30 September, 1932 - 4 July, 2022
Wildwood Park, Winnipeg
This obituary is being written less than 24 hours from when you left us. It has been a lifetime of friends and family dinners – parties that included frogs’ legs and snake steaks, bowls of salted, mixed nuts and brownies made famous throughout Wildwood Park on Halloween. Most kids came by for seconds and thirds, claiming not to have been to our house yet. Your casseroles and curry were cooked with such flare and abundance, we often talked about it in the hallways at school. There were beautiful pottery bowls down the centre of the 12-foot dining table, filled with rice (and unfortunately, currants), coconut, yogurt, nuts and spices, and curried whatever-was-in-the-pot that day. Your friends from all over the world filled our home with stories and science, architecture and nature, and everything you thought was beautiful or special that you found along your journey. The dining room doubled as a space for an incubator to hatch ducklings, a giant fish tank for tropical fish, and a smaller fish tank for turtles or snakes or toads, or whatever John or Patrick put in them next. Together with Carl, you cultivated a doctor, an architect, a designer of home and fashion, a businessman, an artist and teacher, a writer and a scientist. The babysitters who you hired to watch your younger children often did double time stuffing birds for the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature’s collections, coaxed into the task with another few hourly dollars. And every kid who made the grave error of looking in the freezer for a scoop of ice cream, was met with several pairs of birds’ feet, sticking out of paper cones instead.
Colleen was born in Bismarck, North Dakota in 1932 to parents Alvin and Burdella. She always had a keen mind and her love of birds came to her at the age of just 11 years old. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota in 1955, where she earned her B.A. in music, and it was there that she met her husband, Carl Nelson. In 1956-57, while living in Italy, she prepared a study collection of European birds for the James Ford Bell Museum. In 1957, she entered graduate school at the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana, where she studied with the late Dr. S. C. Kendeigh. She received her M. Sc. in Zoological Ecology in 1961. Her thesis was “Six Sparrows of the Northern Great Plains: Descriptive Ecology”. She began field research of the downy waterfowl in 1962 at the Delta Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Station. She emigrated to Canada in 1963, and during the ensuing years, conducted work at the Wildfowl Trust, Slimbridge, England; the University of Manitoba Field Station, Delta, Manitoba; the Round Lake Waterfowl Station, Round Lake, Minnesota; and the Jack Williams Farms, Tunstead, England. She wrote articles for ornithological journals and for the popular press. Her illustrations appear in The Swans, by Sir Peter Scott and the Wildfowl Trust, in the Handbook of North American Birds. Her paintings appear in numerous private collections, in the M. Graham Netting Collection, Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh; in Government House, Province of Manitoba, Winnipeg; in the Canadian Museum of Science, Government of Ottawa; and the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, Winnipeg; and in the collection of the Manitoba Telephone System, Winnipeg.
Together with her husband, Carl, they had 7 children . . . (here we go): Chris Nelson, (Karen), Wade Nelson, (Sandra), Mary Nemeth, (Peter), John Nelson, (Pamela), Kathleen Nelson (Cory Lussier), Tina Hill (Happy), and Patrick Nelson. She also had 13 grandchildren: Jordan Nelson (Linda), David Nelson, Rachel Nelson, Isaac Nelson, Jessica (Matt) Borody, Jenny Myskiw (Myles), Jazz Hill, Dakota Hill, Indiana Hill, Ileah Valverde-Nelson and Sadirah Valverde-Nelson. She had 2 great-granddaughters, Ella and Lily Borody. She also leaves her brother Alvin Helgeson and wife, Jacquelyn, of Oregon, along with her brother-in-law, Willard Nelson and wife, Jeanne, of Minnesota. She had many nieces and nephews who she loved dearly, and who she treated with the same love and care as her own children, along with countless kids from the Park.
And Mary Pagdato, the Angel, who loved her and cared for her for so many years.
When Colleen lost her ability to be as independent as she had always been, she would sit in her wheelchair, looking out over Wildwood Park, through every season, loving each one more than the last. She enjoyed being a season ticket holder for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, treating her daughters to a matinee performance, while she drifted off to Tchaikovsky. She loved the piano and classical music, PBS television shows like Masterpiece Theatre, Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, and any good documentaries she could find. She cheated in Scrabble, using Latin and Italian words when they suited her, and smiled when the other players finally figured it out. She also loved impossible crossword puzzles. Later in her life, she discovered the satisfaction of a good swear word from time to time, always following it up with her infectious laughter. Both Colleen and her husband Carl are listed in the Manitoba Historical Society as Memorable Manitobans. Carl passed away on August 17, 2002, although we often would catch her speaking with him in her room.
Mom, I miss you so much. We all do. I have already pulled out everything Marimekko from your closet and held it close to my face. I know you are finally able to walk again, holding hands with Carl, and a little daschund by your feet.
Ah, little bird
Fly high, Be free
Don’t sit on the ground And wait for me
Your wings were meant To take you high
For however long
You are able to fly
I will join you
When my time here is done And together we’ll fly Into a setting sun
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Fort Whyte Alive at fortwhyte.org, or read a book to a child. She would love that.
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