Dantzel Nelson succumbs at age 78

Wife of apostle remembered for her selflessness, kindness and love of family

After a life of dedicated service to her family and the Church, Dantzel White Nelson, 78, — wife of Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve — died "unexpectedly, suddenly, but peacefully" Feb. 12, 2005, at her home in Salt Lake City. Her husband was at her side.

The mother of 10 children — who have brought to the family 56 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren — Sister Nelson will be remembered for her selflessness, patience and kindness and for her love of family, the Church and music.

Born Feb. 17, 1926, in Perry, Utah, Dantzel White was the daughter of LeRoy Davis and Maude Clark White. She married Russell M. Nelson Aug. 31, 1945, in the Salt Lake Temple.

"We were very much in love," said Elder Nelson at a Church Educational System fireside Feb. 6. "But, to me, Sister Nelson now is even more beautiful."

Married almost 60 years, the Nelsons weathered early financial hardship while Elder Nelson received his medical training (on one occasion the couple sold their blood to make ends meet), faced demanding professional and family obligations, dealt with the death of an adult daughter, Emily Nelson Wittwer, and gave countless hours of Church service.

Faith, Elder Nelson said, was the lodestar of their happy life.

"What is most important to Sister Nelson and me now? That we are husband and wife, wedded for time and all eternity. . . ," he said in the Feb. 6 address. "We have tasted of life's successes and sorrows. We have dealt with disappointment, disease, and death among our children. But death cannot divide families sealed in the temple. That period of separation is only temporary."

First and foremost a wife and mother, Sister Nelson dedicated her life to her family and the Lord. After Elder Nelson's call to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1984, "she found joy in serving Daddy and serving the Lord with him as they traveled around the world," said a daughter, Rosalie Nelson Ringwood. "She had a wonderful, loving spirit about her. She loved the Lord and did so much to proclaim His gospel through her words, deeds and actions."

The Nelson children remember their mother as someone who was always ready with a "warm hug and loving touch" who could "look right into your eyes to see how you really were."

In an address to Latter-day Saint women Sept. 26, 1987, Elder Nelson said his wife never tried to be a "supermom." Instead, he said, "she has been a 'soothing' mom. This she has done simply by being herself."

"As a daughter growing up in a family of 10 children I always felt important and that my mother always had time for me," said Sister Ringwood. "She had a special way of making everyone feel special and loved."

On one occasion, Sister Nelson's 2-year-old granddaughter broke a expensive Lladro figurine during a family Christmas party.

"I was very upset and angry with her and felt like she needed to go apologize to her grandmother over what she had done," recalled the child's mother, Brenda Nelson Miles. But instead of getting upset, Sister Nelson picked up her granddaughter and "proceeded to tell her that things like that don't really matter to her, but people like her do."

In addition to her family, music was Sister Nelson's other love, said Gloria Nelson Irion. A member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for 20 years, Sister Nelson encouraged all her children to play an instrument and to sing. The family sang together often and Sister Nelson sang to her children.

"A few years ago for Mother's Day all she wanted was to hear her children and grandchildren share their talents in a musical program," recalled Sister Miles. "So that's what we did. She printed a program and was very proud of all those who participated."

In fact, one of Sister Nelson's last activities before her death was to attend a concert of one of her granddaughters who was performing on the flute, said Sister Miles. "She was so proud of her, and told her she wouldn't have missed it for anything."

Marjorie Nelson Helsten said her mother enjoyed reading good books, attending sporting events and watching old movies — especially romantic ones. She had a knack for quilting, cooking and sewing and, as the mother of nine daughters, made countless prom dresses and ballet costumes. But of all the things she gave her children, it is her example that they will remember most, Sister Helsten said.

"She had total confidence in us, so it helped us believe in ourselves also. She had total confidence in the Lord, which strengthened ours."

Sister Helsten said her mother always stood at the door or the window as her adult children and grandchildren left her home. "In case we looked back, and we always did, she was there to wave one more time and smile her love to us until we had turned the corner and were out of sight."

E-mail to: [email protected]