Not ready to shelve their workFlorence and Wilbur Nelson need their people fix. That’s why they still show up for work every day – at 88 years old.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
Florence and Wilbur Nelson need their people fix. That’s why they still show up for work every day – at 88 years old.
“We like to be with people,” Wilbur said.
“It’s something different every day,” his bride of 67 years agreed.
When customers at Nelson’s Store in Evansville come in to buy groceries, they leave with more than bags of food. They get a flavorful conversation and a taste of what small-town friendship and courtesy are all about.
As the Nelsons check out their customers and bag their groceries, they ask about their families. They ask about how their crops are coming along. They talk to them about what they like to cook.
Then Wilbur insists on carrying out their groceries, even though he just had his knee replaced a month ago.
“We both have new parts,” Florence said with a grin, explaining that Wilbur has two new knees and she has a new hip. But not even bum joints will keep the Nelsons away from the store that they have worked at for more than five decades.
The Nelsons got their start in the grocery business in 1946 when Florence’s father sold them his store in Melby. In 1955, the big city lights of Evansville beckoned, and with thoughts of progress and more opportunity, they bought the store there.
“The biggest part of the business was purchasing eggs from farmers,” Wilbur reminisced of the early days.
Each day, Wilbur would candle 10 to 15 cases of eggs, up to 360 eggs in every case.
“I candled eggs day after day,” Wilbur said, demonstrating how he would hold the eggs up to a light to determine if they were fresh, using the same candler he used way back when.
“This has got to be about 75 years old,” he said. “And it still works.”
Although Florence stayed home to take care of the couple’s son and daughter when they were little, she has been a part of the store’s success since they took over.
“We withstood it all. We were the stubbornest maybe,” Florence surmised of how Nelson’s Store outlasted two other grocery stores in Evansville. The store even survived a fire in 1965 that kept it closed for more than a week.
Times have changed since the days when the Nelsons would trade groceries for a case of eggs, or buy chickens from local farmers. But one thing has always stayed the same – the Nelsons’ sincere enjoyment with their work and their friendships with customers.
That’s why even though they sold the store to their son, Scott, and his wife, Ginny, in 1987, they just couldn’t stay away.
“It hasn’t been just work though,” Florence clarified. “We had time to do other things. We did a lot of traveling. We’ve been to Australia, Russia, Norway, Sweden. We’ve been all over.”
When they are home in Evansville, still living in the same home that Wilbur’s father built, they go to the store every day to help out. Wilbur usually works in the morning and over lunch, and Florence works “a little bit” every day but Monday, “depending on what’s going on.”
“We work here for something to do,” Wilbur said.
“I like to work and I feel best when I’m working. What would we do? Go home and sit and fade away?” Florence pondered. “We’re doing a favor for our son and ourselves. It’s like we can have our cake and eat it too.”
Florence and Wilbur can’t imagine the day that they wouldn’t look forward to going to the store, and not just because they like to work. It’s because they would miss their daily dose of conversation.
“It’s a lot of visiting,” Florence said. “Wilbur is a good visitor.”
“I think I’ve mentioned that more than once,” Wilbur concluded about his favorite part of the grocery business. “It’s being with people.”