Bentley Arrowsmith Nelson, M.D., one of the great members of the Greatest Generation, died peacefully on March 25, 2011, at the Sweetlife at Rosehill in Shawnee. Ben was born in Kansas City on August 20th, 1922 to M. Claude and Mildred (Arrowsmith) Nelson. He graduated from Westport High School in 1939. He attended college at Kansas City Junior College, the University of Kansas, and Yale University. He stayed out a year and worked at Hall Brothers to help provide his college expenses. His medical degree was from the University of Kansas School of Medicine.
Ben’s ability to make quick decisions under pressure was evident at age 10, when he climbed over the front seat of the family car to control it as it rolled down a steep hill with his younger sister in the back seat. His love of the outdoors was kindled by fishing trips with his uncles to the newly created Lake of the Ozarks. He thought fishing combined with sleeping in the car and eating beans from a can was about as fine an experience as a young boy could have. He shared that love of hunting and fishing with his sons and many friends over the years. He was a charter member of the Fin and Feather Club in Paola, and he and his son and friends took biannual trips to Stockton Lake for 25 years.
Ben also loved to play golf. He taught himself how to play by studying a book that had detailed pictures of the swing. He maintained a single digit handicap for most of his life and had several holes-in-one. He was a former member of the Indian Hills Country Club and the Mission Hills Country Club. A favorite story he told on himself was about the time he bought this first set of clubs at a sporting goods store. He played with them for several years until he noticed he wasn’t hitting the ball as far as his friends were. When he asked the local pro for some tips, the pro told him that switching to men’s golf clubs might help. Thereafter, he was considered one of the long ball hitters in his age group.
Ben also knew his way around a deck of cards. His father was a contract bridge player and Ben picked up the game early. He would compete as a young teenager in bridge tournaments often with great success. That early process led to a gin rummy game that almost single handedly re-reimbursed him for his son’s college tuition. (His son being the major contributor to that fund.) His competitive nature was revealed once when he presented a bill to the wife of an associate who had been playing cards with him on the train on the way to a medical convention. Unfortunately, his opponent was under the impression they were playing for fun.
Ben’s military career started in high school where he rose through the ranks of the local ROTC. During his senior year at Westport, he was a Cadet Colonel and was the ranking student officer of all KC High School students. His rifle team won the city championship and he was awarded an “Expert Marksman” medal. His college years were affected by his father dying when he was 21 years old, and by the war. He was a proud member of the Delta Upsilon Fraternity at KU and was pleased to be able to make a significant contribution to its remodeling program several years ago.
Ben was in the Army in WWII and had just completed medical school when a leave was canceled and he was told he was going to Korea. He was a Navy doctor with the 1st Marine Division. He landed at the port of Pusan in July of 1950, and was a medic at the front lines of the fight for 9 months. He often said they told him they wanted him up front so they could protect him better. After the war, he was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina where he completed his residency in Ear, Nose, and Throat Surgery. As part of his service there, he was appointed to be a juror of a trial involving a marine sergeant who led several recruits through a night march in a swamp, and several of them died. The trial made national news and the proceedings were documented in Time Magazine. He left the Navy in 1957 with a rank of Lt. Cdr.
Ben then moved his family back home to Kansas City, where he joined what was then the Knight, Altringer, and Bunting Clinic. He practiced in that group – that later became the Old Westport Medical Association – for 30 years. He was a well-respected ENT in his time, and he prided himself on his steady hand. One of his partners brought back from Europe the first operating microscope in the area, and Ben was one of the first surgeons to become accomplished using that instrument in delicate surgeries of the head and neck. Ben also volunteered once a month for many years at the Crippled Children’s Center.
Once he retired from practice, he immediately bought a Jeep and a bass boat. He enjoyed his family, his friends, and his many hobbies. Ben was an avid reader, and up until 6 weeks before his death, he was able to get all of the crossword puzzle correct every day. He had the art of joke telling down to a science and he could recall several hundred jokes at any given time.
Ben’s professional associations included being a member of DU and also Nu Sigma Nu Medical fraternity. He was a past president of the Kansas City Society of Opthalmology and Otolaryngology. He was a diplomat of the American Board of Otolaryngology and he also served on the board of the Jackson County Medical Society. He wrote several professional articles in his field and was on the Editorial Board of the Missouri Medical Journal.
Ben was preceded in death by his parents; his first wife, Constance Drake Nelson; a son, Robert Drake Nelson; and a sister, Roberta Nelson Sayler. He is survived by his wife of 38 years, Eleanor Allen Nelson; a sister, Charlotte Nelson Goland; a son, Bryan C. Nelson, M.D. (Karen); and a step-son, John Allen Glenn; and a step-daughter, Candace Osborn. His is also survived by 5 nieces and nephews, 4 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren.
Ben was a good and honorable man. He fought on the front lines for his country and was a kind and experienced surgeon. He paid his bills and loved and provided for his family. He was a good friend to many and could laugh at himself. He loved animals and was gentle with children. He believed in God, and his country, and the right to bear arms. He was a great member of the Greatest Generation.
The family would like to thank the Sweet life at Rosehill for providing Dad a soft place to land when he had to leave his home for health reasons. We would also like to thank Crossroads Hospice for gentle and dignified care at the end of his life:
“May the blessings of God be upon you,
May His Peace abide in you
May His spirit illuminate your heart
Now and forever more.”
The family requests no flowers. Ben did not want a service and wished to be cremated. If you would want to make a contribution in Ben’s name, he would want to help the animals at Animal Haven in Shawnee, KS.
(Arrangements: Signature Funerals, 913-526-4317)