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Pete J. Nelson: Father, Quaker, Pilgrim and gardener

Father, Quaker, Pilgrim, gardener, longtime CHAP volunteer

Pete J. Nelson died peacefully on January 1, 2020, cradled by his wife, Judith Favor.

He had refused food since fracturing his spine on December 20. Under the care of VNA Hospice and Palliative Care of Southern California, “Pete grasped death with tenacious fortitude after having suffered the diminishments of Parkinson’s Disease,” his family shared. He was 82 years old.

Mr. Nelson’s journey began near midnight on July 24, 1937, when he was born in the Evans Hotel, where his father tended bar, in Hot Springs, South Dakota. The third of five sons, he wrote in 2010 that he “grew up in an austere home of unspoken tension. Generous affection and attention came from my beloved grandmother and Aunt Pete. Quiet summer nights on their front porch grounded me on earth, letting my imagination soar toward distant galaxies. The wide skies of the Black Hills and the love of two older women introduced me to the cosmic perspective I enjoy today.”

His pure boy-soprano voice, discovered by a Sunday school teacher, led to solo performances in churches and concert halls across the state. In his teens, he performed in school plays, drove drunken friends home from parties, ice skated in winter and worked at Custer State Park resorts in summer. As a Navy corpsman in 1956-‘57, he tended newborn babies in hospital delivery rooms.

“As a Quaker now concerned about military spending,” he wrote, “I find it ironic that the US military budget sustained our family of seven (dad worked at an Army munitions depot), trained me as a Navy medic and sent me to serve on a marine base in the Philippines. The GI Bill paid for my college education.”

An intellectually curious student and educator, he taught in Guam, Oregon and northern California, guided first generation college students in Chaffey College’s Educational Opportunity Program and retired from EOP work at Cal State University, Fullerton.

“Multiple readings of The Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin while teaching on the tiny island of Guam far out in the Pacific Ocean catalyzed my being lured towards the mystical and the mystery,” he wrote.  

He married Patricia Ross in 1968, but, “The joy of fatherhood was cut short by the tragic death of our first child, my beloved son Jubal,” he wrote. “Parental grief deepened when our second son, Teilhard, died in utero just before birth. We adopted Jeb Kahlil and raised him in Pomona. My marriage with his mother ended when Kahlil was grown and she returned to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.”

After retiring from CSU Fullerton, Mr. Nelson explored China with a friend, then volunteered with hospice, Hope Partners Family Shelter, and a mediation center in Pomona.

“Gardening sustains my spirit and I delight in planting and tending fruit trees, grapevines, flowers and vegetables,” he wrote. “It was hard to leave the lushness of my garden in Pomona, but love for Judith Favor and the appeal of living in an intentional community drew me to Pilgrim Place, a gift which continues to emerge in its challenging richness each day.”

He met Judith Favor at Claremont Friends Meeting House in 2005, and they married in 2007.

“Quaker values of peace, equality and community were vital to Pete, and he lived each day with simplicity and integrity,” his family shared. “For several years, he served as an evening host for Claremont Housing Advocacy Program. CHAP participants appreciated his calming, centered presence, thoughtful questions, deep listening and caring hugs; he embraced each one as Friend.”

Here is a sampling of what his friends have said about Mr. Nelson since his passing: “He made me feel seen in a way few ever have;” “Extravagantly hospitable to two strangers;” “Cosmic gardener;” “Made me feel that I belonged;” “Open and seeking;” “Asked me, ‘Why are you the way you are?’ and repeated the question several times each visit. I will be answering this profound and probing question for the rest of my life;”

“A yin-yang kind of guy;” “Told us the years had worn his grief down like weathered seashells on beaches;” “His image is still a healing presence for us;” “I feel lucky to have known him;” “He practiced ‘God is love’ instead of preaching it;” “Feeling glum after D’s death, Pete reached out his long arms and swept me up. I can still feel the warmth in my heart that I felt then;” “Pete free, his love lives on in all he touched and certainly lives in me.” 

Peter Junior Nelson was preceded in death by his sons, Jubal and Teilhard; parents, Geddes and Dorothy; and brothers, Carl, Bud and Butch.

He leaves his spouse, Judith Favor and her kin, Michael, Kathy, Sarah, Eric, Jax, Penelope, Douglas, Finn Gunn, Andrew and Melody; son, Kahlil; chosen daughter, Christina Salvin; granddaughters, Aeja and Maya Rosette; brother, Bob (Aletha); sister-in-law, Carol; and countless friends. 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions in Mr. Nelson’s memory to the Claremont Housing Advocacy Program at chapclaremont.org/donation, or by check to CHAP, 830 W. Bonita Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.

A memorial meeting in the manner of Friends will be held in Pete’s honor at 3 p.m. Saturday, February 1 at the Quaker Meeting House, 727 H

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