Erlene Bass Nelson, 83, honored educator

Erlene Bass Nelson

Dr. Erlene Bass Nelson was a noted educator who taught kindergarten for more than 50 years.

Nelson died Sunday, March 24, 2013 surrounded by her family. She was 83.

She was born Jan. 8, 1930.

Nelson was educated in the St. Louis Public School System.

She was married to Dr. James Dallas Nelson from 1950 to 1963. They had two sons.

She graduated from Stowe Teachers College (now Harris-Stowe University) in 1951, where she received a bachelor’s degree in education. She received a master’s degree in early childhood education from Temple University in 1976 while working full time. In 1977, she received a degree in interior design from the Philadelphia College of Art. She received a doctorate in early childhood education from Southeastern NOVA University in Florida in 1993.

Nelson began her early teaching career in Anniston, Ala. before starting a family. She resumed teaching kindergarten in the Philadelphia public school system. She taught in the public school system from 1958 through 2008.

She received numerous awards throughout her career, including Distinguished Educator of the Year, Rose Lindenbaum Improvement of Education Award, First School District of Philadelphia Carter G. Woodson Award for Excellence in Teaching, Innovative Teacher of the Year, PA $10,000 Humane Educator of the Year, PA 76’ers Basketball Team Hometown Hero Award and the William Ross Scholarship Award for Exemplary Teaching. Nelson was also recognized by the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, the House of Representatives, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, USA Today Newspaper and Newspapers in Education.

Upon retirement from teaching kindergarten at age 78, Nelson was asked to teach in the Philadelphia School District’s Parent University. She wrote a curriculum titled Character Development. The goal was to assist parents to modify their own behavior in order to become role models for their children and families.

Accompanying this curriculum is a seven-foot-by-30- inch banner titled “Beyond the Three R’s: Role Models for Readiness.” The following are 20 traits of character, all beginning with the letter “R”, Respect, Responsibility, Resiliency, Reverence, Resolution, and Reciprocity to name a few. The banner’s end line is “Character Buildings Begins at Birth! Parents Are Our Partners!”

The banner became in demand and hangs at Harvard University, Temple University, United States Department of Education, Pennsylvania Department of Education, the educational department of the Mayor of Philadelphia, City Council chambers, Congressional offices and other education facilities including within the atrium of the School District of Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia School District placed a character banner in each public school which was funded by a corporate grant secured by Nelson to neon the message that character building is a birthright and equally important as the core subjects of the curriculum.

Nelson became the only educator in the School District of Philadelphia to be inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame (NTHF). Her achievements were published in the St. Louis American newspaper, stating that she is the only African American from the state of Missouri to be inducted into the NTHF in its 20 year history.

Her alma mater, The Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis, Mo. named her their “Distinguished Alumni” during their Annual Spring Ceremony in 2010.

Nelson’s family said had she not been curtailed by her illness, her quest was to secure funding to place a Character Building Banner in each African American, Latino and Asian church to keep the measure alive about the importance of character development. With subsequent funding, Nelson planned to place banners in churches of other cultures, religions and denominations.

Her family said Nelson criticized the current movement for gun control as being too little, too late.

“Her platform is that every parent of every ethnicity, race and culture to become more responsible in the future of their children by sending and nurturing all of the tenets of character continuing from birth in order that they become respectable and respected citizens of their communities,” her family said.

Nelson was an active member of the St. Thomas African Episcopal Church for 50 years. She was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and was socially active. Her family said she had exquisite taste in fashion and a love for Manolo Blahniks.

At her 80th birthday, her accomplished children and grandchildren credited her as being their role-model and mentor.

Nelson is survived by her sons, Dr. James Nelson and Dr. Gregory Nelson; stepsons Dr. Charles Nelson, Hans Nelson and Dr. James Nelson Sr.; daughters-in-law, Wunnesh Nelson and Joy Tate; grandchildren, Dr. Kibibi Gaughan, Dr. Melissa Nelson-Suseelan, Dr. Jelani Nelson, Dalila Nelson, Jysir Fisher and Zoe Nelson; grandchildren-in-law, Chris Gaughan and Hary Suseelan; great-grandchildren, Abigail Gaughan and Seamus Gaughan and other relatives and friends.

A memorial service was held March 30 at 11 a.m. at New Covenant Church of Philadelphia, 7500 Germantown Ave.

Terry Funeral Home handed the arrangements.

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