Donald Ross Nelms was born in Claremore, Oklahoma on June 18, 1940 to Ross and Verdie Nelms. The youngest of four siblings, Don grew up in the Dogcreek Hills of Foyil on the family farm. He attended Foyil public schools where he enjoyed playing baseball and football, especially with his cousin Clarence Cummings.
When he was young, Don traveled across the country with his family during the 40’s and 50’s during harvest seasons as migrant workers. Don and family, including brother-in-law Lonnie Green, would travel to such states as Texas, Washington, Oregon and Michigan to pick seasonal crops like apples, and cotton. Don had many wonderful memories of those trips and could describe visited locations and people in detail.
Don also had fond memories of his horse Smokey, a beautiful but apparently ornery Paint horse who loved to rip the seats out of visitor’s cars and then quickly trot away to a safe distance where he would whinny tauntingly at the angry motorist. During a time of financial hardship for the family, Don agreed to sell Smokey and use the funds to help the family. While necessary, he always regretted seeing his best friend hauled away. In his last years, Don would say he hoped Smokey was waiting for him in Heaven where they would be reunited.
Don’s siblings were brother Manley, and sisters Bernice and Norma. Bernice was nicknamed “Mickey” and Norma was nicknamed “Peewee”. Don liked to tell how tough his older sister Bernice was and how when they were children, she often came to his rescue when fighting larger boys and could punch like a man and kick like a mule and said “you can confirm that with Lonnie”. “Bernice wasn’t anybody to mess around with” he would say. “She was tough!” He also told a story where as a young boy, he had fallen into Dog Creek after a heavy rain. The creek was swollen and raging and he was sure to drown. Suddenly, someone reached from the bank and grabbed him by his hair and jerked him out of the angry creek and to safety. It was Mickey, she had saved him again.
During his formative years, with the help of Lonnie Green, Don learned to play guitar which became a life-long love for him. Don would tell a story about how his initial frustrations on learning to play guitar led him to plead to his father for advice, and Ross had told him that he should put a rooster in a cage and sit beside it to practice, when the rooster crowed he would magically be enabled with the ability to play guitar. Of course, after many hours practicing beside the feathered charm, the rooster refused to crow and Don had to continue learning the hard way. Don played music right up until he passed. He connected with people through music, helped teach many others to play guitar (without the use of any roosters), wrote several songs, and used his talent to worship and honor God.
In 1964, Don married Deann Rowbotham from Locust Grove. Deann had a daughter from a previous marriage, Terry Lynn, and he suddenly became a family man. Terry reflected that “If you asked 100 people who Don Nelms was, there’s no doubt they would say he was a musician.” This is undoubtedly true but he was also a skilled carpenter (who built several homes from the ground up for his family), an experienced truck driver, a Dad, and most importantly a believer in Christ. He loved playing music but he loved it most when he was playing for the Lord. Terry also reflected on the time as a young girl of 4 or 5 years, that Don came home from work one day and she was waiting for him with a beautiful mud pie she had made for him (it even had dandelion flowers in it for extra flavor). Terry insisted that he take a bite of it, to which he initially resisted but eventually agreed. Munching on dirt and dandelion, her Daddy made sounds and expressions to imply how extremely delicious his treat really was.
Together, Don and Deann would have a son Lance, and a daughter Deidrea. Don and family settled in the Catoosa, Oklahoma area and eventually built several homes over the following 20 years. During this time, Don purchased a dump truck and tried his hand at being a business owner. Don and family would travel to Kansas and Colorado for the annual wheat harvest where Don would haul wheat from the fields with his dump truck. The family would camp in an old school bus that Don had converted into an RV. Lance remembers how his father would encourage him to do well at school and wanted him to have a good education. Lance reflects “My father worked very hard to provide his family with everything he could. He would work a full job and then come home and work until midnight building us a home. Dad was not trained in all trades required to build a complete home, but through determination he learned framing, masonry, plumbing, electrical, and all skills necessary to complete those houses for us. He gave all he could give. He was my father, and I was proud of him.“
After Don and Deann divorced in 1983, Don had a son with Margie Weeks in 1987 and they named him Robert. Robert currently resides in Tahlequah, Ok. Robert has many fond memories of going fishing with his father. Robert recalled a time when Don was teaching him to drive and he was nervous. Don told him “you got this” so Robert uses that encouragement as a motto to live by each day.
In 1988, Don and Ida Mathews had a baby girl and they named her Amanda. Amanda is the youngest of Don’s children and enjoyed every minute she got to spend with her Dad. Don always gave Amanda his undivided attention and made sure she knew how much he loved her. Amanda loved dancing while listening to him play his guitar. Don taught Amanda to drive, fish and fight but most importantly he taught her about the love that our Heavenly Father has for us. Amanda reflects that “My father is gloriously saved and no matter what health issues he may have faced, you could always find him at The Little Rock Church on Sunday morning, playing for the Lord. Dad’s ministry was his music which blessed not only his family but all those around him. Surely he has received a golden guitar and a seat in God’s heavenly band.”
Don was a very personable man, making lifelong friends wherever he went. He was compassionate to everyone, especially those who were struggling and was known to bring strangers hitch-hiking along the highways home for a meal and a clean set of clothes. Don had a good sense of humor and was fond of joking with with his friends and family. Don was a strong believer in our Lord Jesus Christ and was blessed with many revelations through the Holy Spirit, including a warning about the current Coronavirus which the Holy Spirit referred to as a “plague coming to the land”. Don had recently said he was ready to go home and be reunited with his family waiting in Heaven for him. Don fought and defeated throat cancer 10 years ago, and recently went through radiation treatment for late stage lung cancer. He also struggled with severe heart conditions to which he finally succumbed on April 8, 2020.
Don is survived by his daughters; Terry York of Sapulpa, OK, Deidrea Nelms of Keller, Texas, and Amanda Nahas of Claremore, Oklahoma, his sons; Lance Nelms of Owasso, Ok and Robert Weeks of Tahlequah, OK, his grandchildren; Neal of Bolivia, NC; Joel Hood of Keller, TX, Tristan Lanhart of Claremore, OK; Daniel Nelms of Huntsville, AL, Katelyn Phillips of Colorado Springs, CO; Nicole Allison of Tulsa, OK; Liliana Nahas, Juliana Nahas, and Jeremiah Nahas of Claremore, Ok; Zane Weeks, Tandi Weeks, Jasper Weeks, and Kynzley Weeks of Tahlequah, OK.
Don was preceded in death by his parents, his brother Manley Fairchild, his sisters Bernice Green and Norma Casey, and an infant sister.
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