Jeffrey Nelson: Athletic director, loving husband, father

Jeffrey Nelson

Jeffrey Nelson, a longtime Claremont resident, died on May 13, 2015 after a brief battle with brain cancer. He was 68.

He was born in New York on July 13, 1946 to Lala and Clarence Nelson.

Mr. Nelson graduated from Brooklyn Tech and earned his bachelor’s degree at Wagner College and his master’s degree at Richmond College. He served in the United States Navy for two years. 

While at Wagner College, he met his wife Susan, whom he married in 1972. They were married for 42 blessed and happy years and felt from the beginning that they were more than partners; they were soulmates. In the early ‘70s, Mr. Nelson embarked on two careers simultaneously. He taught English in New York City public and private schools and worked in recreation for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. He ultimately became assistant director of recreation for the borough of Brooklyn. 

The Nelsons and their sons Max and Damian moved to Claremont in 1988, at which time Jeff began his teaching and coaching career at Foothill Country Day School. He retired as the school’s athletic director in 2013. During his 24-year tenure, “Coach,” as he was known, built a legacy of love and respect among the hundreds of youths whose lives he impacted.

“My father was a gentle giant and a real presence for all of his students at Foothill Country Day School—so thoughtful and giving of his wisdom on and off the athletic fields,” his son Damian said.

Son Max echoed the sentiment, calling Mr. Nelson “a high-impact player” in the lives of the students he coached. “He wasn’t as interested in the amount of wins his teams had as much as he was with the growth of his players on a spiritual level. His goals, I think, were to help his kids become more coachable, respectful, mentally tough and resilient.”

In his spare time, Mr. Nelson was a gifted craftsman. He was skilled at building model trains and boats that he loved to sail, a hobby that served as a form of active meditation. He was an avid sports fan, golfer and tennis player. He had a keen sense of humor and, according to family, “was defined by doing the right thing.”

His daughter-in-law Jacqueline Nelson admired Coach’s unflagging positivity. “He always knew where the silver lining was and made me realize it each time we spoke. And his faith in the success of his children, including me, was beyond words.”

Mr. Nelson is survived by his wife Susan, his son Max, his son and daughter-in-law, Damian and Jacqueline, his grandson Rivers and his brother Alan.

Donations in Jeffrey Nelson’s memory can be made to Foothill Country Day School at 1035 Harrison Ave., Claremont CA 91711, earmarked for the Coach Nelson Endowed Fund for Financial Aid.


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