From Life In A Commune To College Contributor



With two sons named Lars and Nels, it isn't hard to figure out where Sarah Nelson's roots lie.

In fact, Nelson was raised in mid-central Illinois in a little Swedish community called Bishop Hill. It was founded in 1846 by several thousand Swedes who left their homeland because of religious suppression.


Sarah Nelson

What they created at Bishop Hill was the first communal society in America.

"It was a true communal society," Nelson said. "It had one cafeteria where everyone ate. It had one church. It had one general store where every family member was given one outfit for every season. Bedding was handed out. No one made money. Everything went into the town till and they shared."

Bishop Hill was founded by a religious leader named Erik Jansson, who fancied himself a second Christ. Taking a page from Romeo and Juliet, he was shot on the courthouse steps when he opposed the marriage of his niece to an outsider.

His followers laid him out in the church and waited for him to arise in three days as he had promised he would.

"Guess what?" asked Nelson. "He started to smell, so they buried him."

Nelson met her husband, John, in Bishop Hill.

"We found out his great-great-great-grandfather had dated my great-great-great-grandmother, but they moved apart," she said. "Then 150 years later we met."

On a trip to California in 1978, to visit John's brother, the Nelsons decided on a whim to stop and see what Phoenix was all about. A month later they moved to the Valley

"It took his mother 10 years to forgive me," Nelson said.

John commuted for a few years so he could continue to work their farm in Bishop Hill. Nelson went into medical practice management.

In 1989 they bought a weekend home in Payson, and two years ago sold their house in Scottsdale and moved here full time.

"We didn't have time for vacations, so this was a way we could get away," Nelson said. "It was a small town, and this was where my heart was."

John was the director at Powell House for awhile, and now is the business manager for the Blackmore's dental and veterinary practices. Nelson began doing a lot of volunteer work and exercising her passion for music.

"Music has always been an important part of my life," she said. "I learned to play the piano at two.

"My mother was an English teacher and a music teacher and she taught me from the kitchen sink. My father is also a musician, so I had wonderful mentors."

Besides being the official accompanist for the Payson Choral Society, Nelson volunteers as an accompanist at several local schools.

"Since we moved here full time, I've given 350 hours to the schools doing accompanist work," she said. "I've also volunteered at the library, at my church, and for different projects that have come up."

Now Nelson has taken on a new challenge. She is the director of outreach at Gila Community College.

"(GCC President) Barbara Ganz and I kept bumping into each other and we would brainstorm," she said. "Our brainstorm sessions are electric."

Nelson's primary responsibility is building a non-credit program at GCC that will be the very epitome of life-long learning.

"The non-credit program needed more time," Ganz explained. "It needed love and care. It needed entreprenuerialism."

Fees are minimal for non-credit courses, and Ganz and Nelson are even playing around with the idea of having a single annual fee that entitles residents to take any and all non-credit courses they want.

Current non-credit courses include "Your Pet's Health Issues," "I Bought a Computer, Now What?" "Floor Cloth Painting," and "Bridge for Beginners."

Ganz and Nelson envision a day in the near future when non-credit courses will be offered all over the Rim country because the program has become too big for the college campus.

"We want to have something for everybody at our community college," Nelson said, "and we're already putting the pieces together."


Name: Sarah Nordstrom Nelson

Occupation: Director of Outreach at Gila Community College and Accompanist for Payson Choral Society.

Age: Old enough to be a grandmother.

Birthplace: Bishop Hill, a little Swedish community in mid-central Illinois.

Family: Husband John, sons Lars (Payson) and Nels (Chandler), granddaughter Mackenzie Sarah, her mommy Crystal and another granddaughter on the way.

Personal Motto: Laughter is music to the soul.

Inspiration: Great music, the sky, family.

Greatest Feat: Becoming a mother.

Favorite Hobby: Being with friends.

Three words that describe me best: Loyal, fair, creative.

I don't want to brag, but ... My granddaughter is so beautiful and bright.

Person in history I'd most like to meet: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Luxury Defined: Breakfast in bed.

Dream Vacation Spot: Sweden

Why Payson? Besides the mountain air and weather, it reminds me of my rural beginnings, but allows me quick and convenient access to a major metropolitan city.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.