This Thursday, Sept. 29, there will be a formal naming of the “Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center,” the $33 million future expansion of the Equidome at WestWorld. City staff will present a preview of the project. Complimentary lunch will be provided by the Scottsdale Classic Futurity & Quarter Horse Show which opens that day. The event starts at 11 a.m. and is open to the public.
Councilman Nelssen died in 2010 after a bout with cancer. He left his mother, his sister, three brothers, his wife, Marg, who would serve the remainder of his term on City Council, daughter Hannah, and son Ian. He also left his mark on Scottsdale by virtue of what you don’t see here: Tall, dense development sprawling out into the desert.
There aren’t too many people whose mere presence said, “Scottsdale,” more than Tony Nelssen. It is fitting tribute that Scottsdale’s finest public equestrian facility will soon be under construction, and will bear his name.
Tony was a giant of a man. However, he was also a quiet man who thought before he spoke, and his words carried the strength of his broad experience. His quiet, unassuming manner would lead a casual observer to not think about how big he was…until standing next to him or shaking his huge and firm-but-gentle hand.
He was an artist and a hunter, a photographer and an educator, a student of the land and a teacher to the rest of us, a horseman and a muleskinner. He and his family lived out in the desert, where you have to wear many hats in order to get by.
Quick to help without being asked and slow to ask for help himself, Tony was neighborly to strangers and fiercely loyal to friends. His knowledge of history (of Scottsdale and of the Southwest) served the city well as it grew northward to encompass the Nelssen family’s rural home. The images he captured with his camera documented the beauty of the Sonoran Desert and why he loved and protected it. Those images allowed him to share that beauty with others who could not see it.
The title of “public servant” fit Tony like few others. He knew the definition by heart and he knew it didn’t include, “What’s in it for me?” It was just something that needed doing. Few others have done it as well.
Tony’s life of public service ultimately landed him on the Scottsdale City Council. Few people remember that it took him two tries to get elected…when he finally did he was such an integral part of City Hall that it seemed like he’d been there forever.
As a councilman, Tony was perhaps the strongest and most credible advocate the Sonoran Desert ever had. Even while facing his own mortality Tony was concerned about who would carry on the work when he was gone.
Tony’s wife, Marg, took up the reins. Unfortunately, there were some folks who were glad Tony was gone. He had been a formidable opponent when they tried to impose their vision of Scottsdale on folks who didn’t share it. They worked pretty hard to keep Marg from filling his seat on the City Council.
The forces of good prevailed, however, and Marg was appointed to serve the remainder of Tony’s term. She proved herself to be Tony’s torchbearer beyond any doubt, and she stamped her own style on the City Council in continuing the work they’d done together since the day they met.
Time passes and the memories fade. Events like this naming ceremony serve to refresh those reflections and to remind us of the legacy left to us by our friend Tony and his friends and allies.
Tony’s battle for awareness and protection of the desert and Scottsdale’s rural character can never be won. However, it can easily be lost if we don’t remain vigilant.
If Tony were here, he would probably be a little sheepish about having a facility like this named after him. But he’d also be amused and gratified that those who seek to profit by the demise of the things he fought to protect will be reminded of him every time they scuttle under the sign that says, “Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center.”