Ida Mae Nelson turns 100

Ida Mae Nelson turns 100
March 15
09:39 2018

Winston-Salem mayor declares today Ida Nelson Day

By Raeford Wilkins

Ida Mae Nelson was born on March 15, 1918, in Winston-Salem, N.C.  to Hilton Wilkins and Emma Hardy.  Ida’s mother had a high school education, but her father did not have any formal education.  Ida’s mother taught her husband how to read and comprehend important documents. 

Ida started her education at Woodland Avenue Grade School, which went from the first grade to the fourth grade.  Ida was home schooled by her mother, and she was allowed to skip the first grade and started school in the second grade at Woodland Avenue Grade School. 

Ida later attended Fourteenth Street Elementary School in Winston-Salem.  She went from the fourth through the seventh grade and then she attended Atkins High School.  At Atkins High School, she went from the eighth to the 11th grade.  At that time, students graduated from high school in the 11th grade.  This was the first graduating class from Atkins High School in 1934.  After high school, Ida attended Winston-Salem Teachers College (now Winston-Salem State University), pursued and completed her degree in Elementary Education in 1938. 

While attending Teachers College in 1937, she lost her mother on Dec.8, 1937.  She went to live with her Uncle Horace and Aunt Maggie in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to deal with her grief.  Ida later returned to Winston-Salem and graduated from Teachers College.   

In 1942, Ida married Moses Slade, but they were divorced in 1948.  She later married Paul Nelson in 1949.  Ida never did have any children.  She had a brother that was born in 1917 but he only lived one day.  After finishing Teachers College, she applied for a job with the federal government at the Nissan Building in Winston-Salem.  The job with the federal government paid a lot more than the teaching job would have.  The particular job required the applicants to take a placement examination.  Ida took the examination, passed it, and scored the third highest score in the country. 

This job gave her the opportunity to earn and receive a special clearance to do her job with the federal government.  The special clearance allowed Ida the opportunity to work in the cities of Detroit, Michigan, Los Angeles, California, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The engineers whom Ida worked with were very impressed with the fact that Ida could answer questions without having to look up the answer in the company’s manual.  Ida worked for the federal government nearly 30 years. 

After retiring from the federal government, Ida started teaching at District 6 George Thomas Elementary School in the Philadelphia Public School System.  She loved teaching, but didn’t like the principal at her school and was going to resign from that school.  But the school superintendent of the school system had observed her teaching techniques and offered her a job as a reading specialist.  Ida was allowed to teach as a reading specialist while she got the required master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State University) necessary to remain on that job. 

Ida also taught as a substitute teacher in Detroit, Michigan.  Ida said she loved helping students with their reading “because it was so rewarding to see the accomplishments that they made.”  Ida taught for 12 years but when the school system decided to close the school that she was teaching at, she decided to retire.    

After retiring from teaching Ida begin to travel again.  She had been traveling since she was 12 years old.  Her parents used to put her on the train, attach a card to her sweater with her name and destination on it, and inform the attendant on the train where she was going and who would meet her there.  Ida would drive from South Carolina, North Carolina, Michigan, and California to visit her friends and family members on regular occasions.  Sometimes she would just show up at her friends or family homes and stay two to three weeks at a time.  Los Angeles, California, was her favorite city to visit because she loved living there. 

In Los Angeles, there was always something to do or somewhere to go.  Ida loved that type of atmosphere.  She never wanted to travel outside the country but found out that she had inadvertently gone outside the country.  While being interviewed for a job with the government, she found out that traveling to Windsor, Canada, and Tijuana, Mexico, that she had technically traveled outside the country.

Ida has travel almost everywhere in this country except for the Northeast (north of Philadelphia).  Ida has lived a rich and full life.  She still has a sharp memory, ability to walk freely, and lives independently on her own.  She has seen a lot of history during her life time, traveled a lot, and continues to inspire people through her interactions with people and by just being nice to everyone.


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