental disabilities began early. Nelson’s youngest brother Doug had Down syndrome. “His love for his brother was unending, and that’s what brought him to our field and our work here,” Lisbeth Armstrong told the Star Tribune. She was named interim CEO of Hammer Residences Inc.

“Hammer has lost an amazing leader, co-worker and friend in Tim. We have all lost a great man and advocate, who made this world a better place, not only for the people we serve with developmental disabilities, but for everyone,” said Armstrong.

Current Hammer Board President, Jon Matejcek said, “Tim created a culture of excellence that any organization— non-profit or otherwise—would be lucky to have. He was never satisfied with the status quo, always encouraging others to express their ideas and opinions, even when they differed from his own. His leadership and vision for Hammer, and for the disabilities community at large, will truly be missed.” Nelson started working for Hammer in 1977 and was appointed CEO in 1998 after having served Hammer in a variety of capacities. Armstrong, who worked closely with him for most of those years, said

“Tim had such a passion for the people we support. It was his dream that each person we serve has love, joy and peace in their life.” During his tenure as CEO, Nelson worked tirelessly to elevate Hammer as a visionary organization that employs dedicated staff members who help people with disabilities experience the highest possible quality of life and independence. Hammer is a Wayzata-based nonprofit that oversees 37 group homes and seven apartment programs for more than 200 people with disabilities in the western Twin Cities suburbs. It provides services for 700 people.

Under Nelson’s leadership, Hammer was named a Top Ten Minnesota Workplace by The Star Tribune in 2010 and 2011. In, 2010 Hammer was also named a “Top 50 Places to Work” in a national survey conducted by the Nonprofit Times, a national publication for nonprofit executives. In June, 2011, Nelson received a Changemaker Award from The Arc Greater Twin Cities for his efforts in changing systems and policies that benefit individuals with disabilities and their families.

Nelson was a strong advocate and visionary for people with developmental disabilities. He was the current board president of The Arc of Minnesota, where he advanced public policy efforts locally and at the federal level. Pat Mellenthin, The Arc Minnesota’s Chief Executive Officer said “Tim was a superb leader for The Arc Minnesota and an exceptional human being. His passing is a huge loss for The Arc Minnesota and The Arc movement, and he will long be remembered for his leadership in the disability community.” “There’s no replacing someone like Tim Nelson.

It would take three people to replace him,” said Mellenthin. “He was not only a strong leader; he was a genuinely good human being.” Nelson joined The Arc Minnesota Board of Directors in 2007. He was selected as president of its board for 2010 and 2011. He was an integral part of its Public Policy Committee and active in the agency’s strategic planning efforts.

As a member of the Public Policy Committee, Nelson strongly supported and collaborated closely with The Arc Minnesota as it advocated at the state and national levels, and he was a strong supporter of the public policy efforts of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities as well. He brought many of his staff with him to the state capitol to advocate for policies that would benefit people with disabilities and their families. He also joined The Arc Minnesota staff and volunteers in Washington, D.C. on several occasions to advocate for federal policies that would benefit people with disabilities and their families.

“Tim was not only a strong supporter of protecting current services; he was a leader in advocating for positive changes in how we serve people with developmental disabilities and their families,” Mellenthin said. “He was committed to finding new and more effective ways to support people with disabilities so they could live life to its fullest and be included in our communities.”

Nelson also served as the former vice president and board member at ARRM. “Tim was one of the truly great leaders in the disability community,” said ARRM CEO, Bruce Nelson. Nelson was a member of the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), where he served on the International Program Committee. He was a member of The Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL) Board and served on its Executive and Quality Committees. He has served on several other boards of directors for organizations that provide various services to people with developmental disabilities. Nelson had also participated on several MN Department of Human Services (DHS) task forces.

A Virginia, Minnesota native, Nelson graduated from Aurora-Hoyt Lakes High School. He earned a degree in secondary education from Bethel University in 1975, taught for a time and then took a job at Hammer.

His wife Jean told the Star Tribune that he took the job as a transitional position. But he really enjoyed the personal contact with clients. Cementing his career path, he received a master’s in counseling psychology from the University of St. Thomas in 1985.

Nelson and his family lived in Champlin. Besides his wife, Nelson is survived by daughters Lisa and Lydia; a granddaughter, Jazlynn; brother Gary, of Duluth; and sisters Sher Leksen, of Princeton, and Lynette VanSoest, of Coon Rapids. He was preceded in death by his parents and his brother Gary. Services were held at Edinbrook Church, Brooklyn Park. Washburn-McReavy Chapel, Coon Rapids, handled arrangements. Memorials should be sent to Hammer Residences.

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