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VIDEO | Remembering the legacy and philanthropy of Betty Nelson, 100, of West Bend, WI

March 13, 2024 – West Bend, Wi – Friends across West Bend, WI and Washington County, WI, are recalling fond memories as word spreads about the death of local philanthropist and community leader Betty Nelson.

On Tuesday, Nelson’s family gathered at their mother’s side. “She seemed happier in the past few months,” said son Paul Nelson. “It’s not that she was resigned to dying, but just more accepting.”

Nelson relayed five things he learned from his mom. “She would say, don’t hold a grudge, love your kids … and if you don’t have your own love young people, be kind to animals, believe in science, and do something for somebody else. If somebody didn’t know my mom, this is just a great description of how she lived her life.”

Friends including Prudence Pick Hway, Rocky Dedrick, Dan Johnson, Jacci Gambucci, and others reflected on the life and legacy Nelson left behind.

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Laurie Winters – CEO / executive director Museum of Wisconsin Art – “The entire Museum of Wisconsin Art community is saddened by Betty’s death. She was a vibrant supporter of the museum for more 60 years and her impact is felt everywhere, from MOWA’s modernist building that graces the Milwaukee River to the flourishing gardens that are a centerpiece of downtown West Bend. We will miss her spirit and visionary belief that art and culture improve lives and build communities. We are all better for having known Betty.”

Prudence Pick Hway – “I had a visit with her not that long ago at her cottage at Cedar Valley. Paul arranged for me to be able to come and see her. She was so sharp. We were reminiscing about when I was in high school, and she remembered Dottie Hegbar and Ms. Birkholz. She was amazing. Just amazing.

“Regarding what she’s done for the community…  well, where do we start? Of course, I am particularly involved with the Museum of Wisconsin Art and her gift to the museum, literally, was lifeblood at the time. It cannot be underestimated in terms of the importance of the museum and what it is and where it is today.

“Betty and Cliff, it all came from the heart and a commitment. Betty had a quiet elegance about her. But she was tough stuff, when it came right down to it.”

State Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler – “Betty Nelson was a pillar in our community.  She and her husband, Cliff were remarkable philanthropists and leaders.  As one of the last representatives of a great generation defined by resilience and generosity, Betty has left an indelible legacy.  JJ and I extend our deepest condolences to her loved ones.”

Rocky Dedrick – “Betty and Cliff Nelson were huge influences on me and my family, from the day we moved to West Bend. They welcomed us to the neighborhood, took me around the community, introduced me to people. It was very nice; they recruited me to be on the board of West Bend Mutual. Of course, Betty would attend a lot of our events.

“Betty McCargo Nelson lived in West Bend her entire life and had such an influence. When Cliff died, a little too early, she carried on everything he began with her. It’s just enormous the impact they had in the West Bend community.

“It’s going to be amazing, trying to figure out who’s following in their footsteps, because they did make such a huge impact.

“Cliff was a great mentor, for me personally. Mainly when it applied in business, because he had such great instincts and of course, he had a financial background as well. It was Cliff that floated the idea of the West Bend Mutual Community Trust that now has something like $35 million. That was Cliff Nelson’s idea, later supported by Peter Ziegler. He talked me into starting that back in about 1996. What’s really heartwarming is the fact that when Cliff died, Betty continued his mission, almost without hesitation or interruption, which was really great to see.

“The leadership of the Nelsons is a throwback to that generation. She was a kindergarten classmate of Allan C. Kieckhafer. So, when you say lifetime friends, that is not an exaggeration with Allan.”

Ric Leitheiser – “Betty and Cliff were incredible people. Cliff hired me and together they helped welcome us to the community. And then more importantly, taught us how to participate and how to be a citizen.”

Dan Johnson – They started the West Bend Community Foundation with the Ziegler’s. They raised a great family, Jimmy, Bobby, Janet and Dave. Betty was kind of a spitfire; she was well spoken and outspoken. She was a great woman. Family is awesome.

Kristin Brandner – CEO United Way of Washington County – “United Way of Washington County is deeply saddened to hear the passing of Betty Nelson.  She has been a pillar of our community supporting many nonprofits including United Way.  We are fortunate every year to be able to honor Betty and Cliff through our Nelson Volunteer Leadership Award, which honors a local individuals lifetime achievement in community service.  This award is important because Betty and Cliff were the essence of community excellence.

“Sweet Betty was the heart of West Bend. She was a special lady, an angel, that gave so much to so many. She loved this community and has left a profound impact. She will be deeply missed and always remembered.”

Jacci Gambucci – “For much of my life she was my friend Janet’s mom ‘Mrs. Nelson.’ As I came into my own as an adult, it became acutely aware they were icons of this community. Even after Cliff’s passing, she carried on as a woman of strength, remaining committed to her community. Prayers to her and her family.

Funeral arrangements will be shared when information becomes available.

Below is an article that ran in 2023 as the Museum of Wisconsin Art celebrated Betty Nelson’s 100th birthday.

West Bend, WI – The Museum of Wisconsin Art rolled out a thoughtful tribute Sunday afternoon as family and friends gathered to share fond memories and wish a happy 100th birthday to longtime MOWA supporter Betty Nelson.

Nelson was praised for her commitment to the community and, according to dear friend Prudence Pick Hway, “Betty and her husband Cliff taught by example. They lived simply, they gave generously to the community and to this Museum and they taught a future generation about what giving back really means.”

Hway praised Betty as someone who “has a Grace and a quiet Elegance that strikes you immediately upon meeting her, followed very closely by a quick wit and a good sense of humor.”


Good friend John ‘Rocky’ Dedrick took the opportunity to wish his “dearest friend Betty McCargo Nelson a happy 100th birthday. “It’s hard to put into words how instrumental she and her husband Cliff were in this West Bend Community.”


Former West Bend Art Museum director Tom Lidtke credited Nelson with helping the Museum of Wisconsin Art reach its full potential.


“What an outstanding accomplishment to reach 100 years,” said Lidtke. “Thank you so much for your service to the community especially the Museum of Wisconsin Art you were pivotal; your efforts and Cliff’s efforts were pivotal in getting us to this point again thank you.”

july betty

Nelson’s official birthday is until July 11, 2024.

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Nelson’s generous contributions to the museum have allowed MOWA to celebrate the incredible achievements of Wisconsin artists and provide an accessible, one-of-a-kind experience for visitors.

Donors like Nelson keep MOWA an affordable, high-quality experience that attracts more than 200,000 visitors a year to the West Bend Mothership and its satellite locations throughout the state.

Nelson has been a staple of the West Bend community for a considerable portion of her 100 years. She grew up in a home on the hill, currently occupied by McLane Elementary School.

Betty Nelson home in West Bend

She spent a lot of time outdoors with her family.

Betty Nelson in the snow with her family

Nelson’s gifts to the museum and the community of West Bend continue through the United Way’s Cliff and Betty Nelson Leadership Awards, her many contributions to local nonprofits, and her countless philanthropic efforts.

The award is named in honor of the late Cliff Nelson and his wife Betty, who are known for their outstanding volunteer efforts on behalf of human service, civic, and arts organizations.

For more information, visit wisconsinart.org

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  1. Sorry to hear about the passing of Betty. I first met Betty when I joined the West Bend Womans Club Back in the early ’70’s. She was a large part of the club and I was on many commities with her along with being an officer in the club.
    Happy to see she made it to her 100th birthday.
    My mother will be 100 on March 23rd.
    Thank you Betty for all you have done for the city of West Bend.

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