Alan Nelles popped up one day — it must have been some time in the mid 1990s — at the Albany Medical Surgical Center abortion mill, unknown and unannounced. He wanted to know what he could do to stop abortion. We told him to pray with us.
He didn’t have a rosary so we gave him a cheap plastic one — which he seemed delighted with. He didn’t want to lead any Mysteries, but joined in answering the prayers. He seemed to like the songs we sang out of the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants prayer book.
I assumed he was Catholic, so I was surprised when I asked him what church he went to and it turned out he was Lutheran. Whenever I’d tell him he was more Catholic than many nuns I had met, he’d always say “We’re all Christians,” and that would be that.
Alan was a kind of Renaissance man. He knew a whole lot about everything you would be talking about. He knew airplane engines. He could fix anything electrical, and he — along with Al Gore — invented the computer. Alan loved to talk — and talk. He also loved to eat, but nothing too healthy.
He couldn’t abide vegetarians. He said “I’m a carnivore. I eat vegetarians.” And a carnivore he was, with a vengeance. Somewhere along the line he had been taught to clean his plate. When he finished his meal the plate looked like a mirror.
I always wondered why he wore two dozen rubber bands on his right wrist, why he didn’t trim his bushy beard more often, and why he was so fond of his old straw hat.
I was amazed, as were we all, at the way he was always finding unclaimed lottery tickets and other items like free tickets to various eateries. But he also found little toy pigs for my collection.
In fact, the last time I saw Alan, at the SpeakOut Illinois conference, he gave me a set of the Three Little Pigs that now sits on my shelf at the office.
Once he found a stuffed toy lamb, in the snow. He gave it to me on the Feast of St. Agnes, and I was startled because “Agnes” means “Lamb,” and I had been wishing I had a lamb to celebrate her feast.
He had no idea that it as her feast, but always reminded me of the gift and the coincidence. For years it sat on the top of my computer.
But there was a lot more to Alan that these externals. He was a faithful pro-lifer activist who would take a train, switch to half a dozen buses and hitch a ride to get to nearly every pro-life function he heard about.
It was a rare pro-life activity that Alan didn’t show up at. And he called me “Chief,” which I will dearly miss. He’d say, “If that’s the way you want to do it, we’ll do it that way. After all, you’re the Chief.”
I’m sure Alan is now with a bunch of babies who owe their lives to him. He loved children and truly had a heart for the vulnerable and defenseless unborn.
I thank God for sending Alan our way. He will be missed.