Vern Nelson

Vern was born in Kamiah, Idaho, a small town on the east edge of the Nez Pierce Indian Reservation.  By the time he was a year old, the family relocated to Salinas, California only to move again two years later to San Francisco.  Their roots grew deep there and Vern graduated from Balboa High School.  He recalls the devastation caused by the 1918 flu epidemic.  He also remembers during his youth driving west to some sand dunes where he enjoyed watching gliders being launched with elastic bands.  That may be where the love of flight entered his blood.


After high school Vern attended San Mateo Junior College for two years majoring in science and mathematics.  Then Vern threw aside his pursuit of higher education.  For a very short time he worked as a machinist apprentice until he landed a job with the Simmons Company.  During his 12-year tenure at Simmons he enjoyed upward mobility to more responsible assignments; from the mailroom, he ascended to supervising an automation section, and subsequently he became the Chief Accountant.  His last responsibility with Simmons was to coordinate production and track accounting for 20 sub-contractors during WWII.


The Simmons experience led Vern to become a co-partner of the Norman Spear & Company in 1946.  Their company, with offices located in Oakland and Berkeley, conducted accounting and auditing services, and management consulting for many manufacturing, retail, service and professional businesses.  One of their clients was Colonial Savings.  Colonial Savings lured Vern away from his own business venture; in 1960 Vern accepted an offer to become an officer in Colonial Savings. 


Within 10 years Vern climbed the corporate ladder to become President and CEO by 1970.  From that point, his career experience drew him through 6 more financial institutions where he held positions from Controller, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman of the Board.  During this period he attended a convention in 1965 with an investment broker who owned an aircraft.  They flew from Half Moon Bay to San Diego in a single engine aircraft.  On the return, Vern sought the owner of the airport operator at the Half Moon Bay Airport and arranged to receive flight lessons. 


After Vern earned his private license, he joined Condor Aviation, a flying club located at San Jose International Airport where he gained his IFR license.  He also became a friend of another pilot who owned a Luscombe on floats berthed in Sausalito, CA. In 1968 Vern purchased an Aeronca 7AC float plane and received a Seaplane endorsement to his pilot license.  Vern and his friend often flew their two float planes in tandem to Clear Lake, lakes Shasta and Berryessa, and along the coast line of the Pacific Ocean to Monterey.


During the time Vern served as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the Bay View Federal Savings from 1972 to 1976, he and the President became good friends.  His new friend, Bill Thornton, had been a “Hump” pilot during WWII.   The two friends, with their wives, often vacationed and toured together to such places as Mexico, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and Seattle in a Cessna Sky Master and a pressurized Twin Cessna C421.


In December 1976 Vern left Bay View Federal Savings when he accepted the position of President, CEO, and Director of Southwest Savings, headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona.  Very shortly, Vern purchased a new Beechcraft Sierra.  Now, with his own airplane hangared at Sky Harbor International Airport, Vern flew throughout the State of Arizona to expedite his travel to the 15 branch offices.  A professional acquaintance entered Vern’s life while he was at Southwest Savings, a customer whose name is E. B. Robson.  In this way, Vern was introduced to Sun Lakes Communities.


In 1982 Vern retired from the corporate world, but he still had his airplane to explore the natural world.  Almost immediately after retiring, he flew to San Diego and Seattle to pick up a son and daughter for a 2-week get-away to Alaska.  In 1984 Vern sold his airplane, and in 1986 he and Sylvia purchased their home in Sun Lakes.  Vern continued to fly.  He often rented aircraft to satisfy the need for flight . . . and then it happened.


In the latter part of 1995 Vern read Al Galvi’s solicitation in the Sun Lakes Splash of individuals who might be interested in forming a flying club.  Vern joined the group in January, 1996.  Meetings were very informal.  In those days, the meetings generally consisted of those who showed up sitting around the table telling “war stories” about their flying experiences.  Occasionally a hat would be passed for donations to support the club’s expenses, but all of that casual informality was about to change.


Vern introduced many processes that have given structure and strength to the club.  His influence can be appreciated when you read the Newsletter or the minutes from the Board Meeting, when you go to the web site, when you sense the structure contained in written documents, i.e. the By-Laws and the Policies and Procedures, and when you benefit from the General Meeting that has a predictable format and an interesting program.  Vern brought a lot of corporate America right into the Sun Lakes Aero Club.  He brought structure that defines leadership positions and describes their responsibilities.  He introduced an order to the way meetings are conducted and recorded, how elections are held, and how activities are planned; his influence will keep the club on course, or for our older members, “on the beam”.