George "Battling" Nelson, 1932-2016

Memorial Saturday for internationally noted Nevada labor leader
by Andrew Barbano, CWA 9413/AFL-CIO

SPARKS — A memorial will be held Saturday, July 9, in honor of internationally noted Nevada labor leader George Nelson, 83, who passed away at his Sparks home on June 16. Nelson's "last union meeting" will begin at 11:00 a.m. at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Training Center, 1150 Greg Street in Sparks.

He asked that his remembrance be conducted like a union meeting in honor of his five-decade career with the United Auto Workers Union. He was hired by General Motors in 1964 at the company's assembly plant in Fremont, Calif., where he earned increasing responsibility for worker training. This resulted in his assignment to Japan to prepare for the factory's 1984 conversion to joint operation with Toyota in manufacturing vehicles for both brands. Tesla acquired the facility in 2010.

Nelson stood with UAW President Walter Reuther and United Farm Workers leader César Chávez at the 1969 opening of the UAW's Delano, Calif., headquarters. The UAW funded the construction and helped Chávez's union throughout its early years.

His work resulted in Nelson's induction to the César Chávez Nevada Labor Hall of Fame in 2013. Reuther once assigned Nelson to a trade mission to the former Soviet Union and one week before his death, Nelson was honored with the Walter P. Reuther Distinguished Service Award for his lifetime of achievement.

Nelson was very active in Nevada politics and public affairs both as president of United Auto Workers Retirees and on the 2010 Johnson-Jeffries Fight of the Century Centennial Committee.

Both of Nelson's final wishes concerned Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion. Lifelong boxing enthusiast Nelson worked many years for a posthumous pardon of the unjustly accused Johnson. With Nelson's time short, UAW members and the Reno-Sparks NAACP persuaded the Reno Parks and Recreation Commission on June 7 to move forward on a marker commemorating the Jim Jeffries training camp on Moana Lane. It will complete the triangle of Fight of the Century monuments including the event location at E. 4th and Toano and the Johnson training site at Mayberry at Sherwood.

Nelson served as grand marshal of the 2010 Virginia City Labor Day Parade in a 1957 Chevrolet. That photo and many others along with highlights of his life may be accessed at

George William Nelson III was born in Minneapolis, Minn., on Nov. 23, 1932, and passed away peacefully of acute myeloid leukemia on June 16, 2016.

He is survived by his daughter, Zabett Buzzone and her husband John, of Sparks; step-granddaughters Collette Frawley (Patrick) and Brooklyn Quiroz (Oscar); brother Richard Lee Nelson (Gail); nephews David Lee Nelson (Leeann) and Scott William Nelson, and several great-nieces and nephews. His wife of 39 years, Berylann, predeceased him.

An edited version of the above appeared in the 7-9-2016 Reno Gazette-Journal.

8-17-2018 —> Nelson's Last Hurrah

Latest updates from the Sparks Tribune

IN HIS OWN WORDS: George Nelson with César Chávez and UAW President Walter Reuther at UFW groundbreaking

More memories of Battling Nelson

Family-composed remembrance

George William Nelson, III passed away peacefully at the age of 83 in Sparks, Nevada, on June 16, 2016, of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. A labor activist who stood with the greatest labor leaders of the 20th century, United Auto Workers leader Walter Reuther, and UFW leader Cesar Chavez at the dedication of the United Farm Workers Forty Acres headquarters in Delano, California in 1969.

George was born on November 23, 1932, in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Marion Linnie May and Prizefighter Ralph Lee “Wildcat” Nelson.

Soon after George’s birth, Wildcat moved the family to Campbell, California to raise George on the family’s ranch and to provide him with access to Shriner’s Children’s Hospital. Born with Macrodactyly of the foot, George endured many surgeries as a child to save his foot. George’s early experience fueled his drive to help others struggling with life’s challenges.

He graduated from Campbell High School in 1952, where he was Student Body President, Chapter President of Future Farmers of America, and head Cheerleader.  George attended San Jose City College where he majored in History and Political Science and was a member of the student counsel and Chairman of the Student Body Election Committee. In 1959 he met his soulmate, Berylann Bush, and they married in 1960. In 1964, George started working for General Motor’s (sic) Corporation in Fremont, California, and began his 50-year career as a UAW leader, Labor-Employment Training Specialist, and political legislative advocate.

George’s distinguished record with the UAW provided him appointments as Director of the UAW’s Northern California Job Development and Training Region Six Displaced Workers Program, Coordinator of the UAW CETA Program in San Francisco, Special Consultant of Apprenticeship Standards, and Director of the Northern California UAW Labor Employment & Training Corporation. Additionally, George served as a paid professional campaign manager for numerous political candidates.

When General Motors pursued a joint venture with Toyota Motor Corporation, New United Motors Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI), George, under the direction of the UAW, developed planning guidelines for the initial pilot group of trainees attending a 3-week intensive course in Toyota City, Japan, before the NUMMI plant began operations. George served as Team Leader of the first pilot group, and was hired as NUMMI’s Human Resource/Training Specialist responsible for curriculum development and training of the Toyota Production System to all NUMMI employees.

George never “retired,” as his stellar energy, charismatic personality, and commitment to labor activism kept him busy working with union members and advocating for workers’ rights in Nevada until his last breath. In recent years, he served as Retired Chapter Chairman of UAW Local 2162, Executive Board Member and Chairperson Legislative Committee for the Nevada Alliance for Retired Americans, and participated in community service activities with the National Council of Senior Citizens. George also served on the CitiCare Board of Directors. George was inducted into the Cesar Chavez Nevada Labor Hall of Fame in 2014 [Editor's note: 2013]
, and presented with the Walter Reuther Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

George is survived by his daughter, Zabett Buzzone, her husband John, step-granddaughters: Collette Frawley (Patrick) and Brooklyn Quiroz (Oscar); brother Richard Lee Nelson and wife Gail; nephews: David Lee Nelson (Leeann), and Scott William Nelson, and several great nieces and nephews. His wife of 39 years, Berylann, predeceased him.

Union members, friends and family are invited to gather for George’s last union meeting to celebrate his life on Saturday, July 9 at 11 am at the Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 350 Union Hall located at 1150 Greg Street, Sparks, Nevada.

The Family Remembrance appeared in the 7-12-2016 Sparks Tribune.


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