Nelson Gardner, well-known in the dairy industry as a leader, friend and adviser, past away this week at age 76. The dairy industry will surely miss this great man.
Gardner died from a severe neck injury sustained while working on his son’s Weyers Cave farm last Thursday. Gardner served on more than a dozen boards of directors and was active on five boards until his death.
Nelson Gardner was born on Sept. 5, 1930, in Lebanon, Pa. His family moved to Virginia when he was 6. At 19, he bought his Dad’s farm, including a dairy herd of 75 Guernsey cows and heifers, according to a statement from the family. He founded Rocby Holsteins, a registered cattle operation, and sold cattle in more than 25 countries.
One of his more notable sales was a herd of 100 cattle to the late John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, less than a year before the former Beatle was murdered outside his New York apartment in December 1980.
He served on the boards of the National Milk Producers Federation and the Dairy Farmers of America. Gardner was president and chairman of the Valley of Virginia Milk Producers, or Shenandoah’s Pride, for three decades.
Gardner was a “tremendous philanthropist” whose name shows up at a lot of charities. He headed the building committee at Bridgewater Church of the Brethren, which opened in 1998. As chairman of Virginia Tech’s advisory board, Gardner helped raise $9 million for the Dairy Science Department. Since 1991, Gardner had served on several boards at Bridgewater Retirement Community.
Earlier this year, he agreed to chair of the Memory Support House capital campaign, which raises money for an Alzheimer’s and dementia wing being planned, said Bridgewater Retirement Community President Paul Hoyt.
Gardner was a note writer, according to his son, Larry Gardner.
“He would pull out a notepad, write something to someone, stick it in an envelope and send it to them,” Larry Gardner said. “That’s why there is such an outpouring now.”