Success: “That man is a success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
For as long as most locals can remember, Nelson Drug has anchored Main Street in downtown Arlington, population 899.
Stores come and go in small town South Dakota, and as I stepped outside and began walking to my car, I reflected on the store’s namesake, John Nelson, who passed away recently at age 95.
Like many of the “Greatest Generation,” John brought a teeming enthusiasm and can-do attitude to the community when he and his wife, Liz, arrived in the early 1950s to purchase the drugstore. As with many of his counterparts who had survived World War II, he was eager to get on with his life and he calculated that Arlington was the place to do it.
His longtime friend and fellow pharmacist, Ken Jones of Yankton, called John’s passing “the end of an era.”
They served on the state Board of Pharmacy, and shared a commitment to their communities and their professions.
“He went up through the chairs in the pharmacy association,” Jones remembered. “He was really committed to his family. For many, many years, we received a card at Christmas and it was always a picture of his family.
“He was likeable and a giving, considerate person. People respected and liked John.”
In 2013, John received the Lifetime Recognition to the Community from the Arlington Area Chamber of Commerce, and he was chairman of the Arlington Development Corporation for 25 years.
Many rewards for a life well lived, but plenty of challenges, too, that reflected the wrenching changes affecting small towns.
Probably 30 years ago, John – my wife’s uncle – told me that he could buy products for his store at Walmart in Sioux Falls less expensively than he could obtain them from his wholesalers. For small town drug stores – and other businesses – it’s only gotten tougher. The big boxes provide stiff competition. Combined with declining population and changing shopping habits, rural communities have absorbed the brunt of negative change in the South Dakota.
“Pharmacists getting out of college today can make more at Walgreens or CVS than if they owned their own store,” Jones observed.
John sold his store in 1986 to his daughter Julie, also a pharmacist, and her husband, Craig. His other three children (one of whom is also a pharmacist) found careers elsewhere but come home on a regular basis.
Today, Nelson Drug remains a fixture on Main Street.
John took pride in that, not just for himself, but for his family and his community.
Jan. 24, 2018