Joseph E. Nelson Jr.



Joseph E. Nelson, Jr., 85, passed away peacefully on July 29, 2022, surrounded by his loving wife and sons. Joe was born and grew up in Muskegon. He served in the Army and played with the Fifth Army Band for 3 years, playing clarinet and flute and singing on WGN radio. He attended Central Michigan University, where he met his wife, June, graduating with honors with a bachelor’s degree in music education. He lived and raised his family in Kentwood. Joe worked at Christian Music Center, later renamed Meyer Music, for 35 years as a salesman and manager, providing instruments to schools and helping students choose which instrument to play.

Joe’s love of music guided many of his activities. He played clarinet in the Grand Rapids Symphony and Grand Rapids Civic Theater. After retiring, he founded a woodwind quintet with Dave McCoy and other musician friends, including June on oboe. Joe was an avid runner and often ran in the local River Bank Run. His love of nature led him to become a Master Gardener through Michigan State University, where he volunteered on the gardener “hotline”. He enjoyed gardening in his own yard and watching and identifying the birds that visited. He loved the Southwest and cherished his hikes in the Grand Canyon with family. He enjoyed photography, and many of his beautiful photos adorn the walls of the family home. His love of crossword puzzles was well known.

Joe was a generous person and especially liked to help his kids and grandkids, whom he loved very deeply. He and June are long-term supporters of Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. He was known as an affable jokester. He loved life and cherished his family and friends.

Joe was preceded in death by his father and mother, Joseph and Gladys (Gustafson) Nelson, and his sisters, Karan Nelson and Sheila Seppamaki. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, June (Fonger) Nelson; his sons, Erik and Chris Nelson; and his grandkids, Leo, Eleanor, and Carolyn Nelson and Jesse and Rosalie Chi.

Memorial contributions in Joe’s name may be made to Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, Faith Hospice/Trillium Woods, or your local hospice organization. If you would like to leave a message for the family or share memories of Joe, please visit the Obituaries section of, or on

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7 Responses

  1. Met Joe and June a number of years ago thru my wife Cindi, also a Master Gardener. You could tell from the get go that they were a beautiful and kind couple. Would chuckle to myself often times when Joe would call my wife and they would discuss various plants and flowers in his beautiful and peaceful garden at his home. He had a great quality, a beautiful quality and one was better for knowing and working with him. Now God has a Master Gardener to take care of his Eden.

  2. I am deeply saddened by Joe’s passing.
    Although I never met him in person, I feel that I knew Joe thru many stories about him told me by June and Erik. And his musical talent has certainly passed on to my grandchildren Jesse and Rosalie.
    My heartfelt condolences to Joe’s entire family.
    Emile Chi

  3. Mrs. Nelson was my oboe teacher and Mr. Nelson was my reed supplier. I have so many wonderful memories of high school music thanks to both of them. I also remember working in the deli at the old D&W at 52nd and Eastern…Mr. Nelson would walk in the mornings and often be the first customer of the day. He always had a smile on his face. My heart goes out to Mrs. Nelson, Erik, Chris, and their families during this sad time.

  4. I am saddened to hear of Joe’s passing.
    June and I were fellow oboists performing many times together.
    so many fun memories of driving down to the Civic Theater together with Adolph to play in the pit orchestra for many musicals that were performed there.
    Joe helped me and my oboe students many times over the years that he worked at Christian Music Center.
    Joe and June both were/are such kind, caring people, and I always enjoyed my times with then.
    i remember his beautiful gardens at their Kentwood house.
    the world has lost a wonderful human being, and my prayers and thoughts go out to June and the family.

  5. My sincere sympathy to your family. It is hard to lose someone who is so loved and who loved so generously. May the many happy memories you have bring you joy in the future days.

  6. June and family:
    We are so deeply sorry for your loss. We’ll keep you all in our prayers.

  7. I worked with this wonderful, pleasant, witty man at the Master Gardener Hotline for a few years. He was intensely dedicated to the project and always brought his own collection of garden reference books. One time he invited me over to give me some hostas he was going to dig up. I brought them home and didn’t know the name of them. So today they’re labeled “Joe’s Hosta” in my garden. So many fond memories. I’m saddened that he has left us. Condolences to his wife and family. Sharon Globig

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