Nancy Allin Nelson’s reach spread across Minnesota. Tens of thousands of young people were helped over the years by the training and resources her nonprofit provided to local organizations, health clinics and schools on sexuality and reproductive health.
The nonprofit she co-founded in 1989 — the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPPP), later renamed Teenwise Minnesota — was just one of Nelson’s causes. But it was probably the one she was most proud of, said her husband, Russ.
Among other things, MOAPPP for years issued the Minnesota Adolescent Sexual Health Report, with data tracking teen sexual activity and pregnancies. The group’s annual statewide conferences at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center were a huge draw.
“She was a connecter and convener,” said Brigid Riley, who ran MOAPPP after Nelson left.
“She was the shining light that many of us followed to make a difference in the world.”
Nelson died peacefully of pancreatic cancer at her St. Paul home Aug. 5. She was 72.
Born in 1947 in Madison, Wis., Nelson was the youngest of three children. Her father was a doctor. Her mother, a homemaker, was an artist who painted. Nelson, an avid photographer, would say she inherited her “love of nature, love of beauty and art” from her mother, her husband said.
The two were high school sweethearts who met at a dance party their junior year. Russ said he instantly fell in love. They married in 1969, at the end of their senior year at the University of Wisconsin. Nelson had a degree in elementary education and French and worked as a teacher.
The couple moved to Seattle where Russ earned his MBA, then they moved to New York City. They landed in Minneapolis in 1976, raising their three children in a brick colonial near Minnehaha Creek.
Russ recalled the family floating on rafts in the creek. “Those were golden years,” he said.
Nancy, he said, had a fierce passion for children and social justice that she probably developed as a teacher.
In the 1980s, she joined the Family Partnership, a Minneapolis nonprofit helping low-income families, to run an innovative teen outreach project. She left to start MOAPPP in 1989, then returned to the Family Partnership as a board member from 2010 to 2019. She also served on the board of Como Friends.
Molly Greenman, CEO of the Family Partnership, said Nelson was not only effective at fundraising but skilled at building relationships in the community and with legislators. Nelson was warm, funny and outspoken, she said, and “an incredible advocate for children and families and women.”
“She was a role model for so many women, myself included, as a leader and as an advocate,” Greenman said.
Most recently, Nelson helped the Family Partnership raise money to build its new headquarters on East Lake Street, Greenman said. Nancy also completed two books after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019: “Joy: Finding Joy in Everyday” and “Gratitude.”
“Nancy seized every minute of every day of her life,” Russ said.
Russ and Nancy celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary the Sunday before she died. “She would tell her grandchildren: ‘When you see hummingbirds or butterflies, that’s me. That’s your Nonnie,’ ” Russ said.
Nelson is survived by her husband, Russ; her brother Robin Allin Jr.; children Matthew Allin Nelson of St. Paul, Erica Marie Nelson of Brighton, England, and Marin Elizabeth Nelson of Afton; and seven grandchildren.
The family plans to livestream a memorial in September.