Portrait of Kelva Nelson
Kelva Nelson ’79

Most teachers are made, but a few are born. The late Kelva Nelson ’79 seemed to have been destined to be a teacher. For three decades, she brought to life her calling to teach and develop second graders into young learners at Crabbe Elementary School in Ashland, Ky. A 2007 newspaper article honoring her said, “She is a master at getting the best out of her young students.”

Plenty of people—not just her students and their families—seemed to notice Nelson’s teaching mastery. In 2007, Nelson was named an American Star of Teaching by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). It was said at that award presentation by the then-deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education for the USDOE that Crabbe “[had] one of the best teachers in the nation right here in your school.” Nelson was the only Kentucky teacher to receive this award.

“My son came out of her class a better person, not just a better student,” said one parent who nominated Nelson for the award.

In Kentucky, teachers can retire after 27 years, but in 2014, after 29 years of teaching, Nelson said, “I love what I do. I feel this is what God put me on Earth to do.”

After 33 years of teaching, Nelson did retire but continued to serve as a substitute teacher.

Outside her classroom, she also taught and supported young people. At Christ Temple Church in Ashland, where her father was a long-time pastor, Nelson attended and served for 60 years as the church’s youth director, Sunday School teacher, youth and adult choir director, after-school tutor, youth theatrical director and praise and worship leader.

Nelson was married to Ernest Nelson, and they had two sons, Andrew and Austin, and six grandchildren. She passed away on June 19, 2020.


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