His wife, Sally, calls him “this fella,” as she gently prompts her husband, Wendell Nelson, to mention the fact that he served as Director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University for 13 years. He was in charge of a staff of more than 100 including 75 veterinarians.
Wellington area residents know Wendell as the former co-owner with Sally of the popular Chocolate Rose Café and Coffee House and someone who has been actively involved in a wide range of local issues.
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Wendell grew up in a house built in 1711 on a 26-acre farm in Reading, Mass., owned by his grandparents and then his parents. That’s where his love of the land, and of animals, was first nurtured. After three years of pre-vet at the University of New Hampshire, he earned a degree in Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. That’s where he met Sally, a native of southern California with an appreciation for the West.
In 1960, the couple ended up in Fort Collins where Wendell pursed his master’s degree in surgery and a Ph.D. in pathology at CSU. By 1965, he’d joined the CSU vet school faculty where he taught graduate school clinics. “I’ve operated on everything from a python to a yak and a gorilla,” he said.
Equine surgery became a specialty for a time, followed by a transition to work with small animals.
In 1990, he became Director of the College of Veterinary Medicine. The job required lots of travel. It happened that Wendell was out of town early in 2003 when Sally made a deal. She’d been operating a vibrant enterprise selling dried and fresh flowers and antiques out of their home, Windswept Farm, for 25 years. She was up for a new challenge, and she knew that Wendell would be retiring that year. He arrived home from his business trip to find Sally and local real estate broker associate Lou Kinzli poring over papers on the dining room table.
“I knew there was no way out,” Wendell said.
Almost instantly, he found himself owner of a building and a tiny restaurant, then called the Flour Mill, that had been specializing in krautbergers on Cleveland Avenue, Wellington’s main street.
“I thought this would be a good way to keep him close to home,” Sally explained.
That turned out to be true. Before Wendell had time to turn around and realize he was retired, he was hard at work renovating a deteriorating building and getting ready to open the Chocolate Rose, a restaurant the pair would operate for nearly 10 years, sometimes working 75 to 80 hours a week. Their daughter Susan honed her business skills working with them at the restaurant.
Once the building was ship-shape, Wendell decided to grow food for the restaurant. In addition to the vegetables he grew, he processed apples from trees on his land, producing applesauce and pressing cider.
In the spring of 2013, weary of the rigorous routine, the Nelsons sold their business. The Nelsons continue to own the building, Wellington Gardens.
“We miss the interaction with the people more than anything else,” Sally said.
After renovating the restaurant building, Wendell became the designated baker for the Chocolate Rose. His specialty? “Anything that needed to be baked,” he said.
He continues to bake bread at home regularly and at a recent Chamber of Commerce silent auction to raise funds for the after school program at Wellington Middle School, there was fierce bidding for his apple and pumpkin pies. Two pies raised close to $100.
Wendell has a knack for packing a whole lot of accomplishments into his life, no matter how busy it becomes.
After 16 years of living in Fort Collins, the Nelsons and their three children moved to 35-acre Windswept Farm south of Wellington in 1976. Their first home on the land was a trailer, tied firmly to the ground to weather the winds. The whole family pitched in to build their spacious, comfortable log home and close-by barn.
“I was switching positions at the vet school,” Wendell explained. “It was a good time to take the 48 days of vacation time I’d accumulated to build a house.”
He did a great deal of the work himself, following a design created by Sally.
Today Wendell maintains his long-time interest in the economic welfare of Wellington. He helped to form the Wellington Economic Development Association in 2004, which evolved into the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce the following year. Wendell chaired the Chamber board for two years and now serves as chairman of the Economic Development Committee.
There was a time when the Nelsons planted between 3,000 and 5,000 seedlings on their land to provide for fresh and dried flowers for Sally’s business. After they opened the Chocolate Rose, they had limited time to work the farm. These days they at last find themselves able to spend time caring for their land once again.
Both of them are savoring the gift of time. They have no grandiose travel plans for the future. Sally continues to grow and dry flowers for her own use. Wendell is committed to nurturing the economic welfare of Wellington. When they are ready, they will likely take some trips within the U.S. to see family.
The Nelsons are enjoying the fruits of event-filled lives during which they have evolved a comfortable balance in their relationship—an accomplishment that makes surprising ventures possible.
Who knows? Neither of them would be surprised if “this fella” came up with a new project. And Sally would be right there encouraging him.