Nelson 111th

Second-oldest man leaves sweet legacy

By: By Ashley Sanders

Sweet and sour pickles — that’s what Port Arthur resident Willie Mae Elmore said she will remember most about Thomas Nelson Sr.

“Everybody knew Mr. and Mrs. Nelson and went to that store,” Elmore said of Nelson’s Confectionery, a favorite sweet stop for many former Lincoln High School students.

Nelson, 111, died Tuesday after serving the Port Arthur community for more than 60 years. According to many centenarian Web sites, Nelson was both the nation’s and the world’s second-oldest living man.

“I liked to get dill pickles with a peppermint stick inside or moon cookies,” Elmore recalled of her childhood purchases at Nelson’s store. “Moon cookies were pretty big, round cookies and you could buy one for one penny.”

Kareem Nelson said his great-grandfather will be remembered as someone who “loved serving his community.”

“It was a blessing to have him this long,” Kareem Nelson said. “He was a trailblazer who operated a black-owned family business during a time when that was uncommon.”

Thomas Nelson Sr. was born in neighboring Louisiana on July 8, 1895, and moved to Port Arthur in the 1930s. A few years after moving to Southeast Texas, he opened a candy shop on Lincoln Avenue.

“I was born in 1895,” Nelson said proudly as he sat at the head of the table in his Port Arthur home last July during his 111th birthday party. “We sold candy and drinks in the store. Candy sold for one cent and up.”

When pressed for what his favorite type of candy was, Nelson smiled broadly and said all of them.

“Candy never changes,” the wise old man remarked. “All of them are all right as long as they are sweet.”

Nelson said he decided to open Nelson’s Confectionery to make money for his family, which included a wife and seven children.

“I decided to open the store to help along with the family,” he said. “All the kids worked in the store. And sure, they got free candy. You can’t stop kids from eating candy.”

Located in the perfect spot, Nelson’s Confectionery served the Lincoln High School students as their sweet shop for more than 60 years.

Granddaughter Judy Nelson said the store finally closed sometime around 2002.

Thomas Nelson was a grandfather of 21 and had numerous great-grandchildren.

More than just a business owner and a family man, Thomas Nelson was involved with the NAACP and continued to be active in his church, New St. John Missionary Baptist Church, until his death.

Ashley Sanders writes for Port Arthur (Texas) News. Mary Meaux contributed to this article.