In every community there is an individual who goes above and beyond the norm with relentless effort. In Portsmouth, that person is Mary Nelson, operator of the 14th Street Community Center. Nelson was honored Wednesday as a WSAZ Hometown Hero.
Overwhelmed with emotion, and humbled by the celebration held in her honor, Nelson sobbed as a group of children from the 14th Street Community Center, staff and volunteers of the Center, and adult members of the community gathered around her. They bestowed upon Nelson a hand held decoration of balloons and flowers, a cake and personalized certificate from WSAZ.
It was Gary Kelly and his wife Kay Kelly of Portsmouth, volunteers at the 14 Street Community Center who reached out to the television news station, WSAZ, to nominate Nelson as a Hometown Hero. Gary Kelly spoke on behalf of both himself and his wife of the deep respect they have for Nelson for her dedication and service to the local community.
“Mary Nelson is an asset to us, in all manners,” Gary Kelly said. “We love her, and appreciate her. She feeds the kids here, and takes them here and takes them there. Anything that the kids need, she does it and she doesn’t want any recognition for it.”
Doris Johnson, also a volunteer at the 14th Street Community Center, said Nelson is the perfect recipient.
“Mary is a very good person. She feeds the kids, and takes money out of her own pockets to do what she does for these kids,” Johnson said. “Because most of these kids come in here, and they are here all day, and Mary has to feed them. It is a wonderful thing because she is what she is. She’s a Hometown Hero and that’s what she is. She does anything that anyone in the community wants her to do.”
Maxine Malone, of AI Enterprises, said honoring Mary as a Hometown Hero is way over due.
“Today is very special day and Mary deserves it. This is way over due,” Malone said. “I have seen her take children into her home for 30 years, and feed them, and take care of them. She takes money out of her pocket to try to continue the program here at the 14th Street Community Center, and we appreciate the Center for what they do as well, but we thank God for Mary because she goes over and above.”
Julie Wood of Columbus, formerly of Portsmouth, said Nelson’s service to the community is transcendent.
“Mary Nelson is a vital part of the Portsmouth community, serving the needs of others regardless of race, religion or color. She extends numerous hours providing support, guidance, and assistance to children, teens and families on a daily basis,” Wood said. “Whether overseeing the events of the 14th Street Community Center, working with residents at the homeless shelter, or providing social support and refuge to kids in need, Mary continually enriches lives. Over the years, I have called Mary my classmate and friend but today I join others in saluting her as our “Hometown Hero.”
In addition to her tireless work and service to the community, Nelson is also known as one of the best cooks, and bakers in the local community, according to Johnson.
“She is such a very good cook. She makes the best rolls in the United States. They are just the best rolls,” Johnson said. “When we go out of town, we have to take some of her rolls with us when we go to these different functions. She is awesome. Awesome. Awesome.”
Carla Womack, Parent and Community Engagement for Scioto County Community Action Organization (CAO) Head Start Program, said Nelson also works in conjunction with CAO to help children and serves in numerous other ways.
“Mary has been an intricate part of the Community Action Organization. This summer they had a Summer Feeding Program, and Mr. Sturgill would give the Center food from the program, and Mary would take that food and do wonders with it, and feed many with it,” Womack said. “She does this out of her own pocket many times. And you’ve heard about her rolls. She is famous for her rolls in the community. Some don’t know it, but Mary is also a single mother, a foster parent, a community leader She’s a Christian woman, and she takes that to heart. What she says and preaches to these children, she models it. She also works at the Homeless Shelter, and I could go on and on about Mary Nelson, but she never wants recognition, and I think that says a lot about her as well. She comes in at five, or six in the morning, and is here for 12 hours.”
Front: Left to right, Gary Kelly honoring Mary Nelson as a WSAZ Hometown Hero. A special celebration was held in Nelson’s honor at the 14th Street Community Center on Tuesday.
Reach Portia Williams at 740-353-3101, ext. 1929, or on Twitter @PortiaWillPDT.