Hillsboro won’t be the same without Neil Nelson

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Posted: Friday, April 26, 2019 6:00 am

Longtime Banner editor and reporter Neil O. Nelson announced in the newspaper two weeks ago that he’s leaving the community and moving to Harvey, N.D.

The veteran journalist and his wife, Barb, are headed west to live closer to their children and grandchildren.

No one can blame a guy for wanting to see his grandkids grow up.

But Hillsboro’s not going to be the same without Neil.

I didn’t know a great deal about Neil before moving to town in 2011, a year before we bought the newspaper from its previous owners.

But I knew enough about his tenure at the Banner and work history that we planned to bring him on board long before the ink dried on our purchase of the paper.

Neil’s a local boy. He grew up here. That photo of the lady-killer with the jet-black hair and twinkle in his eye in the 1963 Hillsboro High School yearbook? That’s him.

Neil got his start in journalism at the Banner.

He worked in the newspaper’s back shop in high school in 1962. Later, he ran the paper’s printing press and covered Hillsboro Burros sports for editor Gene Carr.

After returning from the U.S. Navy and a stint aboard the USS Ranger in Vietnam, Neil worked at papers all across North Dakota.

In the past 56 years, he’s worked in Langdon, Rolla, Grafton, New Town, Watford City, Garrison, Hettinger and Finley.

As we hammered out the details of buying the newspaper in 2012, we decided we wanted someone at the paper who knew his way around town.

We found that in Neil.

Less than a week before buying the paper, Neil invited fellow publisher Cory Erickson and me to tag along with him as he introduced us to Hillsboro’s downtown merchants.

We figured the introductions would resemble a series of church handshakes.

Instead, Neil created an atmosphere more akin to a traveling circus.

“Here ye, here ye. Gather round and meet the new owners of the Hillsboro Banner!” Neil boomed as we walked into Dakota Heritage Bank along Caledonia Avenue.

Neil can be a charmer. And the man has style. So we went with it.

In a bit of never-before-shared history, our financing to buy the paper almost fell through a couple days later.

That would have been fun, walking around town explaining that we are actually not the new owners of the paper. But in the end things worked out.

I’m not sure if Neil knew what sort of news guy he was working with at that point.

I do crazy things. I forced Cory to participate in high school football practice.

I kept sealed jugs of water in our work fridge for months for a story where I asked readers to blind taste-test the water from the city’s new treatment plant.

But Neil rolled with his crazy owner and went about his work. And believe me, he’s a hard worker. In those early days, he stayed until 1 or 2 a.m. tweaking copy and laying out pages.

Until a trip to spring training this year, I can’t remember him ever taking a vacation.

He’s been a tireless worker who loved Hillsboro and the people here. And even though he’s moving, I’m pretty sure he still does.

Before anyone starts getting too misty, Neil isn’t going away entirely. He plans on writing columns on a semi-regular basis for the Banner.

So readers will continue to find him on our opinion pages for the foreseeable future.

We’re thankful he’s still looking out for his hometown – and its local paper.

Hillsboro shouldn’t expect any less from one of its hometown heroes.

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