The late Charles Nelson honored by state Funeral Directors group

Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Charles M. Nelson, who died in 1997, was inducted into the Arkansas Funeral Directors Association Hall of Fame recently.

BERRYVILLE -- Charles M. Nelson was inducted posthumously into the Arkansas Funeral Directors Association Hall of Fame recently.

Nelson died at age 67 on May 2, 1997. He left his business, Nelson Funeral Service Inc., to his family, and grandson Bobby Thurman currently owns and operates the family business.

"This is only the second year we have done the hall of fame," said Jim Lowery of the AFDA; the ceremony was held on April 19. "It really speaks volumes about the early inductees of the hall of fame because they are the first ones who come to mind when you think of impact in the Arkansas funeral industry."

Nelson worked with his father, Rea, at the funeral home until he attended Castle Heights Military School. Afterward, he graduated from the St. Louis College of Mortuary Science at the age of 18, which made him the youngest licensed embalmer in Arkansas.

"Now you have to be 18 to start your apprenticeship and it takes two years to complete it. Back then it wasn't like that, it only took only one year and you start before 18," Thurman explained. "It is pretty cool that because of the way it is now my grandfather can keep his record."

Nelson returned to Berryville to join his father in the family business and within the same year he married Jimmie Hammons. They had four children, who all became funeral directors: Sherry Nelson French, Carla Nelson Thurman, Andre Nelson and the late Douglas B. Nelson.

Charles Nelson served on the AFDA board of directors and became board president in 1960. He also served on the boards of the Association of Funeral Directors International and the Arkansas Club of Burial Associations and was a founder of Memorial Insurance Co. of America.

On a local level Nelson was a member of the Rotary Club, Masonic Lounge and First Christian Church. He also was once the president of the Berryville Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Berryville Cemetery Commission and on the board of directors for the Carroll County Historical Society. He was also the Carroll County coroner for several years.

"He was just a very community-minded person and very willing to help others. It was a pleasure for him to be able to help, whether it was through the funeral home or fraternal and civic clubs," Thurman explained.

In 1951, Nelson toured Korea serving in the U.S. Army as an identification specialist and assistant lab chief in the Central Identification Unit of the American Graves Registration Service Group. After his return home in 1952, Nelson became a member of the American Legion and was one of the founding members of the VFW in Carroll County.

Nelson enjoyed athletic activities such as golf and tennis, as well as farming, boating and playing the saxophone, but his main passion in life was to be there for the people in and around Carroll County when they needed someone to turn to in their time of loss, his grandson said.

"As far as the way I remember him, he was very energetic, compassionate and good-humored. He was a good Christian man and a very devoted to his family," Thurman said. "He was a very hard worker -- and in this business you work 24/7. He was available to the public whenever they needed him."

Nelson Funeral Service Inc. is a fourth-generation family-owned business. It was started by Rea Nelson in 1931, then later run by Charles and Jimmie Nelson.

The third generation of owners were brother and sister owners Doug Nelson and Andre Nelson. After 82 years of business Charles's grandson, Bobby R. Thurman, still looks forward to proudly serving his, his grandfather's and even his great-grandfather's community in the funeral industry, Thurman says.

"I have been running the family business since my Uncle Doug died, and for me, it is a honor to carry on the tradition and serve the families and people of my community," he said.

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