Darby Nelson is a man as unique as his name, and that’s a good thing. In a recent interview with Darby, his wife and lifelong adventure partner, Geri, joked, “If he had been named Dave I don’t think I’d have married him!” Thankfully, his mother heard another mother calling down the streets of Tower, MN for her child called Darby and she knew that would be her son’s name. Darby recalls this story with a smile on his face, the same way his face lights up when he tells the story of meeting his wife, Geri, for the first time.
Darby and Geri met at Itasca State Park while he was doing his thesis work and she was an undergraduate doing a summer session. He knew when he saw Geri excitedly examining a leech with its babies that he had to meet her, so he said, “I made sure ‘by happenstance’ that we walked together to the mess hall that evening.” They’ve been together ever since. Throughout their life together, which includes 49 years of marriage, two children and five grandchildren, and countless adventures, the Nelsons have made it evident that they are passionate environmental stewards.
Darby and Geri have dedicated their lives to education, conservation, and advocacy in the name of the environment; particularly clean water. Darby, a freelance writer, received his Ph. D. in aquatic ecology from the University of Minnesota. He then went on to teach biology and environmental science at Anoka-Ramsey Community College for 35 years. Darby also served three terms in the Minnesota state legislature, representing Anoka, Hennepin and Wright counties. When asked why he decided to run for office he said he realized the legislator representing his community “was never going to be green, and that really aggravated me.” Darby ran and won. During his time in office he worked diligently on environmental initiatives like reducing emissions and making landfills cleaner, and was influential in passing a bill that started the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources. He was an effective and passionate legislator. Geri fondly remembers a time when Darby went door knocking to each house in his district just to share the session report with his constituents. This devotion to the work is also why he was responsible for passing more bills in his last term in office than any other legislator.
Nowadays, Darby has focused his energy on another passion: writing. In 2011, Michigan State Press published Darby’s first book, For the Love of Lakes, which tells the story of his love of lakes and his observations of their deterioration. His book earned him the nickname the “modern-day Thoreau” by WCCO news anchor and reporter Don Shelby. During his tenure as an educator, scientist, writer, and activist, Darby received awards from the MN Post-Secondary Science Teacher of the Year and the Faculty Excellence Award, along with awards from the Sierra Club, Izaak Walton League and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Most recently, both he and Geri were honored with CURE’s 2016 RiverKeeper Award.
Geri, a scientist and educator herself, is a member of the University of Minnesota’s first graduating class of the College of Biological Sciences. Geri soon realized her passion for teaching and returned to school earning her teaching licensure. She taught physical science in the Anoka-Hennepin School District for 25 years. During her time as an educator, Geri served as director of the Minnesota Academy of Science State Science Fair, and helped develop the state’s science framework for K-12 education. Throughout her career Geri focused on engaging girls in math and science and was instrumental in organizing an annual Girl’s Middle School Science and Math Retreat for over 14 years. Currently, Geri serves as the voter services co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Anoka, Blaine, Coon Rapids Area where she is leading efforts to raise awareness of threats to bees and other pollinators as well as working to encourage voter registration.
The Nelsons have demonstrated, through their philanthropic efforts and commitment to environmental stewardship, that their mission is to be leaders for citizen-led environmental advocacy and education. They live out CURE’s mission day in and day out – using their citizen power to help protect and restore Minnesota’s waters and the environment. As Geri says affectionately of her husband, “he lives the way he preaches.” Both Darby and Geri do, which is why CURE Board of Directors and staff are proud to recognize the Nelsons as honorees of the 2016 RiverKeeper Award. Along with the recognition comes a commissioned Tokheim Stoneware commemorative platter with an inscription from the Book of Amos that reads: Let justice roll down like a river, integrity like a never failing stream. The platter is designed and made by longtime CURE members Gene and Lucy Tokheim of Dawson, MN. We could not imagine more fitting living examples of this inscription than Darby and Geri Nelson.
Story by Katie Laughlin