The Atascadero local has been a part of the community since the 1950s 

ATASCADERO — Ella Genece Nelson was born Aug. 1, 1923, in St. John, North Dakota, 100 years and two days ago. Though she and her family didn’t make their way to San Luis Obispo County until the 1950s, she and her late husband, Ronald Nelson, have made an impression on the community.

“My folks were very involved with volunteer work,” stated Ella’s daughter Jenell Beltz. “I remember as a young child being the passenger, and my mother would drive around town and drop off baked goods for people that were sick, and they did things like that.” 

Ella and Ronald met when Ronald was home on leave from World War II and met Ella at a dance on her 21st birthday. 


2023 Ella Nelson 100 Bday Rick Evans0066
Ella Genece Nelson Turns 100. Photos by Rick Evans

“The story goes that Carl [Ronald’s brother] was with Audrey, a friend of Mom’s, and Dad came along with Carl, and that is where Mom and Dad met,” said Ella’s son Rolfe Nelson. “There was then a party at the Nelson Farm in Cole Harbor, and Mom was invited. Dad returned to his ship, and communication was then mostly through letters.” 

Ella, who hasn’t walked in a couple of years, always loved to dance, and Jenell told Atascadero News that her parents belonged to a group called Club Fifty that held dances in Atascadero. The last venue was in the Rotunda Building on the top floor, which now houses the City Council Chambers.

“My mother used to tell me ‘Jenell, I would have rather danced than eat,'” added Jenell.

Once the war was over, Ronald moved to Pasadena, California, and became a California Highway Patrol officer. Ella followed shortly after, and the two were married on Nov. 8, 1946.

“In 1952, we moved to Paso for a short time,” Rolfe said. “I went to kindergarten there, I believe. And then we bought a house in Atascadero around 1953. And I still live on the property.”

Between buying the Atascadero property in 1953 and their return later, the Nelsons lived in multiple California cities, but eventually, they returned. Ella even went back to working at Cal Poly, which had been her job in 1966.

While in Atascadero, Ella was involved with the PTA, was a Cub Scout den mother, and was an avid part of the Women’s Club, Emblem Club, and The National Federation of Republican Women. She was also an avid gardener and even canned and made rhubarb pies. Ronald became a lieutenant for the CHP and covered the famous accident that ended in James Dean’s death.

“My dad passed away in 2012. So she was pretty self-sufficient, still driving, until about four years ago. Or maybe six years ago,” added Rolfe. “Ten years later, she’s still fighting.”

Rolfe attributes his mom’s feisty personality to being the main reason she’s lived so long.

“She’s a fighter,” he said. “She just doesn’t take anything from anybody. Really nice lady always has been, but you know. So, I think she’s just fought her way to 100 years old. Pretty amazing.”

Even though Ella’s hearing has started to go, and she’s confined to a wheelchair, she’s still got the same delightful personality that she’s carried with her for the last 100 years. 

“She still laughs. She can still understand. Still has a sense of humor,” Rolfe said. “She laughs at things that she says. She laughs at things that we say. It’s funny to see her laugh, a 100-year-old laughing and giggling, and stuff like that. Anyways, we’re very blessed that she’s still around.”

Ella even enjoys tapping her foot along with the man who plays guitar on Wednesdays at Park Place, where she’s lived for the last three years. And she still enjoys her three favorite foods: peanuts, popcorn, and pickles.

“To this day, I still take her pickles, and I still take her peanuts,” said Jenell.

When Ella was asked if she was excited about her birthday by Rolfe, her response was to sarcastically reply, “I can hardly wait,” and followed with, “I can’t wait until it is over,” with the same sarcastic undertones.

Happy Birthday, Ella.