Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Nathan Bourne

Remembering Mr. Nelson

Editor's Note


Nathan Bourne, Pathfinder

A memorial honoring Cliff Nelson sits in front of Seeley Lake Elementary's gymnasium. This Friday, Sept. 30, marks 20 years since Nelson's murder, which remains unsolved.

SEELEY LAKE - It's been 20 years this Sept. 30, since the unsolved murder of seventh and eighth-grade teacher Cliff Nelson. His 20-year tenure at Seeley Lake Elementary came to an end that night but his memories live on in those of us who were lucky enough to have known him as Mr. Nelson.

On this anniversary I find myself in a strange place, one that even Mr. Nelson would have found to be most amusing, owning the Seeley Swan Pathfinder. Tonight as I scroll though the archives of the Pathfinder, floods of memories come back, old names I hadn't thought of in ages, the plays we did, the "Red List", Little League, trips to Glacier and Yellowstone, and many more.

I thought I would share one of those memories that I think about regularly.

Mr. Nelson and I got off to a rocky beginning that started before I even came into seventh grade. I didn't have much respect for him and he didn't seem to have much for me.

When students hit the sixth grade, at that time, they moved from the main building into the Junior High building where Mr. Nelson taught. Sixth-graders seemed to be a bit terrified of him even though they didn't have him as a teacher yet and I was no different.

I regularly got into trouble in the hallway. For such a quiet guy he sure could yell when he wanted to. My older brother got in a lot of trouble with Mr. Nelson too so it didn't surprise me that I was having issues as well.

When I started the seventh grade it seemed like Mr. Nelson was always out to get me. My name was permanently on the "Red List" and I recall staying after school in detention regularly for the first several months of seventh grade. I am sure I was an angel.

One afternoon as I sat in detention, Mr. Nelson came in and sat down across the table from me. What he said that day changed our relationship from then on and impacted nearly all my interactions with people since.

Mr. Nelson said that he had just realized that he was treating me based on his experience with my brother. He questioned if I was treating him differently because of my brother's experience with him.

Mr. Nelson went on to say that in the morning he would throw out what he thought he knew about me and asked if I could do the same for him. Start anew and form our opinions based on our experiences with each other not on someone else's experience.

We both took that advice to heart and he became one of my favorite teachers.

I've applied this throughout my life, always forming my opinions of people based on how they interact with me and never based on opinions of others. It's treated me well.

I will share this memory on the Pathfinder's Facebook page and I encourage all of you who knew Cliff Nelson as Mr. Nelson to share a memory as well.


Reader Comments

CCrouch writes:

Mr. Nelson was a major part of my life, and remains that way today. I was a shy, insecure young man with very little guidance in life. He saw that, and made a point to give me confidence. He promised to read my Louis L'Amour books if I would read his Native American books. He cast me as the lead in Henry V - although that may not have been the best idea. I lived 30 minutes away from the Seeley crowd, but he stopped to pick me up on the way to Missoula to eat pizza & watch a movie (later realizing that Porkies may not have been the best choice, and got in a car wreck after dropping me off). He took 4 of us on a 3 day trip to see historical places in Montana that otherwise we may not have experienced...on his dime...during the summer. He drove to Hamilton to see me graduate from high school, and continued to write letters to me to see how things were going right up until the end. Essentially, he & Mrs. Hart taught me well enough that now I write for a living.  His picture hangs in my hallway, which is the Hall of Fame for people in my life. I owe a lot to him, but all he ever wanted was to be able to teach kids, and make their lives better - big ways or small. Never sought out recognition, didn't get enough. Share your stories - this man deserves to never be forgotten.

Mikeh40 writes:

He was incredible! He lived across the river from us. I remember our class going to his home for hot apple cider and the going out to sing Christmas carols durning the holiday. Also Hans, Troy, and myself going with him to Missoula for pizza and a movie, still remember the movie Blue Thunder. Miss him every day.

Tracy writes:

Mr. Nelson had such a profound impact on me and countless others! He believed in me like no other teach did. He pushed me, a lot... but that is because he saw something in me that I didn't know was there. We all still talk about him and share stories. Although my daughter has never met him, she knows about Mr. Nelson and how much he meant to me:). Can't believe it has been 20 years............. Cheers to you Cliff, your memory will live on.


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