Dr. L. Kendall Nelsen, beloved husband, father, friend, and pediatrician to so many Napa children passed away peacefully in his home with his family by his side on February 27, 2018.
Ken was born in Eureka, CA, on April 12, 1943. He was the middle child with two brothers, Roy and Dwight. He was a kind, humble, gentle soul as a little boy and maintained this temperament his whole life, even as a 6’4” man with a deep voice and size 16 shoes. He knew he wanted to be a doctor since the sixth grade and worked his way through school while his mother raised them. Ken’s childhood was not always easy, but he first went to Disneyland as a teenager after it opened and has said that he fell in love with the park because it felt care-free, magical, and he could always be a child at heart. He also loved his numerous pets throughout his life, the serenity of the redwoods, old movies, stamp collecting, history, and genealogy. Ken chose pediatrics during medical school at UC Irvine committing to dedicate his life to children. His foundation was his wife, Carol, whom he met during his residency at Oakland Children’s Hospital. Carol was a Registered Nurse and had also chosen to dedicate her life to children, working in pediatrics. It was a love story that brought them to their first apartment in Napa in
1971 and would eventually bloom into a large family which began with Beth, then Sean, Aaron, Owen, Alyssa, and finally, Michael. Every child that came into their lives seemed to expand their hearts even further and extended to all children in the world. The two had just celebrated their 47th anniversary a week prior to his death with lunch at Don Giovanni’s, Ken’s favorite local restaurant. At the time of his transition, he was the proud grandfather of nine grandchildren:
Madison, Logan, Audrey, Koen, Gray, Declan, Vivien, Elowen, and baby Stella. He also held a lot of love for the wonderful partners his children had chosen to build their families: Christina (Beth), Katie (Sean), Amber (Aaron), and Karla (Michael). Two additional family members celebrated every holiday with the Nelsens, Marty Devitt and her son, Robert M. Devitt III, and often joined them on their trips to Disneyland. His loyal and loving Great Pyrenees, Matilda, will remain in Carol’s care.
Some would say Dr. Nelsen was Napa’s “favorite pediatrician,” where he dedicated his life to his practice of forty years. In his early days, he was one of three private pediatricians in town and worked tirelessly, with a never ending generosity of his time, love, and expertise for the care of sick children, as well as mentoring other new doctors. He always said he wanted to work until he was 70 and he made it, retiring July 1, 2013, to both the disappointment and blessings of many. A huge man was not without a huge heart, ditching the white coat and later adopting the Disney ties, in order to seem less scary to the kids he was treating. He never refused to treat anyone in need; insurance and immigration were not of importance to him when a child came to see him. Several local foster parents miss his house calls, as he did everything he could to ease the burden of loading up a van full of kids to get to his office. Dr. Nelsen saw the best in everyone and his patients remember his advice of, “keep your room clean and listen to your parents.”
The Nelsen family recognizes this is a huge loss not only for them, but for the Napa community.
If you wish to honor his memory, be kind to others and remember a little patience goes a long way. Monetary donations can be sent to the charity of your choice. Services will be held at St.
John’s Lutheran on April 7, 2018, at 10am. Memories and notes of sympathy may be shared at claffeyandrota.com.