A Living Legacy: Donor Profile

Darby and Geri Nelson take the word “love” very seriously. The couple’s 45-year marriage is a testament to that, but so is their commitment to conservation. 

“The word ‘love’ means protecting and keeping from harm. Often, we say ‘I love,’ or ‘We love our lakes,’” said Darby. “But if that’s true, then why do we not only allow but participate in their deterioration?” 

Make no mistake, the Nelsons love lakes. The retired biology instructors have spent their lives as freshwater activists—writing articles and giving lectures for the sake of conservation. Darby, who served in the Minnesota Legislature, also authored a book fittingly titled, For Love of Lakes, about people’s relationship to lakes throughout the United States. 

Recently, in an effort to protect Minnesota lakes from further degradation, the couple made a generous donation to The Nature Conservancy to help with its new freshwater initiative. The Nelsons have been with the Conservancy for more than 35 years, providing continual support through the decades. Darby also served as a trustee, helping oversee the Conservancy’s work in Minnesota. 

As Legacy Club members, they originally named the Conservancy as a beneficiary of their estate. 

“But then we got to thinking, we lose more aquatic ecosystems every month,” said Darby. “Why wait? It makes sense to move some resources around right now.” 

The decision to make their gift now rather than later was solidified when they spoke with the Conservancy’s Assistant State Director of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, Doug Shaw, about the freshwater program. 

“It’s focused on protecting the healthy watersheds, instead of the ones that are sick,” explained Shaw. “It’s totally in line with the Nelsons’ philosophy.” 

The program is targeting three areas: the St. Croix River basin, the Mississippi River headwaters and the Root River basin. Because of the Nelsons’ generous gift, the initiative is well on its way, with scientists already completing blueprints for the St. Croix and Root rivers. 

“Philanthropy is good for the soul,” said Darby. “If you’re ever feeling down in the dumps, just give to a cause you love. You’ll feel pretty peppy, pretty fast!”