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Andi Murphy, Published July 20 2010

Memorial track project off and running

Family and those who knew Staff Sgt. Andrew P. Nelson helped break ground on a public track and field project on Monday to honor the soldier who died nearly three years ago.

“It’s just going to be wonderful to watch the process of it,” said Suzanne Nelson of Moorhead, Andrew Nelson’s mother.

The SSG Andrew P. Nelson Memorial Track, dedicated to Nelson and all others who served in the military, is at Moorhead’s Townsite Park, 311 10th St. S.

It will be 475 feet long and 15 feet wide with an inside grassy space for soccer and kickball. There will also be a long jump launch area, a half-court basketball court, two four-square courts and several benches.

About 60 people gathered on the grassy field under gathering clouds to watch the groundbreaking ceremony. Many spectators wiped away a tear or a drop of rain when a tractor took over the job and began scraping away a layer of grass and black earth.

Suzanne Nelson and three other friends and Nelson family members came up with the idea for a public a track as the best way to honor Andrew Nelson.

Andrew Nelson was active in track, cross country and football at Fargo Shanley High School, where he graduated in 2003. He received an Eagle Scout Award – the Boy Scouts’ highest honor – in 2002.

“From day one, he was something of a leader,” said Ron Schneider, Boy Scout leader and chairman of the Moorhead Park Board.

Schneider described Nelson as a “get-in-and-help-out” kind of guy. He was upbeat, outgoing and always one to take on leadership roles.

“Andrew always enjoyed the outdoors – running in the park with his sister,” said Val Ritland, Nelson’s cousin.

That’s why it was a good idea to create a track to honor Nelson, said Ritland, who called it a place Nelson would have been thrilled to see.

Jessica Clinton, Nelson’s sister, remembers playing kickball and four-square with her brother in the park adjacent to St. Joseph’s Catholic School.

She said she’s happy with the work her mother and others have done to create the track.

The group raised $45,000 to build the track as a gift to the city of Moorhead. The city will maintain it.

An official dedication ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 16. The Andrew P. Nelson Metro Classic cross-country meet will begin at Lindenwood Park on the same day.

Nelson, 22, joined the Army after high school and was in the 82nd Airborne Division. He died in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, on Aug. 29, 2007. He served one tour of duty in Afghanistan and three in Iraq.

Friends of Nelson are still taking donations to cover finishing costs. Ritland can be reached at (701) 388-7242, and Karen Nitzkorski can be reached at (701) 371-9644.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Andi Murphy at (701) 235-7311