Like Parents, Like Daughter

Milly and Buzz Nelson’s generosity lives on through their daughter Jan

By John Tucker

Jan Nelson absorbed many traits from her parents Milly and Buzz Nelson.

Like her mother, Jan adores purple. It’s reflected in her clothes, her home décor and a lavender golf cart that turns heads wherever Jan drives it.

Her parents loved to travel and explore new cultures. At last count, Jan had visited 185 countries. She attended her freshman year of college at Schiller College, located in a castle overlooking the Rhine River in Germany.

But, philanthropy easily stands as one of the greatest traits that Jan learned from her parents.

“My parents always believed in giving back,” Jan says, “and they modeled behavior that encouraged me to give of my time, talent and treasure.” Jan now lives at The Colonnade in Surprise, a Sun Health Senior Living community. Her parents both passed away in 2003.

Jan and her younger sister Jenee grew up in locales ranging from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Chicago to London. Buzz was an executive for Quaker Oats for 45 years, while Milly was a stay-at-home mom. Family came first. Jan fondly remembers family dinners, outings and attending church together. “It was a solid, home atmosphere,” Jan recalls. “They taught us to always do the right thing and that included helping those in need.”

Milly and Buzz moved from Chicago to Sun City West in 1989, shortly after Buzz retired from Quaker Oats. Milly became a regular volunteer at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center and the couple got involved in Sun Health Foundation, to help improve health care in the community. Sun Health Foundation sponsored cruises for several years to raise funds and provide community members with opportunities to travel. By Jan’s accounting, her parents went on all the cruises. She joined them on most of the trips.

After Jan graduated from Luther College in Decora, Iowa in 1970, she tried her hand in the banking and insurance industries but realized it wasn’t a good fit. On a lark, she applied for a job with the Illinois Bureau of Investigation and was hired. It marked the beginning of a three-decade career in law enforcement at city, state and federal levels. Jan became an intelligence specialist and later  also worked as an agent for the DEA. Intelligence and agent skills are a rare combination that her bosses found invaluable when it came to cracking cases involving organized crime, drug rings and terrorism.

In 1989, Jan moved to the Phoenix area to be closer to her parents. She landed a job with the FBI Phoenix office, where she performed a variety of duties, including serving on the terrorism squad that warned three months before 9/11 that a major terrorist attack was imminent.

Jan was working that day. She and her colleagues watched in horror as the attack unfolded. “It was very disturbing,” Jan remembers. The team began working around the clock to document who was behind the attacks.

During this time, Jan’s parents’ health began to decline. She moved to Sun City Grand to be closer to her parents and to help care for them.  They passed away within five weeks of each other, leaving Jan distraught. Her own health suffered, leading her to take a medical retirement from the FBI in 2003.

Never one to sit still for long, Jan immersed herself in life at Sun City Grand and in causes, including Sun Health. Like her mother before her, Jan volunteered at Banner Del E. Webb, served on various committees and gave generously. A major donation she made to Banner Del E. Webb is recognized in the hospital’s main lobby. It features a large geode with purple accents.

Jan recently moved to The Colonnade, in part to be closer to help if she needs health care assistance. These days she’s content with life’s simpler pleasures like spending time with old and new friends and caring for Pickles, a “mutt” she rescued from a shelter.

Every day she reflects on the gifts her mother and father gave her.

“They really were my best friends. I learned about philanthropy from the best: my parents.”


Reach Your Sun Health Foundation Development Staff

Gina Ore, Chief Philanthropy Officer
gina.ore@sunhealth.org • 623-832-5582

Wendy Nelson, Development Director
wendy.nelson@sunhealth.org  • 623-832-5323

Claudia Vazquez, Development Director
claudia.vazquez@sunhealth.org  • 623-832-4323

Bonnie Olsen, Development Director
bonnie.olsen@sunhealth.org    623-832-5566

Pamela Kohnen, Sr. Development Director
pamela.kohnen@sunhealth.org    623-832-5735

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