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Mark Sylstad on Leadership: Kelly Nelson and the Wounded Warriors


Recently, Bank Forward hosted a leadership event at Camp Fish in Walker, Minnesota. Kelly Nelson, of the Walker American Legion, was one of our guest speakers. Nelson, along with Hiawatha Beach Resort owner Larry Jacobson, worked with the Wounded Warriors Project and area businesses, like Bank Forward, to raise money and organize the largest event the WWP has hosted yet.  Mark Sylstad, Bank Forward Walker Market President, shares with us a little about Nelson’s story. 




Kelly’s talk at Camp Fish was simply inspiring. One story he told was about his sons’ first Thanksgiving in the US after returning from military deployment.  A conversation with a college student revealed how oblivious many of us are to the realities experienced by our veterans.  As the student went on about how stressful his freshman year was for him, Kelly felt for his sons, who sat silently and listened. It’s clear from this student’s lack of awareness that there is a real need for consciousness-raising around what our veterans experience overseas.  


The reason I had asked Kelly to come speak to the group was because I felt that his approach to helping our veterans, through the Wounded Warriors, mirrors the mission of the Forward Foundation – to not just cover small things but to make a substantial impact, wiping out all costs. Kelly’s approach with the veterans is similar. There are several groups that will give the vets tickets to a destination or a free stay somewhere but to my knowledge there is not another group that takes care of everything. Gas money was provided, meals, fishing gear, guided tours and of course, their stay was free.


The two weeks before opening fishing season in Minnesota is a pretty quiet time for area resorts. This year, the owners of the Hiawatha Beach Resort, Larry, Sue Jacobson and their sons, decided to use this time to give back. Minnesota veterans of war were invited up to the resort for 3-day weekend. But it’s hard for many people to get away and free lodging wouldn’t have been enough to allow them to afford the getaway. So, the Walker American Legion Post 134 and Walker VFW decided to help out, raising money for food, gas, fishing gear, guided fishing tours, and whatever else the group needed. (And this was all planned in a span of roughly 3 weeks!)


This wasn’t only good for the veterans and their families, but our community as well. The event brought life to an otherwise sleepy time in Walker. And Kelly was instrumental in organizing all of this. With three brothers and two sons who served in the military, and a veteran and Lieutenant Colonel himself, it’s easy to see why this cause is so close to his heart.  I feel the vets often get overlooked so whenever there is a chance to shine some light on what they’ve done and show them that we care, it is important. It is just a great cause – great for the community, great for the vets.  It’s pretty hard not to support that.


Roughly 150 people benefited. Many of the vets were amputees or suffering from PTSD and this was a nice way to say thank you to them for all they have done to serve our country. Next year, we’d like to do this all again and hopefully, with raised awareness, we’ll be able to make an even bigger impact.


If any business, service organization or community member wants to help in honoring our veterans, feel free to contact me or Kelly at (218) 547-2222 or Larry Jacobson at (218) 547-1510.


Mark Sylstad 
Market President
Bank Forward Walker


The Wounded Warrior Project serves veterans and service members who incurred a physical or mental injury, illness or wound coincident to their military service on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and their families. On that date, America watched in horror as approximately 3,000 people died, including hundreds of firefighters and rescue workers. Many warriors note a sense of duty to volunteer for the military following these tragic events.


The mission of the Wounded Warriors Project is to raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members; to help injured service members aid and assist each other; and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members.


For more information on the event, visit the Walker Pilot Independent website.

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Guest Tuesday May 24, 2016