For Nelson's Marathon, the Season of Giving lasts a Lifetime
We’re recognizing small businesses across the country for the positive impact they make on their local communities throughout the holiday season and all year long.
The story of Nelson’s Marathon and the man behind it is anything but typical. It starts with a teenage Nelson Gum, born and raised in the Fountain
Square neighborhood of Indianapolis. It was there that he attended Emmerich Manual High School and had the good fortune of taking an auto mechanics class with long-time instructor Victor McDowell, better known as Mac, and discovering his passion and knack for fixing things. It was also at this time that he took a part-time job working at the service station just down the road from his school.
The station was equipped with operating work bays for auto repair, and owner Robert Nesmith quickly saw the same talent and potential in Nelson that Mac had seen. Taking him under his wing, Bob and Nelson worked side-by-side for three years until Nelson shipped off to Vietnam where he spent four years doing what he loved, only this time for the U.S. Navy. Stationed near a major military base, Nelson was tasked with keeping the fleet of military vehicles running, and quickly became the guy who could fix anything that needed fixing. When he returned to Fountain Square after completing four years of service, Nelson picked up right where he left off – working alongside Bob.
Nearly 20 years later, Bob suffered a heart attack and could no longer run the station. That’s when Nelson stepped in and bought it. Having already dedicated 20 years of his life to the station, its customers, and the community, Nelson was determined to continue and grow that dedication as the new owner of Nelson’s Marathon.
And that’s exactly what he’s done ever since. Nelson hired employees who had a genuine interest in auto mechanics, and worked with them day in and day out to teach them everything he could. Thankful for the opportunity, his employees – two young women – soaked up every bit of knowledge and experience they could, and after years of working hard at Nelson’s Marathon, have moved onto successful careers at large, national companies in the auto industry.
Helping others has always come naturally to Nelson. From regular food donations to Value Village and the Salvation Army, and supporting the Breast Cancer Society, to annual maintenance of the Pleasant Run Parkway across from the station, and helping with the purchase and building of playground equipment for the charter school next door to the station, Nelson is dedicated to his community. A few years ago, Nelson was recognized with the Helen Fehr award for outstanding community service. Though, he’s never been in it for the recognition. He does it because “that is what we are supposed to do in life.”
Nelson also has a strong commitment to his customers, many whose families have been patronizing the station for generations. In addition to providing quality service every day, he’s also gone above and beyond to make sure his customers have what they need.
“I met a woman in the grocery store who saw my name, and just about cried telling me how good Nelson was to her and her kids during a very rough time, keeping her car running for her at no charge so she could work,” explains Maureen, “Mo,” Nelson’s wife.
It wasn’t unlike Nelson to step up in this way. He’s been known to wave fees for customers in need, and even bought and repaired a car for the daughter of a long-time customer, a single mom of three battling breast cancer.
Just as Nelson has dedicated his time and efforts to his customers and community, he’s put that same dedication into the business; his wife jokes that he works eight days a week. In addition to maintaining the auto repair side of the business, Nelson’s Marathon also offers Penske truck rentals, and even added a convenience store for customers and neighborhood families. At the time, the addition of convenience stores was a growing trend for service stations. The only difference is that most stations dropped the auto repair business to add the convenience store. Even though Nelson was told it would never work to keep the repair shop if he expanded, he did it anyway, and it did work. It was important to him to be able to continue providing repair services at a lower cost and for older vehicles to the neighborhood families who have been his customers for more than 40 or 50 years, and the many new ones who come to Nelson’s Marathon by word-of-mouth.
Nelson has dedicated an impressive 52 years to the Fountain Square community through his work at the station – both as an employee and an owner. Retirement for Nelson and his wife are on the horizon. Nelson has been battling esophageal cancer, likely from his time in Vietnam, since 2009. He’s beaten the odds, living well past the two years the doctors gave him at the time of his diagnosis. And when the time to close the shop arrives, they will go out in style, hosting a closing party at the station for several generations of their customers. There is no doubt they will be missed by the entire Fountain Square Community.
“The station has provided a good living for us, and we are blessed in many, many ways,” says Mo. “It’s all about loving what you do, and doing your best.”
It is clear that Nelson has done just that.