Carla Nelson retires from All Saints Preschool after 15 years
By Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers
After 15 years of work for All Saints Lutheran Church, preschool director Carla Nelson is reminiscing on the joy of teaching, and how much she’ll miss the lively, bright presence of the many youngsters she’s guided through early childhood programs.
“It keeps you young,” she said with a laugh.
The preschool and early childhood classes at All Saints Lutheran have been in existence nearly as long as the church itself, established about 50 years ago and serving about 150 students a year in Minnetonka and Hopkins.
“The church has had a big connection with early childhood since the beginning, partnering with school districts and with families,” Nelson said. “Thousands of childhood have been through these classrooms.”
Nelson has been at the helm for the past 15 of those years, and began as a teacher with the program in 1997.
Although she was raised in a family of educators, Nelson came to teaching as a second career. Originally a major in sociology and criminal justice at Gustavus Adolphus, her first job was for the human resources department at Pillsbury. After she had children of her own, and took time away from the business world, Nelson realized she wanted more from her work.
“It was one of those things I had always wanted to do, but kind of put on hold,” she said.
Nelson went back to school to study early childhood education, after an overwhelmingly positive experience with her own children in preschool, particularly at All Saints.
“I started as a parent in the program. It felt comfortable, and I could tell they were doing great work with the kids. That was just where I wanted to be,” she said.
This age group in particular brings out a strong and evident enthusiasm in Nelson, as she describes the children’s natural love of learning and the energy they bring to the classroom.
“This age group is so eager to be here and so excited about every piece of the world. They love their teachers,” Nelson said.
She describes her work as director as a combination of teaching experience and business prowess.
“It really allows me to use everything I know. It was a challenge that seemed really daunting when I started but has been very rewarding,” she said. “Now, my job as director has been more about supporting parents, building those relationships and creating trust in the education system.”
Nelson said throughout her career, the need for early childhood programs has only grown, as more parents work full-time and can benefit from support beyond the traditional 9 a.m.-noon preschool schedule.
“Early childhood as a whole is getting a lot more respect and people are really valuing just how much these little guys can learn. It’s wonderful,” she said.
The work itself, despite shifts in technology and politics, remains much the same.
“In a lot of ways, children themselves haven’t changed that much — they still learn through play, and learn best when they’re engaged and surrounded by people who care about them,” Nelson said.
While early childhood programs are becoming more popular, Nelson added that the faith-based program at All Saints creates a uniquely personal and community space.
“We’re free to care deeply for other people in this environment. It’s not just a school — it’s a deep sense of family,” she said.
The sense of community at All Saints, which includes about 20 staff members who work as a team to create the best possible experience for children and their families.
“I want to give a shout-out to all the teachers, because you never doing any of this on your own,” Nelson said. “I attribute the success here to amazing teaching and lovely families. It’s really about doing things together.”
Katie Avenson, current assistant director and longtime member of the steering committee, will step up to the role of director, but said she can’t hope to replicate Nelson’s work.
“My own children have been through the program and I’ve been involved with this for more than five years,” Avenson said. “She brings the highest standards I’ve seen in the preschool circuit. She’s maintained a high-caliber program that has really impacted the community at large. People often come in because they’ve heard from participants how great it is.”
She added that Nelson has brought unmatched a sense of dignity, pride and professionalism to the program and staff members.
“It’s a fantastic privilege and an honor to be able to take her vision of the past 15 years and see it through,” Avenson said. “She is very special to us and has maintained such a stellar preschool program for so many years. She will be missed for sure.”
The feeling is decidedly mutual: Nelson was clearly emotional at the thought of her upcoming retirement.
“I’m going to miss all the relationships; with parents, with students and with staff,” Nelson said. “Teaching children has been a privilege and a blessing.”
Though she’ll be sad to leave the office, Nelson will certainly continue to be a presence at All Saints, and in the neighborhood. She looks forward to spending more time participating in the local book club, as well as taking more time with her family and more trips to the lake cabin with her husband Rick.
“It’s been great and I’ve loved coming to work every day,” Nelson said. “Now I’m excited to start exploring other possibilities, moving on to the next challenge and looking at life through a different lens.”
Community members are invited to join in a retirement celebration for Nelson 4-6 p.m., Wednesday, June 14 at Boulder Creek Park in Minnetonka. Families are also welcomed to share memories of Nelson by submitting letters to [email protected]
Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]