2013-09-13 / Neighbors

Simi Valley says goodbye to one of its selfless servants

Virginia Nelson, 68, was known for volunteer efforts in the community
By Gabrielle Moreira

HAPPIER TIMES—Virginia Nelson, shown with her husband, Ronn, was a former executive director of the Samaritan Center and a longtime volunteer for several causes in Simi Valley. HAPPIER TIMES—Virginia Nelson, shown with her husband, Ronn, was a former executive director of the Samaritan Center and a longtime volunteer for several causes in Simi Valley. To many, Virginia Nelson, who dedicated most of her time to helping the less fortunate, was a caring and passionate soul.

But to her husband, Ronn, she was more than that. Virginia was the love of his life.

Virginia Nelson, 68, died in her sleep Aug. 20 while visiting her sister in Beaverton, Ore. Ronn said he’d spoken with her the night before she died and learned she’d spent that day doing one of her favorite activities.

“She spent her last day with her feet in the ocean, which she just loved to do,” Ronn said. “She died the next day in her sleep. Doctors said she may have suffered a stroke or heart attack, but she didn’t seem to suffer any pain.”

Nelson spent most of her time in Simi Valley volunteering at the Center for Spiritual Living and the Simi Valley Senior Center and working for the Samaritan Center of Simi Valley. She was the recipient of numerous awards for her service to the community, including the Strathearn Lifetime Achievement Award.

Nelson was the executive director for the Samaritan Center from 2003 until she retired in 2007. She then volunteered full time at the senior center after 11 years of part-time volunteer work there.

In 2007, Nelson became program coordinator for the senior center’s Brown Bag Program, now known as Food Share.

Christina Forino, volunteer coordinator for Food Share Inc., said Nelson brought love and passion to the program.

“She had the biggest heart there,” Forino said. “I never worked with anyone as loving and compassionate as Virginia. She always told me it was a rewarding experience to help others.”

The Food Share program at the senior center provides food for low-income seniors to take home every week.

Laurie Dickinson, senior services manager for the center, said Nelson’s dedication to getting food to those who needed it was inspiring.

Dickinson recalled that Nelson volunteered hours and mileage to feed seniors when budget cuts strained the program and forced it to change its operation from weekly to semiweekly. Dickinson said Nelson would drive as many as 130 miles to grocery stores around Los Angeles and Ventura counties to get donated food to ensure that seniors received food every week, and she never asked for any compensation.

Nelson’s dedication to caring for others within the Simi Valley community began when she was asked by a friend to help feed the homeless in the early 2000s. She assumed it would be feeding the homeless in Los Angeles, but when her friend brought her to the Samaritan Center, she realized the need was in her own backyard.

“She was so surprised,” Ronn said. “That’s when she began volunteering at the (Samaritan and senior) centers. She would serve other people—that’s what her passion was.”

At the couple’s nondenominational church, the Center for Spiritual Living off Erringer Road, Nelson was dubbed the Seva Queen, meaning “selfless service” in Sanskrit.

Rev. Susan Hulton, a youth and family minister at the church, was Nelson’s best friend for more than 18 years and believes the term fit her friend perfectly.

“Virginia was an angel on Earth who was open, loving and giving,” Hulton said. “She was always there to help people. She made sure to try and help all the members in this church and the entire community.”

When Nelson wasn’t busy with the Samaritan and senior centers, she focused her time on her family within the church.

Hulton said her friend would be the first to offer her aid in any endeavor. Nelson would help with fundraising and creating ways for teens to enjoy a yearly camp, and she would assist where she could in the church’s bookstore.

“She was an outstanding woman and she was respected throughout the community,” Hulton said. “She was a friend for life and she inspired everyone to be the best they could be.”

Hulton and Dickinson will speak at a memorial service for Nelson at 2 p.m. Sun., Sept. 22 at the Simi Valley Boys & Girls Club at 2850 Lemon Drive. More than 400 people are expected to attend and celebrate Nelson’s life.

Nelson’s family asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Virginia’s honor to the Samaritan Center, the Simi Valley Senior Center or the Center for Spiritual Living.

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