Diana Nelson, of Sauk Centre, has served many, young and old, especially serving the needs of persons with disabilities. From opening Nelson Daycare, to helping her husband sell dairy equipment, working in the Sauk Centre school computer lab, driving school bus, driving Tri-CAP bus, and running Sunrise View Acres, an adult foster care home, for the past 21 years.
After attending college at the U of M, Twin Cities, where she met her husband, Steve, they spent two years in the Peace Corps in Morocco; Diana teaching nutrition, sewing and homemaking to young women, while Steve worked in forestry and agriculture.
They eventually moved to Sauk Centre in 1978. In 1998, Diana and Steve purchased and renovated a house in Sauk Centre to run an adult foster care home. Most have been long-term — some living there for 21 years — and mostly women.
Working with people with disabilities came naturally to Diana, whose younger sister, Amy, had Down Syndrome.
“Amy was a sweetheart, she gave lots of hugs,” Diana said of her sister, who passed away at age 54. Diana was her guardian, and brought Amy to her home for week-long visits around holidays.
Unlike a corporate foster care setting, with shift workers, Diana is the primary care giver for her residents. When she has to be away, she has people come in to take care of the residents, who have been cleared to work with this population by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
“I am very grateful for help from my family and long-time helpers, because consistency is important for the residents,” she said.
Diana operates her foster care like a family. So much so, in fact, her own grandchildren will ask her, “Grandma, where are your kids today?” Despite the fact that several are older than Diana.
Diana brings the residents to family events, weddings, and even vacations. Her family interacts with the residents like family as well.
Before Steve passed away in 2018, he and Diana took them on numerous vacations. They have traveled to Disney World, Seattle, Mackinaw Island, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Canada, Fairhills Resort Vacation in Detroit Lakes, Causeway Resort in Brainerd, other Minnesota locations, and to Indiana where their son, Ryan, lives. They have been to the Minnesota State Fair and many other local events. Diana’s children (Peter, Jamila and Ryan) accompanied them on trips, and still do.
“Travel was good for the ladies” Diana said about taking them along.
Diana’s residents also participate in Special Olympics, and Diana has served as a coach and unified partner. Twenty years ago when she began, there were 10-12 involved, and today there are over 100 athletes in the Sauk Centre-Melrose area.
“It is really rewarding to watch. Just finishing is awesome to them,” Diana said. Sports include bowling, track and field, golf, football, basketball, bocce ball and swimming.
Practices are held weekly throughout the year, and the Melrose/Sauk Centre group participates in the State Special Olympics at St. Thomas, a three-day event every June.
“They are thrilled to have a medal. It doesn’t matter if it’s gold, bronze or silver,” Dian said. Volunteers and donations make these events possible and new volunteers are always welcome.
Diana’s clients at her home have been active in Special Olympics, church, community events, prom and local ARC events. The ARC is an organization that advocates for persons with disabilities. Diana has been on the ARC Board of Directors for 12 years. She coordinates activities in the local area for people with disabilities, including a Halloween party, Christmas party and a St. Patrick’s Day dance.
Diana is committed to providing fulfilling life experiences for her clients and others with disabilities in the community. She also is a member of the Sauk Centre Lions, Dollars for Scholars, PTA president, and Punkins and Monkeys preschool director.
Congratulations to Diana Nelson, December Person with a Passion.