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In Memory

Mary Jean Jones Nelson

November 19, 2013

Mary Jean Jones Nelson of Ft. Collins, died Nov. 8, on her 90th birthday after two months of various health issues.

She died peacefully, in no pain, under hospice care.

Mary Jean was the second of three children born to Paul and Leona Jones on a farm near Reserve, Kan. The family moved to a farm near Blair, Neb., where she had her early schooling, graduating from high school in Omaha.

Education was very important to Leona, and all three of her children completed college. The first ten grades of Mary Jean’s education took place in a two-room schoolhouse, Mattes School District #41, near the farm. She finished her last two years at Omaha South High School. She attended the University of Nebraska from 1940 to 1944 and graduated in home economics. While in college, she had a variety of jobs including keeping records of dairy production, editing a monthly newsletter, and modeling clothing.

After she graduated, Mary Jean moved to Seattle, Washington, for an internship in the King County Hospital Dietetic Program, looking forward to new experiences. She tried out skiing for the first time, and the driver of the car, who drove because he was the only person who even had a car, was Laurence S. Nelson Jr., a medical intern who eventually became her husband. Larry, as he was known, called her “Tiger,” and anyone who knew Mary Jean knows exactly why.

In June of 1945, Mary Jean moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to work as a therapeutic dietitian in the Women’s Clinic of Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was interesting for many reasons, including the German prisoners of war who worked in the kitchen there. She and Larry married in February of 1946. Larry was called to active duty aboard the U.S.S. Iowa, and after an eventful honeymoon trip, he reported to the ship and from there the couple moved around to wherever the Iowa was stationed.

After the war, they relocated to Salina, Kansas, where Larry went into medical practice with his father. The couple had three children, Lise Ann, James Laurence (deceased) and Laurence Strong III. Mary Jean was active in the community, including the League of Women Voters. She played golf and bridge, which activities she continued for the rest of her life. Larry died in July of 1964 of heart problems. Mary Jean started art classes at a local college, Marymount, and ultimately pursued a masters and a doctorate in art history at the University of Kansas.

In 1968, after completing her masters, she moved to Ft. Collins to teach art history at Colorado State University. She taught at CSU until her retirement in 1984, after which she moved to San Diego, California, where she taught a few classes and volunteered at art institutions. She moved back to Colorado in 2002.

She considered the signal event of her life to be her introduction to foreign travel through a summer program at CSU. She traveled frequently after that, to many different parts of the world, and only gave it up a few years before her death. She wrote of her travels in letters to friends and family, which she collected when she returned to the states. She compiled them and letters from other trips into a collection she called “Worlds of Fun.” She worked for more than 20 years on the genealogy of Larry’s and her families, and chronicled it in a volume she called, “From There to Here: a Personal History of a Family.” She also wrote her autobiography, “On Second Thought: Reconsideration of a Life.”

Mary Jean is survived by two children and her sister, Paula Wehrman, of Mill Creek, Washington. She wrote her own epitaph: “Let there be no tears. Simply draw a ring of stars around my name and then forget me. The stars are for my parents, for my husband, for my children, and for the galaxy of friends I have been privileged to know and enjoy.”

In lieu of flowers, Mary Jean preferred memorials to the University of Kansas, Spencer Museum of Art, P.O. Box 928, Lawrence, KS 66044.

A social gathering is planned from 2-5 p.m. at the University Club, Lory Student Center, Colorado State University, on Sunday, Dec. 8. Any questions should be directed to Lise Nelson at Complete obituary and details: