Arnold L. Nelson

Arnold L. Nelson, age 87, of Napa, passed away on Feb. 16, 2014. He was born in Healdsburg, Calif., on May 4, 1926, the son of Percy Nelson and Lillie (Burnside) Nelson Manasse. Arnold started school at the two-room Canfield School in Sebastopol, Calif., and his family later moved to Napa, where he attended Shearer School, Intermediate School on Jefferson Street, and Napa High School.

He played football, baseball, and threw shot put and discus on the track team. In Arnold’s junior year, Napa High won the football championship, and he was selected to the league’s all-star team at tackle. He also received Napa High’s “Most Valuable Player” award that year. For his athletic endeavors, he was awarded three Napa High “N” blocks and was later inducted into the Napa High Athletic Hall of Fame (1999). As a senior, he was president of the National Honor Society.

In 1944, Arnold was accepted into the U.S. Navy’s V5 Program and went to the University of Redlands for pilot training. The Navy canceled that program when the war began winding down, and Arnold was sent to Great Lakes, Ill., for training as a gunner’s mate. Graduating at the top of his class, he was assigned to a crash boat on the Island of Espiritu Santo. He was honorably discharged in 1946.

Arnold entered the Apprentice Machinist Program at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1947. He married Betty Anne Gay at St. John Catholic Church on Aug. 9, 1947, and they welcomed three children. Arnold worked for six years at Mare Island before transferring to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard in 1955. He became an industrial engineer and was head of the Methods and Standards Program (UMS) when he retired in 1981.

Arnold’s main hobby was building and flying model airplanes. In 1967 and 1969, Arnold competed and qualified to represent the U.S. at model airplane meets held by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI); he then won back-to-back World Championships for the U.S. in Finland (1968) and Belgium (1970). Arnold continued modeling throughout his life, competing and continuing to win titles at local and national meets.

In addition, he held a federal Amateur Extra ham radio license for more than 30 years and belonged to Napa’s Silverado Amateur Radio Society (SARS) and the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). For 15 years, Arnold was Ed Barwick’s spotter at Napa High football games. Arnold kept a busy schedule, going to daily classes at Napa Valley College and volunteering as an amateur radio operator for CalFire and Napa Valley marathons.

His other hobbies were square dancing, fly fishing, golfing, dirt biking, backpacking, and RVing; and he was a member of Sons in Retirement (SIR) branch 149 and the Roving Roosters RV Club.

He is survived by Betty, his loving wife of 66 years; daughter Susan of San Diego; sons William (Cindy) of Torrance, and Eric of Visalia; four grandchildren, Megan, Craig, Lindsay, and Monica; and two great-grandchildren, Alexander and Natalia. He is also survived by his brother, Clifford Nelson of Napa. He was predeceased by his father, Percy; mother, Lillie; brother, Lawrence; stepmother, Sarah (Cooley) James; and stepfather, Gerald Manasse.

Arnold wanted no service. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Arnold’s memory to Napa Valley Hospice. Words of sympathy may be sent to the family online at

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