Donna Nelson is an icon of contribution and leadership for not only businesswomen, but also anyone looking to succeed in life. Having been working in business for over fifty years, Donna’s drive and vision have helped make the Cedar Valley what it is today. Beyond her business and community successes, Donna also finds time to be a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
Though Donna’s family moved to Waterloo in the 1950s for her father’s business, she would soon realize the Cedar Valley would provide the beginnings to her successful business career as well. After graduating from East High in 1951, Donna immediately began working for her family. Shortly thereafter, in 1953, she married Vern Nelson, the boy next door. One wonders if Vern knew what an extraordinary woman he was marrying. The two worked together for 10 years at Warren Transport before opening their own business, Nelson Insurance, and starting their family. With Donna and Vern at the helm, their agency grew quickly. Donna did take some time off work when their first child, Vern Junior, arrived in 1960. When their two daughters, Lisa and Elizabeth, rounded out the Nelson’s family of five, Donna stayed at home until the kids went to school.
In 1969, Donna discovered her passion for renovating and preserving historic downtown Waterloo. Taking on the ideal that the downtown is the heart of the city, Donna was determined to keep Waterloo’s heart as strong as possible. One of her most significant business accomplishments was the renovation of the River Plaza building.
Donna’s commitment to the community doesn’t go unnoticed, as she has been received several awards such as the Citizen of the Year by the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, the Philanthropy Award for Fund Raiser of the Year, the Ambassador of the Year Award, the Main Street-Preservation Award and the 5 Star Company Award by the City of Waterloo. In addition to these accomplishments, Donna has also been notable recognized as an outstanding role model for women in business. Donna was one of several pioneering women to become an ambassador for the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, to be invited to Rotary and to be one of the first female insurance agents in the United States. Her involvement with Covenant Medical Center, Cedar Valley Economic Development now the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and the Waterloo Redevelopment Committee, among others, demonstrate Donna’s commitment to ensuring the Cedar Valley continues to have a strong heart. The impact Donna has had on the over 100 organizations and boards she has been involved with is remarkable. With everything she contributes to and is involved in, Donna demonstrates her heart’s true passion and vision.
Donna’s decision to dedicate her efforts to the good of our community stem from her secret to success: “Anything you do, do with love, if you can’t do that, don’t do it. And live by the Golden Rule, if you want a happy and fulfilling life.”