A World War II veteran nearing his 100th birthday this month is well on his way to walking 100 miles by summer’s end in the southern Minnesota town he has called home his entire life.

Mickey Nelson is chipping away every day at his goal in Clarks Grove, the town of roughly 700 a touch north of Albert Lea, in what he has christened his “Walking to 100” mission to raise money for the Salvation Army’s campaign to help those affected by the COVID-19 epidemic.

“I know that people are struggling, either from the illness or a job loss from all the businesses shutting down,” said Nelson, who still lives in the home where he was born in the middle of town on Main Street. “I just thought there was something I could do to help.”

Friends and neighbors in Clarks Grove have long known Nelson as someone whose daily strolls often take him along Main Street past the post office, store fronts — and yes — the Salvation Army drop box.

Nelson and his daughters built a “bucket list” of possibilities to choose from in his desire to ease the weight of the epidemic’s impact on people near and far. From that he chose his 100-mile odyssey, with the Salvation Army as the beneficiary. As of late last week, “Walking to 100” has raised about $90,000.

“We have been working very hard to help those in need since mid-March ... and our resources are being stretched like never before,” said Lt. Colonel Lonneal Richardson, commander of the Salvation Army Northern Division. “But this effort being made by Mickey is truly selfless, and we are grateful for and inspired by his efforts.”

Nelson, who while in the Army maintained tanks in an armored division, points to two endurance personalities and fellow war veterans — one real and the other a work of fiction — as inspirations for taking on his multimonth marathon.

Capt. Tom Moore, a British World War II veteran who turned 100 in late April, raised more than $39 million to support health workers confronting COVID-19 by pushing his walker 100 laps in his garden 50 miles northwest of London.

And then there is Hollywood’s creation of the distance runner to end all distance runners: Forrest Gump, the lovable Vietnam War veteran whose unlikely and remarkable feats included running across America.

Nelson said he gives the inspiration edge to actor Tom Hanks’ character, saying with a chuckle and roughly recalling a line from the movie to fit his mode of movement: “I got a kick out of that,” he said of the famous: “I just kept on running.”

Of course, the centenarian in waiting has seen one milestone after another reached: talking movies, television, a cure for polio, the 4-minute mile, the internet, smartphones and the like.

And one more, he pointed out: “I never thought in my day I’d pay $146 for my shoes.”

Donations in support of Nelson’s two-footed campaign are being accepted at SalvationArmyNorth.org/mickey. As of Monday, the fund has grown to more than $90,000.


The New York Times contributed to this report.