Don and Barbara Nellis were long-time Whittier residents, and Don had been a devotee to the YMCA for more than 60 years. This year, his sons Kirby and Brady honored his memory with a remarkable contribution to the Y’s endowment that will impact generations of future YMCA and Whittier Community members.
We are grateful for this inspiring story of the YMCA’s impact on one Whittier family written by Kirby and Brady Nellis.
July 7, 1917. Don, or as we knew him, “Dad”, was born in the apartment above the small grocery store his parents owned in the rural town of Russell, Illinois. A few years later his sister, Jean, was born there as well. In 1925 their parents decided the future looked brighter in the area known as Southern California. After they relocated to Burbank, Ca. the siblings attended the Burbank city schools. Dad was a pretty sharp student and he skipped a couple of grades. Jean was just as smart. Dad also ran track and cross country when he was at Burbank High School. Upon graduating from BHS in 1933 at the not-quite-yet age of 16, Dad was accepted to attend Cal Tech.
In those days everyone on the Cal Tech campus was associated with a residence house whether they lived on campus or not. Dad commuted from Burbank and was therefore a member of Throop house. Dad continued his interest in track by going out for cross country and high hurdles. The Cal Tech athletic coach, “Fox” Stanton, had a saying. “Win or lose. Just play the game and give it your best.” Dad followed this credo in everything he did.
In the 1930’s the YMCA had a very large presence on the Cal Tech Campus. They provided a number of services to the students on campus. This mainly centered on the very important, personal guidance in questions of life. Plus they also printed the student handbook every year. In addition they invited all incoming freshman to a weekend campout in the San Bernardino Mountains. At a place called Camp Arbolado.
Upon graduating in 1939 with a Master’s of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering, Dad was hired by Shell Oil Company. In 1943 he married Barbara Marie Brady and in 1945 they had a son they named Brady. Their second son, Kirby, came in 1948. The family was transferred around quite a bit in the 40’s and 50’s. Colinga, Sacramento, Long Beach, Regina Saskatchewan, Long Beach, and finally, Whittier. The one really consistent thing with all these moves is that we were always members of the Y. Twice a week, after work, Dad would go down to the Y for either basketball or volleyball and a quick swim. My brother and I would go to the Y on weekends during the school year and midweek during the summer. In the late 1960’s I became a camp counselor at that same camp in the San Bernardino Mountains. Camp Arbolado. AR-AR-ARBO-LA-LA-LADO .
Eventually my brother and I both moved out and got on with our own lives but Mom and Dad stayed in the same house in Whittier we all moved into in 1959. He also continued his membership and relationship with the Whittier YMCA for the rest of his life. Mom passed away in 1987 and Dad passed away in early 2006. My brother and I thought it would be nice to honor their memory, and relationship with the YMCA of Greater Whittier by making a $100,000 gift to the endowment in his memory. Our dad’s legacy and love of the YMCA will live on through this gift.
A big THANK YOU to the YMCA and all it does for the community.