Dec. 26–WANAMINGO — Darrell Nesseth doesn’t look anything like Santa Claus.
He’s trim, clean shaven and doesn’t own a flashy red suit. But make no mistake, Nesseth is a Santa of sorts.
Every December for the past 10 years, Nesseth has volunteered to deliver clothes and toys to help needy families in Donna, Texas. Rather than a sleigh, the Wanamingo Township man relies on his 18-wheeler to get the job done. A Red Wing nonprofit — Connecting Connections — gathers donations for the annual Texas delivery. The group’s director, Patti Riebold, said that if it weren’t for Nesseth’s willingness to donate his truck and time to the cause, the group wouldn’t be able to get the socks, cribs, dishes and dolls to low-income families.
“It’s invaluable,” Riebold said. “He’s never missed a year. I don’t know if I would ever be able to find anyone else who would do this.”
But Nesseth’s delivery streak almost came to an end. On Aug. 5, 2016, the trucker had a heart attack and was airlifted to the hospital. His heart stopped for 5 minutes. Emergency responders who treated him later visited him at the hospital and confided they were worried he wouldn’t make it.
“They couldn’t believe I was still alive,” Nesseth said.
Now 81-years-old, Nesseth still works full time as a trucker. He got his first trucking job in 1957 working for Goodhue County Lime Co. for $1 an hour. He did other jobs for awhile — working at a meatpacking plant and as a carpenter while farming on the side. In 1987, he decided to do trucking full time.
“It’s kind of fun to go through the country. I think I’ve hauled in and out of every state except six of them in the northwest corner through the years,” he said.
So how did these yearly trips begin? It all started with the Rev. Gene Hasselquist, a former longtime pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Red Wing. Hasselquist moved to Donna, Texas, in 1988. He started volunteering at a local elementary school and saw tremendous need. The town of less than 17,000 sits along the border with Mexico. Many families in the area live at or below the poverty level.
“They closed the school one day last year when it was 40 degrees because the kids didn’t have warm enough clothes to wear for the school bus,” he said.
At first, Hasselquist began taking loads of donations down in a rented truck. He later bought a trailer to transport supplies. But when the level of need became clear, Hasselquist approached Riebold at Connecting Connections to see if it would be possible to load a tractor-trailer with donations.
Eventually, Riebold was given Nesseth’s name. She didn’t know him but decided to call and ask if he’d be willing to haul the goods to Texas.
“I didn’t have to talk him into it or anything. He just said, ‘Yeah,'” Riebold said.
So why did Nesseth agree to make the 1,495-mile trip for the charity? The answer is simple.
“(Patti) asked me to,” he said.
Nesseth is a quiet man, and he certainly does not like being in the limelight. His wife of 60 years — LaVerne — knows that. But she secretly called the Post Bulletin anyway to share Nesseth’s story of volunteering. What does she think about her husband’s Christmas deliveries?
“I think it’s great. I really do,” she said.
It’s all the more meaningful following last year’s health scare.
“We’re lucky to have him. I loved him anyway — now even more because he’s here,” she said.
Others interviewed agree that Nesseth deserves attention for all that he has done to make sure the donations keep flowing to Donna, Texas.
“He’s just a top-notch guy,” Hasselquist said. “He’s got a heart of gold.”
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