Muchas Gracias to art teacher Carmen Nelson [UPDATED]Published 6:03am Monday, January 21, 2013 Updated 10:49am Monday, January 21, 2013
Fergus Falls Junior and Senior High School is preparing to say “Adios” to Carmen Nelson. The long-time Spanish and art teacher, and former girls basketball, track and softball coach, will retire on April 1 after 35 years. Ironically, it took being laid off from teaching mid career to change the course of Nelson’s life.
Nelson was working as an art teacher when she got laid off in the 1980s. She decided to go to Mexico to do missionary work and teach — however she didn’t know Spanish.
In Mexico, she took a nine-month Spanish course, and immersed herself in the culture. After two years, she came back to Minnesota, took a Spanish language practicum at Mankato State College, and returned to Fergus Falls to teach art and Spanish.
“It’s fun when students come back and tell ya thank you,” said Nelson. “Or say ‘Maybe I should have paid more attention in Spanish.’”
Nelson loves to talk about her students, and is proud of the fact that at least five are art teachers, and six others display their art work publicly.
She also shared her love of Spanish culture with students, taking seventh grade students on mission trips to Mexico in the mid 1990’s.
“We went three years in a row to Mexico, helping out at orphanages, helping build houses and bathrooms,” said Nelson. “The conditions at the orphanages were so sad, I would stand in the corner and cry — I wanted to take all of the children home with me.”
Back home in Fergus Falls, Nelson started asking around how she might adopt a child from Mexico. Being told it was impossible seemed to just strengthen her resolve. She finally found an agency out of North Carolina that handled Mexican adoptions to the U.S.
But before she could bring her new daughter home, she had one more hurdle to overcome. Nelson appealed to the school board to give her parental leave — something that had not been previously done for adoptive parents.
“I told them adoptive parents should have the same rights as birth parents,” said Nelson, crediting then Superintendent Dr. Bob Duncan with listening to her plea. “I gave each school board member a packet of information, and had parental leave approved before I went to get my daughter.”
Among Nelson’s plans for the future are building an art studio at her home. An active volunteer, Nelson plans to read to seniors a couple times a week at PioneerCare. She is also a cancer survivor, and will be making visits to patients at the cancer center. She is looking forward to an upcoming trip to Costa Rica with her daughter, and being a stay-at-home mom for once.
“I am really blessed to work with fun and caring people at school, including teachers, janitors, paras and cooks,” said Nelson. “I thank God for being a teacher, my daughter Lilly, and for being cancer free.