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Melvin John Nefstead, Jr., 82, of Baxter, Minnesota, transitioned to his heavenly home November 18, 2020, following a brief hospitalization at Lakewood Health System to treat complications of COVID-19 and Parkinson’s Disease. Throughout his life, Mel (also known as Brotz) was consistently committed to being of service to others. His service included involvement in community and civic organizations, the Lutheran Church, athletics, education, and healthcare—and his life of service inspired many. Mel loved, and was loved, by his family: and for Mel, his “family” extended beyond notions of biological or nuclear family to include many others—including, particularly, former students and ‘swimmers’.
Mel was born on April 20, 1938 to Agnes (Garlie) Nefstead and Melvin Nefstead, Sr., in West Allis, Wisconsin. He attended school in West Allis, graduating from high school in 1955. Following graduation, he entered an apprenticeship as a Tool and Die Maker. After his marriage to Sonja (Nelson) Nefstead, on September 15, 1962, they moved to Staples, where Mel had a long and robust career in vocational education—serving as teacher, shop instructor, Financial Aid Director, Special Needs Tutor, and Tribal College liaison at the Staples Area Vocational Technical Institute (SAVTI), now Central Lakes College. While working at SAVTI, he earned a degree in vocational education from Bemidji State University.
Mel had a life-long “call to ministry” which he lived out in many ways—within and outside church organizations. Most significantly, he was active for decades a Faith Lutheran Church in Staples, where he served in such roles as Congregational President, Sunday School teacher, and custodian. In his retirement, he became Lay Pastor for Swan Valley (Leader, MN) and Maple Hill (Pine River, MN) ELCA Lutheran Churches, and he contributed to Luther Seminary’s program to support future leaders. In recent years, he was pleased to be a member of Lord of Life Lutheran Church, in Baxter. In recent years, he participated in, and helped lead Bible studies and devotionals at Excelsior Place, in Baxter/Brainerd. He was involved, for many years, in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Several years ago, he participated in mission trips to Haiti and Honduras. These experiences moved and inspired him: he was moved by the realities of poverty and he sought ways to address hunger. He was, in addition, inspired by the faithfulness, joy, and love in the people he met in the communities that he travelled to serve.
Mel was involved in a range of community and civic organizations. He was honored to serve for 28 years as the Board Chair of Staples Lakewood Hospital Board; he served, for a time, as Executive Director of the Staples/Motley Chamber of Commerce; he loved singing with the Staples Area Men’s Chorus and in the choir of Faith Lutheran Church in Staples; and he was an active member of the Jaycees and Rotary International. In recent years, he volunteered with hospice and during this time, he also began to prepare, intentionally and faithfully, for his own dying process. Mel also served in other local, regional, and statewide committees and board positions focused on healthcare, safety, and education.
Mel delighted in athletics and in various positions as coach, including the Men’s Basketball at the Staples AVTI, a community softball program in Staples, Assistant Athletic Director at Staples High School, and as a manager of the summer swim program at the University of Nebraska. One of his greatest joys was being Head Coach for the Staples Motley High School Swim Team. He was proud of ALL swimmers, and he felt a particular joy in coaching 4 Minnesota State Swimming champions. Mel also proclaimed himself as one of the most dedicated Green Bay Packer fans in all of Minnesota! Later in life, he spent birthdays biking his age in miles—a memorable celebration was biking 75 miles on his 75th birthday.
Mel is survived by his wife of 58 years, “the love of his life”, Sonja (Nelson) Nefstead; children: Darcey (Phil) Larsen, Eric (David Priest) Nefstead, and Kari (Scott) Christiansen; sister, Bev (Bruce) Nelsen; sister-in-law, Pat (Ronnie) Nefstead; his grandchildren: Matthew, Andrew and John Larsen, Annika and Erika Christiansen; sister-in-law, Lola (Samuel) Grafstrom; brother-in-law, David (Brenda) Nelson; nieces and nephews: Lee, Leslie, Robyn, Dean, Jerel, Matthew, Karl, Sarah, Brita, Sven, Nels, Solveig, Seth, and Sara and their families. He was preceded in death by his many Norwegian ancestors; his parents Melvin and Agnes; infant daughter; brother, Ronald; in-laws, Henry and Svea (Karlsson) Nelson; and his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For Mel, it was Jesus' life, death and resurrection that inspired his loving and his living, and ultimately guided him as he faced his advancing age, illness and death with faith, hope, honesty, and love.
Recordings of the private family memorial service and Celebration of Mel’s Life service are available to view below.
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