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Dorothy Lund Nelson

Winter Texan Teaches Community History and Beginnings of Foster-Care System

by Rocio Villalobos

Welcome back to another edition of our weekly spotlight, created to help you get to know fellow RV-resort and mobile-home-community friends! These individuals have an extraordinary story or are making an impact in the RGV by serving others in some special way.

In 1985, while working as a therapeutic recreation specialist at a retirement home in Rochester, Minnesota, Dorothy Lund Nelson met a resident named William Johnson, who was a passenger on the orphan train.

After getting to know him and learning his story, they joined forces to offer a program about the history of the orphan train, a movement that started in 1854 and helped move thousands of orphans from the streets of New York into homes across the country.

Ever since, Lund Nelson has continued offering the presentation, which she developed into an interactive demonstration, complete with video, costume, and music. She has showcased it in 13 states, including the South-Texas region and her home state of Minnesota, as well as Japan.

“Some people see it down here, go home and tell somebody up there. Then they call me and I do it up there,” Lund Nelson said. “Then somebody may see it up there and tell somebody down here.”

“It’s a part of American history. If this man [Charles Loring Brace] didn’t dream this way of doing it, the children would still be on the streets.” Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society, which led to the establishment of the foster-care system.

In addition to creating awareness about the history of foster care, one of the reasons she enjoys giving presentations is that they always start a conversation among the attendees.
“They have stories,” Lund Nelson said. “They either have a grandparent who came on the train, or some of them grew up in orphanages. And I think that’s good for people to be able to tell others what happened in their lives.”

In 2017, The Founder’s Award was bestowed upon Lund Nelson by the National Orphan Train Complex at their headquarters in Concordia, Kansas, for presenting the program for more than 30 years.

Telling stories and remembering events is so important to Lund Nelson that, in 2004, she wrote a book, The Home We Shared, about the history of-- and her experience living at--the Fargo, North Dakota, children’s home.

Lund Nelson said it’s been awhile since she’s written, but it’s a favorite hobby of hers that she plans to get back into so she can document her family’s story to share with future generations.
Lund Nelson and her husband reside in Mission’s Fiesta Village during the winter, where she also plays the accordion at the park's jams, helps with entertainment for the park’s jams, volunteers at a church teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), and is involved in a number of local book clubs.

“Once we get here, this is home,” Lund Nelson said. “We find that this whole area is so receptive to us, and so I try to get involved. I feel there’s a big opportunity for seniors when they come down here to really be part of the community.”

Lund Nelson encourages the South-Texas community to attend one of her upcoming presentations, which she’ll be hosting through March, to learn about the history of the orphan train and make new connections.

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