Sky Scene 06

Verlan R Nielsen

February 17, 1936 ~ March 10, 2022 (age 86)


If Verlan Nielsen were to recap his 86 years on earth, he would almost certainly start with a joke. It might be something about finishing what he started as a mortician’s apprentice in the 1950s, or a crack about keeping his mother’s card games honest in heaven.

Whatever he said, it would make you smile — because that’s what he loved to do. Whether he was organizing a Lions Club fundraiser, telling one of his legendary stories, adding an extra zero to a server’s tip, or even explaining an insurance policy, he spent a lifetime making people smile.

When he exited this world on March 10, 2022, he left behind the imprint of a joyful presence and generous heart that will continue to bring a smile to those who knew him.

Verlan was born February 17, 1936, in Salt Lake City, to Willard Nielsen and Genevieve Rasmussen. Most of his childhood was spent in a one-bedroom house at 656 Hollywood Ave., where he and his four siblings slept in the front room. His youthful antics — like the time he and his friends purportedly tied their teacher’s shoelaces together then shouted “Fire! — would become the stuff of family legend.

When in 1947 his father was diagnosed with pneumoconiosis, or “miner’s lung” — a workplace hazard from which he never recovered — Verlan was sent to live for a year with his grandparents in a log cabin in Bennett, Utah. 

From the time he was in third grade, Verlan juggled a variety of jobs to help the family get by. He scrubbed dog kennels, ran dry cleaning equipment, and scooped ice cream. When a summer stint selling magazines in Minneapolis didn’t pan out, a teenage Verlan hitchhiked cross-country to Yellowstone National Park to wash dishes at the Fishing Bridge Cafe. He spent another summer as a lifeguard in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Had he not been a year behind in school and had he not decided to make a rare appearance in his homeroom class at South High School, he may never have met the impeccable Barbara Bassett, his wife of 65 years.

They married on November 23, 1956 and built a wonderful life together in Canyon Rim and East Millcreek with their three children, Kerry, Kim and Andy; many cherished friends; and a handful of pets, including a poodle named Buffy, whom Verlan insisted on calling “Ralph.”

Verlan’s plan to become a mortician was sidelined when he needed a better-paying job to support his growing family. In 1957, he left his apprenticeship with Evans and Early Mortuary to work for the telephone company for $45 per week.

He eventually found his way to the insurance industry where he became a top agent. He worked for Mutual of Omaha for 25 years before starting a successful agency, Verlan R. Nielsen Insurance, which he and Barbara ran for many years.

Never forgetting the hardships of his youth and the kindness and assistance many gave to his family, Verlan poured his heart and soul into service. He used his salesmanship and charm to enlist family, friends, and neighbors in one worthy cause after another: serving warm meals, assembling hygiene kits, collecting eyeglasses and turkeys. No effort was too small for his full energy and attention. He was even known on occasion to take a grandchild to the liquor store parking lot to find willing customers for their school or scouting fundraiser.

For 50 straight years, he was a reliable organizer and volunteer at the East Mill Creek 4th of July Community Celebration, bustling from dawn until dark in his yellow Lions Club hat and signature white sneakers. He twice served as president of the East Mill Creek Lions Club, chaired the Wasatch Citizens Advisory Board, and was recognized by the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office with the Citizen Service Award.

He described himself as a “Mormon retread,” referring to a short hiatus from church activity as a young man. When he returned to the pews as an adult, interfaith work became his passion. He served alongside leaders of many faiths to alleviate suffering and address community needs. For a decade he spearheaded an annual holiday interfaith concert.

He was also a devout member of the Crimson Club and a University of Utah football fan. The 2022 Rose Bowl provided the ultimate daytime entertainment at the senior living facility, where he spent the last few months of life.

Verlan was buoyant in every way. Three cornea transplants, multiple surgeries (one resulting from an unfortunate dare as a scout leader), and many physical challenges late in life, didn’t diminish his positive outlook. He was cracking jokes until the end.

He loved life, loved to roll up his sleeves to give service, loved to throw big family parties, loved to meet friends for lunch, loved to feed the blue jays peanuts on his back patio, and loved the Wendy’s Frosties he socked away in his basement freezer.

Near the end of his life, Verlan recited these lines: “Suppose that today were your last day on earth, the last mile of your journey you’ve drawn. Don’t count as your possessions your silver and gold, for tomorrow you’ll leave them behind. All that is yours, to have and to hold, is the service you’ve given mankind.”

Affectionately known as Ver, VN, Dad, Grandpa, Grampy and Grandpa Peaches, Verlan is dearly missed by his wife, Barbara; children, Kerry (Kathryn), Kim Southworth (Kim) and Andy (Cindy); 14 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. He is also survived by a sister, Carma (Norman) Pobanz, and a brother, Keith (Robin). The family appreciates and thanks the staff and caregivers of hospice and senior living facility who assisted Verlan over the last several months.

Funeral services will be held at 12:30 p.m. on March 19, 2022, at the East Millcreek 6th Ward, 3103 E. Craig Drive, Salt Lake City. A viewing will be held prior to the service from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. In lieu of flowers or other tokens, please consider donating to the East Mill Creek Lions Club or the Utah Lions Eye Bank in Verlan’s honor.


Funeral Service
March 19, 2022

12:30 PM
East Mill Creek 6th Ward
3103 East Craig Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84109

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