A Life Remembered: Sally Nelson a jeweler, teacher, community supporter

Sep. 22—Sally Nelson is remembered for her love of jewelry and founding the successful Exclusively Diamonds store.

But family and those who knew her also remember her faith, love of teaching kids who needed extra help, skills as a seamstress and chef, and the ability to connect with everyone she met.

Nelson earned a degree in special education and speech pathology and taught special education at Waterville High School for nine years.

"Mom also worked at the Mankato Rehabilitation Center and tutored students after school and on weekends in our home. She would sit at our dining room table teaching kids to tell time, count money, helping children lose a lisp or not stutter," said Sarah Person who purchased Exclusively Diamonds in 1998 when Nelson retired.

Nelson, 86, died on Sept. 16.

Person said her mom was not only a successful business woman but instilled a sense of responsibility and faith in the family.

"As a business mentor, she told us to pray about everything and that God is our business partner. It continues today in our business."

Nelson served on a number of boards and instilled a sense of responsibility to serve the community in Person and her sister, Betsy Olson of Arizona.

Nelson grew up in Lyle, near the Iowa border. When she was 5 months old, her mother died in a motorcycle accident. For the next 18 years she was raised in Lyle by her grandparents, who owned a bank.

Sally met Bob Nelson in high school and married him at age 19. They lived in Austin where Bob was a school teacher and where both of their daughters were born.

They moved to Mankato in 1966 where Bob was an elementary school teacher, principal, and then school administrator. Nelson graduated from Mankato State University at age 37 and began her teaching career.

Person said her mom loved to sew clothes, often having her daughters in matching outfits. "She cooked meals every night. We always ate dinner as a family."

But Nelson's passion for fine jewelry pushed her to quit her teaching job and cash in her retirement account to help start a jewelry store.

She went to several banks before one finally agreed to loan her $45,000 at 21% interest and she launched Exclusively Diamonds in 1980.

The business was on the fourth floor of the Matt J Graif Building inside the downtown Mankato Mall.

Both of her daughters worked at the store. After Person purchased the business, she moved it in 2000 to Tullamore Street on Mankato's hilltop and then in 2018 to a larger building on Adams Street.

Sarah's daughter Maria has worked at the store the past 10 years and will be the third generation to own and operate the business.

After Sally Nelson's retirement, she and her husband moved to Arizona. After her husband died, she kept her home in Arizona and Mankato before selling the homes and moving to The Pillars in March of 2021.

Carol Brady, who worked at the store form 1992 to 2017, said Nelson was a joy to work with.

"Sally was a lot of fun to work for. She had a great sense of humor and was knowledgeable of the jewelry business.

"She was a wonderful mentor who taught me the importance of good customer service," Brady said.

Denise Painter came to work at Exclusively Diamonds in 1989.

"Sally trained me. She was so much fun. I think we laughed our way through most of the training. She trained me on their first computer system, which she really didn't understand either," Painter said.

"She was an amazing person, involved with family and business and life. We were one big family."

Painter worked at the store for 21 years until retiring in 2019.

"After she retired, Sally would come back to visit the store. She'd always bring us pies or treats she made."

Painter said Nelson and Person were the perfect pair to work for and had dedicated employees.

"It was a great crew to work with and many of them were there for many years. It says a lot about Sally and Sarah and their business sense and their community support. It was one of the best experiences of my life."