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Minn. woman, 106, whom city officials adored, dies on her birthday

Frances Nelson Submitted photo

WEST ST. PAUL, Minn.—Frances Nelson, who was West St. Paul's oldest resident, died Saturday — on her 106th birthday.

Nelson was recognized publicly by the city council every year since her 100th birthday, with a "Frances Nelson Day" in West St. Paul. She was also a fixture in the city's annual spring parade, riding on a fire truck as a distinguished guest of the fire department.

She became a friend to many city officials and city staff members over the years, city council member Ed Iago said Monday.

"It's rare that you ever have an opportunity in your life to meet a person of that caliber, much less one of that age that is still so alert and sharp," he said. "Her outlook on life was very simple, very straight-forward. It was always refreshing to talk to her."

For the past four years, Nelson had been staying in an apartment at Westwood Ridge senior living facility in West St. Paul. When a friend discovered her Thursday appearing sick and dehydrated, she was taken to United Hospital in St. Paul, where she died around 6 a.m. Saturday, Iago said.

The city council was planning to recognize Nelson on Monday night, with proclamations from Mayor Jenny Halverson, state Rep. Rick Hansen and state Sen. Matt Klein.

About six years ago, resident Jim McKie met Nelson while campaigning for a Ward 2 city council seat.

"He was door-knocking, and was just so absolutely blown away by talking with her," Iago said. "She was in her late 90s at the time and he told me, 'You've got to meet this gal.' "

Soon, Iago, McKie, the city's then mayor and some city staff found themselves sitting around Nelson's kitchen table, talking with her about her life. She kept a bond with city officials and staff over the years, regularly going out to lunch with Iago and McKie, Bud Shaver, the city's police chief, and Mike Pott, the city's fire chief, among others.

"She was a great storyteller," Iago said. "And she was a very proper lady, and very independent."

Nelson was born on Jan. 20, 1912, in Granite Falls, Minn. In 1955, she and her husband, Lloyd, bought a rambler along Harmon Place in West St. Paul.

Lloyd died in the early '60s, leaving Nelson to raise the couple's two children, Iago said. She worked for two credit unions over the years, retiring at age 75.

Nelson didn't think her age was a big deal, Iago said. But that didn't mean she didn't enjoy the attention.

"One thing she told me after a council meeting," Iago said, "was something to the effect of, 'I really don't understand what all the fuss is about me. But I do confess that I really enjoy it.' "

McKie said city officials "made it a responsibility to get her out of her house every once in a while," taking her to lunch and shopping. McKie also made it a point to play bridge with her and her friends twice a month, and bring her books to read.

"She was a very intelligent lady," he said.

Funeral services are pending for Nelson, McKie said.

"She has a nephew in Red Wing and a daughter-in-law who lives in West St. Paul," he said.

Monday's city council meeting was canceled because of the snowstorm, so Iago said he will have to wait until the Feb. 12 meeting to talk about his friend.

"I'm going to struggle to get through it, but I am bound and determined to do so," he said. "She's been a delightful acquaintance."