Paul Nelson

Paul Nelson

July 7, 1943 to October 12, 2019


Paul Chancellor Nelson died from complications of prostate cancer at Israel Family Hospice House in Ames, Iowa on October 12, 2019. Paul, the only child of Paul Eberle Nelson and Marie W. Donahoo Nelson, was born July 7, 1943 in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Paul was an engineer, who was fascinated by technology of all kinds. Prior to high school graduation, Paul became an FCC registered amateur radio operator. He was a “computer guy” before most of his friends ever saw a desk-top computer. Paul earned his pilot’s license two years before he was old enough to get a driver’s license. Shortly after his father died, the 21 year-old Paul used his inheritance to buy a Cessna airplane. After graduation from the University of Arkansas, Paul’s first job was as a NASA engineer, who helped perfect the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo Missions. After restoring a World War II era Norden bombsight, Paul donated it to the Seattle Museum of Flight, where it resides in a B-17F Flying Fortress, the Boeing Bee. Beginning in the early 1970s, Paul began a more than thirty-year engineering career in Ames by working for Bourns, Hach Chemical and Sauer Danfoss.

Paul was a proud Democrat. He served as campaign treasurer for now retired U.S. Senator Tom Harkin’s successful 1974 bid for the U.S. House of Representatives. When Paul arrived in Iowa, one of his first volunteer affiliations was with the Ames Peace Center.

Paul was a talented musician. He played guitar and sang in the Ames-based Pool Hall Waltz Band. For the past thirty years, he was lead singer for El Rio Skunko Trio, a group serially comprised of as many as a dozen musicians.
Paul was the chief engineer during the building of KHOI community radio in Ames and served as Chief of Operations until he became ill. He was instrumental in building KHOI's tower near Story City and establishing the connection between the broadcast tower and the station in Ames. He helped oversee construction of KHOI's three studios and installed radio equipment in them. He supervised and maintained KHOI's obligations to the State and the FCC and served on the Board of Directors. He added his gusto to KHOI, an activity he described with relish as "drinking from a firehose."

Paul let people know he was a grateful member of Alcoholics Anonymous. What he did not publicize was how generously he shared his time and wisdom to support others by answering twelve-step phone calls at any hour.
Paul faced multiple illnesses with an amazingly positive outlook. Days before he died, he said, “The pros of life still outweigh the alternative. I love life.”
Paul is survived by his friend and life-partner Sherri Zapata, his Arkansas cousins “Bitsy” Cates of Little Rock and Edward Franz of Fort Smith, his beloved cats George and Gracie and scores of friends. Paul’s memorial party will be announced later. Please send memorial donations to KHOI Radio in Ames, Iowa (

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