Dan L. Wilson

Dan L. Wilson

1932-2023

Dan L. Wilson, age 90, passed away peacefully on Saturday, March 25, 2023, with his family by his side. While his death is heartbreaking, he will be remembered for his infectious smile, boisterous laugh, inspiring stories, and breathtaking bear hugs.

Dan was born in South Bend, Indiana, to Phelix Leotis “P.L.” and Leora (Freer) Wilson on his mother’s 39th birthday. He always joked that his mother had no idea what a birthday present she was getting!

Dan attended Studebaker Elementary School and graduated from James Whitcomb Riley High School in South Bend. He attended Purdue University, where he met his future wife, a DePauw University co-ed, Grace Helen Hanson, on a blind date. He served (1953-1955) in the U.S. Army while stationed in Germany.

Dan and Grace were married in East Chicago, Indiana, on June 24, 1955. He used his G.I. benefits to attend Michigan State University and played drums with the Marching Band. He graduated in 1958 with a degree in landscape architecture. After graduation, Dan began his 40-year career with a move to Bellevue, Nebraska, to work for the Bureau of Reclamation, designing roads, boat ramps, and campgrounds for recreational reservoirs. Eventually, he settled into his “dream job,” working for the National Park Service (N.P.S.).

Dan, Grace, and their two children, Wendy and Brian, moved every two to four years to a different N.P.S. site, making new friends and embracing opportunities everywhere they went. Dan put his degree to work designing roads, laying out campgrounds, overseeing historical restoration projects, and building visitor centers at 52 N.P.S. sites. Among the sites were:  Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas), Lincoln’s Home (Springfield, Illinois), Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona), Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado), Saint Croix National Scenic Waterway (Wisconsin), Big Bend National Park (Texas), Death Valley National Park (California), Sleeping Bear Dunes (Michigan and Wisconsin), Isle Royale (Michigan), The National P.O.W. Museum (Andersonville, Georgia), and Yellowstone National Park (Montana). When asked to name his favorite park, Dan replied, “I don’t have one! They’re all unique to themselves.”

While working at enlarging the Visitor Center at the Pea Ridge National Battlefield site in Arkansas, he fell in love with the rolling hills with flowering dogwood and redbud trees. Upon retirement, Grace and Dan settled in Holiday Island, Arkansas, where they lived for nearly 25 years. Dan was busy with various service projects for the local American Legion Post, the Masons and their church there. The couple moved back to Bellevue, Nebraska, in 2016 to be closer to family.

Dan was preceded in death by his wife, Grace Helen, parents, P.L. and Leora (Freer) Wilson; his sister, Annice Lee White and her husband, Dr. Fred Z. White; his brother, Eugene Freer Wilson, and his wife, Jane (Barnhart) Wilson; and his nephews, Michael Eugene Wilson and Robert Wilmot. He is survived by his children: Wendy Ann Lee of Leesburg, Florida, and Brian (Jennifer) Wilson of Bellevue. His smiles, stories, and hugs will be missed by his grandchildren: Nicole Koster; Jamie Wood; Antonio Sanchez; Della (Nic) Schnelker; Grace Wilson; Emily Wilson; Bill Lee; Joe (Jessica) Lee; and great-grandchildren Brandon, Joshua, Kyiia, Caleb, Eva, Marcus, Quinn, and William.

Among the many nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends he leaves behind are Janet (Jim) Schnitz; Don (Patz) White; Kirsten (Randall) Evans; Mark (Nancy) Wilson; Matt (Lou Ann) Wilson; Tim White; Cheryl Wilson McAuley; and many great-nieces and great-nephews.

Dan’s funeral, with military honors, will take place on Friday, April 21, 2023, with a visitation at 4:00 p.m. and funeral service at 5 p.m. at Bellevue Memorial Funeral Chapel, 2202 Hancock Street, Bellevue, NE. Dinner for family and friends will follow at La Mesa in Bellevue. Interment service will be held Sunday morning, April 23, 2023, at the Columbarium of the Holiday Island (Arkansas) Presbyterian Church.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in his honor may be made to the National Park Foundation (https://give.nationalparks.org), the First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, NE (https://www.bellevuefpc.org/give/) or remember him by visiting a National Park to enjoy the natural beauty and serenity he loved so much.

1 Comment

  • Jim and Janet Schnitz Posted April 12, 2023 4:51 pm

    Wendy, Brian, and your families,
    Jim and I will sure miss that bigger-than-life father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of yours! We already feel the void he left in our lives. He and Aunt Grace were very special people. We are very lucky to have had them for as long as we did. It was one of my life’s greatest privileges to write the story of his career in the National Park Service so it could be shared with friends and family. He may be gone, but he will not be forgotten.

    Love to you all,
    Jim and Janet

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