• About L.A. Nelson Jr.
    L.A. Nelson Jr. L.A. Nelson Jr. wasn’t born in Denton, but you’d never know that by his record of service to this good town over the years, or by the outpouring of grief, love, and admiration that poured from the community when it learned of his death at the age of 80.
    Don’t let anyone tell you differently: L.A. Nelson was one of Denton’s native sons, in spirit if not in the sense of strict geography. He went to college here, met the love of his life here, and settled with her here to begin a life of professional success and public service. He also had a good time in the process, and made sure that his good times were contagious.
    For the record, Nelson was born and reared in Hugo, Okla., where he lived until he entered the Navy to serve in World War II. After the war, he came to Denton to attend North Texas State Teachers College, now the University of North Texas. It was here that he met Martha Len Henderson and began a 56-year romance. After a sojourn back to Oklahoma to attend law school, and a second hitch in the Navy during the Korean War, Nelson came back to Denton for good in 1955. He became one of the city’s leading lawyers and his wife one of its leading volunteers. He was on the City Council from 1966 to 1970. His fellow council members chose him to be the mayor in 1969 — that’s how the office was filled in those days — and he remained in that post until he left the council in 1970. He went back on the council in 1974.
    There was a lot going on in Denton in those days, and Nelson was instrumental in getting a lot of it done: construction of a new City Hall; the creation of Ray Roberts Lake; the upgrading of long-neglected streets in Southeast Denton. Nelson flung himself into all those projects with a will, all the while maintaining a law practice and making himself indispensable in a wide variety of civic endeavors. He was president of the Denton Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Flow Memorial Hospital board of managers. He was a devoted fan and supporter of UNT football. All of that would have made him a respected member of the community; it was his quick wit and ebullient personality that made him beloved.
    Longtime friend Zeke Martin, a former Denton mayor who served on the City Council with L.A. Nelson in the 1960s, called his death a shock.
    “He used to say, ‘I may not be the best lawyer, but I’d like to be a good guy,’ and he was,” Martin said. “He was a good lawyer and he was a nice guy. L.A. had a lot of friends, and a lot of people are going to miss L.A. Nelson.”
    Like most good lawyers, Nelson was an articulate man and a talented raconteur. He loved a good story and collected them as some people do stamps or coins. In 2002, he and three other lawyers were the hit of the Texas Storytelling Festival in Denton, regaling audiences with uproarious stories of courtroom misadventures, some of which might even have been true. For more than 50 years, L.A. and Martha Len Nelson were an integral part of the fabric of Denton: he the council member, mayor, lawyer and civic leader, she the tireless volunteer and peerless caterer. They were as much a part of Denton as Pops Carter and Fry Street, and just as inseparable in the collective consciousness of the town.
    Reprinted from the June 16, 2006, edition of The Denton Record-Chronicle.