As an ordained minister, I’ve attended many funerals either to officiate or participate. Funerals are both delicate and difficult to attend and oversee. Emotions are unpredictable, which puts a great deal of pressure on those speaking. There is a desire to be winsome and yet authentic, genuine and yet formal. And sometimes the pressure to say the right thing can be too much where not much is said at all. The mark was missed.
I’d venture to say that the 400+ people who filled Bradley Gym would agree that Al Nelson’s funeral hit its mark. Bullseye. Al’s “Valley” family gave us insight, made us laugh, made us cry, and allowed us to deepen our love for our beloved teacher, coach, co-worker, and friend. “Older sister” Linda Yarbrough deepened our understanding of Al with stories from Al’s past. Linda spoke with eloquence and yet there was a feeling like we were all sitting around the table laughing as we reminisced. “Younger sister” Mona Ekstrand filled us in on her many years and many trips with Al, giving us insight into Al’s brilliant mind and heart for his Lady Trojans. And “younger brother” Scott Timmer spoke passionately about Al’s strengths and weaknesses, pleading with each of us to make use of the time we’ve been given to encourage, trust, and love. It was clear by the end of the service that Al meant the world to his Valley “siblings” as he meant the world to so many of us.
Al also made a lasting impact on his former students/athletes. This was evidenced by beautiful words spoken honestly by ten hand-picked VCHS alumni. And Brianna Widger’s singing of “In Christ Alone,” solidified the true reason this funeral was impactful. The Gospel, which Al gave his life to, was alive and well in that gym. Several passages were mentioned and several pleas were made, that anyone who doesn’t know the Lord is missing the saving peace that Al proclaimed until his last day.
After the service, hundreds followed Al’s directive, and milled around the gym floor, desserts in hand, to catch up with old friends. I would have to think Al would have been happy to know that his funeral turned out just as he wanted – a host of friends, church family, co-workers, and students getting together in the gym to praise the Lord, catch up on life, cry a little, and laugh a lot. Rumor has it that Al planned his own funeral weeks before his passing. Bullseye Al. Bullseye.
Dr. Greg Tonkinson