Mitchell man to auction collection of antiques, memorabiliaMilt Nelson will sell parts of his diverse collection in an auction at 1 p.m. June 30 at the Davison County 4-H Fairgrounds.
Milt Nelson describes his collection of antiques as “different.”
“I’m a different kind of person who likes different kinds of things,” he said.
While the statement may sound redundant, it is vividly accurate for the 35-year collector of antiques and memorabilia. Nelson will sell parts of his diverse collection in an auction at 1 p.m. June 30 at the Davison County 4-H Fairgrounds.
Nelson, 63, grew up on a farm near Letcher and remembers fondly his time in a one-room schoolhouse — so much so, he owns some of the artwork from the walls of his former school, including portraits of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. He even commissioned an artist to paint a photo of the Elliott Township building.
Other highlights of his collection include a barber’s chair that he bought in Sioux Falls while working door-to-door as a land salesman. He owns about 250 wall pictures, dating as far back as the 1900s, including his prize Victorian portraits.
Nelson owns about a dozen small, gray model grain elevators that were given away at Christmas as advertising pieces in area towns. He also owns an old “thunderbucket,” or toilet chair with a bucket below the seat. Nelson’s has other unique furniture and pottery pieces that will be sold, too.
“There were some things that I knew I wanted to keep, but the rest of it just had to go,” Nelson said. “All of these antiques are like a member of my family, but it’s time.”
Nelson said the money from the sale won’t hurt, either.
He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1970. In 1976, he was elected to the South Dakota Senate, and at 28 years old was the youngest senator in Pierre at the time.
After two terms in the Senate, Nelson moved into the sale of farm land and real estate in Mitchell. He also developed land in the area, including Nelson’s Addition, where his house is located.
Nelson’s life changed in 1985 when he suffered a nearly fatal head injury in a farm accident. He has undergone surgery numerous times to correct his eyesight but still struggles with double vision and hampered mobility. But he still has a lot of energy.
He likes to write and keeps stacks of paper in his office, with photos of Teddy Roosevelt — to whom he bears a resemblance — and Lincoln on the walls and a placard on the front of his desk. The placard reads, “If I wanted your opinion, I would have stopped talking by now.”
Nelson owns more than 150 political buttons and will sell all of the duplicate ones, totaling about 75. A conservative to the core, he has only one piece tied to a Democrat.
Nelson worked in support of Jim Abdnor in the 1980 U.S. Senate campaign when George McGovern was defeated by Abdnor, so the political sticker appropriately reads, “Goodbye George.”
“As a Christian, I loved him. I just wanted him to move to another state,” said Nelson, recalling political showdowns with McGovern.
Milt and his wife Sandy are selling their house in northern Mitchell to move into a smaller home in the city.
“I have the best wife. She’s so neat and pretty and she’s a great cook. And she hasn’t kicked me out,” he said, one of his many one-liners.
He doesn’t plan to watch the sale.
“I’d be quick to say ‘They should have gotten more for that,’ ” Nelson said. “I’ll be in the other room, reading the paper.”
While talking about everything from bird-watching to his cat, Winston, to his children, Nelson said he doesn’t consider himself retired. He’s too driven and has too much energy for slowing down. With some of his prized possessions about to be sold, he passed on some advice he picked up a long time ago that might help him through the sale.
“The best things in life are not things,” he said.