(Editors’ note: This article was updated on November 28 at 1:15 p.m. The photo caption incorrectly identified one of the Dunkin’ Donuts morning discussion group regulars. The gentleman at the left is Jeff Perry.)
It was a beautiful experience to listen to Ed Neilson reminisce about his life and to add the words “I have been truly blessed” many times during our conversation. Ed, who will be 94 on November 23, has been chosen to be the Observer’s Veteran for November 11.
Growing up in Agawam, he credits most of his skills in life to playing sports at Agawam High School, especially football. In fact he and his teammates from the 1940 Football Team were honored by being inducted into the Agawam Athletic Hall of Fame on October 15. The skills that he developed that have proven to be the most important to him are leadership and teamwork. These two assets he feels have been beneficial to him in his career and in the military.
Ed started working at Westinghouse out of high school, but he was drafted and served in the 8th Army Tank Division, which took part in the second phase of the Battle of the Bulge. He served under another Agawam football player named Creighton Abrams, who later became a four-star general. Ed’s leadership and teamwork abilities came into play when his unit was surrounded by the enemy and needed to break through the German line and build a bridge so his unit could escape. They were successful. After the war ended, he came home on January 1, 1946.
After one and a half years overseas Ed was delighted to return home to his wife Norma, his high school sweetheart, and the rest of his family and friends. Norma was the beloved secretary at Bridge Street School for thirty-eight years. The Neilsons had three children: Glenn, Nancy, and Ted (now deceased) and five grandchildren who are the delights of his life. Ed spent most of his career as a salesman in the food industry, of which he commented, “I loved to sell.” Although he has been retired since he was 70, he spends time doing mowing and working with his son Glenn on tobacco.
Ed checks on the old First Baptist Church on Hill Street every day and is a Deacon Emeritus there and at the First Congregational Church, where he enjoys putting on their pancake breakfast. He also served on the first Suffield Recreation Commission, when there were very few recreational facilities in town. He said that he is so proud of what exists today and is 100% in support of the conversion of Bridge Street School to a community center.
According to Ed he has had a wonderful life: his wife Norma and his children and grandchildren, his army career, his civilian career, his service to the town and his church, and his high school years along with their sports. It is not surprising that his two most precious items are his high school orange letter sweater and his Eisenhower jacket from World War II.