Fred Nelson, 91, longtime Montana music educator and Missoula resident, died Thursday (Dec. 5) at Libby, Montana.
Fred was born November 28, 1928 at Kalispell, Montana to Raymond Nelson and Martha O’Brien Nelson; he and his sister Evelyn attended grade school at Kalispell. At the time of their mother’s death in 1940, the family moved to Polson and then to Anaconda where he attended junior high and high school, graduating from Anaconda High in 1947.
Following high school, he worked at the Anaconda Company Smelter and later, for the BA&P (Butte Anaconda Pacific) Railroad and, being an excellent trumpet player, played numerous dance jobs throughout the area. Following his lifelong passion for music, he enrolled at the University of Montana in 1948 where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music. During his earlier musical foray in high school, he noticed the piano player in the dance band, a pretty Anaconda girl named Marlene Murray. They were married on St. Patrick’s Day 1951 at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Missoula; this loving relationship would last for 61 years until her death in 2012.
They remained in Missoula where Fred finished his degree and worked part-time for the Montgomery Ward company. He also had a dance band (The Moon Moods) that was well known throughout the Missoula area; Fred and the band’s drummer Mel Rice would remain lifelong friends.
He served in the U.S. Army, serving stateside and overseas in Japan with the post-WWII occupational forces. Following his discharge from active duty in 1954, he accepted his first teaching job as band director at Polson Public Schools. During this time, he also earned his Masters Degree from U of M.
He came to Libby in 1957, accepting the position as director of bands and music department supervisor for Libby Public Schools. He remained there during a period of student growth years with baby boomers and the influx from Libby Dam construction. During this time, Libby became a AA school with student participation in music growing from 50 to nearly 500 students.
In the fall of 1971 he returned to Missoula, accepting the position as director of bands at Sentinel High School, continuing his passion for teaching music until retiring in June of 1987. He remained in Missoula where he was employed by Morgenroth Music Center as a sales representative throughout western Montana. He stayed actively involved in music education as guest conductor and adjudicator at many music festivals throughout the area and, for many years, as a private music teacher. He and Marlene enjoyed traveling both here and abroad during this time, much of it with good friends Mel and Charlotte Rice.
In the later 1980’s Fred, along with several other alumni of the UM School of Fine Arts, founded the U of M Alumni Band which remains a very large part of every homecoming celebration.
In November of 2013, he married Karina Hatch; they enjoyed dancing, traveling and many other adventures until her death in October of 2016. During his later years, he enjoyed residing at Grizzly Peak and the wonderful friendships he had with all who resided there.
Throughout his life, he remained a doting grandfather to Dale, Chris, Lisa, Jennifer, Caitlyn, Lindsey and Eduardo and great- grandfather to Lauren, Jesse, Eric, Isaiah, Zoey, Sophia and Sophie.
He was preceded in death by his wives and his sister Evelyn in 2012. Surviving him are his sons, Niles Nelson and wife Bobbie of Libby; Dale Nelson of Polson; and Grant Nelson and wife Marybeth of El Cajon, CA.
A visitation for former students and friends in Libby will be Wednesday (12-11) from 3-8 p.m. at the Schnackenberg Funeral Home.
Funeral services will be Friday (12-13) at 11:00 a.m. at Garden City Funeral Home in Missoula with a reception immediately following in the funeral home hospitality center. Committal service will follow at 2:00 p.m. at Missoula Cemetery. Condolences and memories may be shared online by visiting www.schnackenbergfh.com (in Libby) or www.gardencityfh.com (in Missoula).
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