Like father, like daughter: Anna Nelson is the fourth generation of family veterinarians

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

BALDWYN – When she was a pre-schooler, Anna Nelson spent plenty of time in the office.
The office of her grandfather’s veterinary practice, that is.
“I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and grandfather there,” she said of the Nelson Animal Hospital.
The place has been a familiar one for families – and their pets and animals – since the early 1900s.
Farmers and cattlemen, too, have called upon three generations of Nelsons.
Now Anna, who recently graduated from Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is the fourth generation to carry on the family legacy, working with her father, Jamie, at the hospital.
And it’s no big surprise that either Anna or one of her siblings would continue the tradition.
“I guess the first time I thought about being a vet was in second grade,” she said. “I was always here. I worked here as a teenager and on the weekends and every summer.”
Anna is the middle child of Jamie and Holly Nelson. Anna’s older sister, Lauren, is a physical therapist and their brother, Jay, is in college.
Jamie, who got his veterinary degree from MSU in 1994 after giving up a career as a farmer and livestock inspector with the state Department of Agriculture, never pushed any of his kids to follow in his footsteps.
But he figured one of them would.
“I was hoping she (Anna) would,” he said with a grin. “She was always a part of it … and I’m proud to have her here.”

A family tradition
Hanging on the walls of the office are the veterinary diplomas of the Nelson family, dating back nearly a century.
The first belongs to Anna’s great-grandfather, William Oliver “Bill” Nelson, who got his degree in 1917 from Kansas City Veterinary College.
According to a 1994 Daily Journal article, Bill was a popular host of annual Fourth of July barbecues and traveled by horse to make his calls, often spending the night if he rode a long distance.
Bill worked out of his house, then later out of the town’s domino parlor.
His son, James Henry “Jimmy” Nelson earned his degree from Alabama Polytechnic Institute – now Auburn University – in 1953. In those days, the dairy industry in Northeast Mississippi was booming, and among Jimmy’s patients were the milk-producing cows of some 100 dairy farms in the area.
Jamie, his son, didn’t intend to become a veterinarian like his father and grandfather. He was a farmer, happy to work with animals, not necessarily on them. With a degree in agronomy, he also was a livestock inspector.
But with the blood of veterinarians running thick, Jamie couldn’t resist the urge to become one as well.
Unfortunately, his father, Jimmy, didn’t live to see him graduate, dying of heart failure in December 1993.
The Nelson Animal Hospital closed, but only temporarily. Jamie reopened it in July 1994, shortly after he got his degree from MSU.
He still has many tools of the trade his father and grandfather had – and he still uses some of them.
Now with Anna helping, Jamie said there’s less worry.
“I used to get really stressed when I had to leave the office,” he said. “I didn’t know what time I might get back, or if somebody needed me here at the office. Now Anna’s here to help.”

Still learning
Having grown up around veterinarians and all sorts of animals and pets, Anna had practical knowledge and experience to make four years of veterinary school a breeze.
At least, that’s what some people might think. She begs to differ.
“There’s a lot to learn,” she said. “I still learn every single day of my life. It’s something new every day. My dad says he still learns something.”
Veterinary school takes four years – on top of four years of undergraduate education.
“You have to apply, and some don’t get in the first time,” she said. “You have to want to be there. You have to have persistence and a passion for it.”
Once becoming a veterinarian, Anna said the persistence and passion continues.
“You don’t do this to get rich,” she said.
But it is rewarding.
Seeing happy animal and pet owners – not to mention the animals and pet themselves – is a satisfying feeling for any veterinarian.
For Anna, puppies hold a special place in her heart.
“Puppies make the world go around. And kittens and foals.” she said.
And the Nelsons see plenty of them, along with a few cows, goats, sheep and even pigs.
With clients stretching as far away as Iuka and Hamilton, Ala., along with those in and around Baldwyn, the Nelsons don’t have much idle time.
“We’re normally supposed to be closed on Wednesdays because that’s when we schedule our surgeries, but it seems like Wednesdays are one of our busiest days,” Anna said.
Undergoing another renovation – the Nelsons have lost track of how many they’ve done over the years – the animal hospital is the epitome of a family business.
There’s Jamie and Anna, of course. But wife and mother Holly is an all-purpose worker who does a little bit of everything.
“She’s the heart and soul of it all,” said Anna, whose husband, Casey Thornton, also lends a big helping hand.
“People have been really good to us,” said Jamie. “We’ve truly been blessed.”
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com.