Teddy Nelson remembers the very first St. Patrick's Day parade in Crosslake in 1974. Now, at age 82, she will be honored in front of thousands of people as the grand marshal for the 45th annual parade Saturday, March 16.

"Seeing it grow has just been phenomenal," said Nelson.

She recalls seeing a few small floats that first year, and watching it grow little by little.

"When they started throwing candy, that's when it boomed," she said. "Now it brings in people that have never been here before and never would be."

Nelson has seen people flock to Crosslake from other cities in Minnesota, across state lines and even from Canada to partake in the celebration.

Nelson spent her childhood in the Brainerd lakes area, attending school in Pequot Lakes. For a majority of the 1960s, she lived in the Twin Cities to work as an art gallery manager and raise her family, but she commuted back to the lake country each weekend and every summer.

Eventually, Nelson moved back to Crosslake full time to help her mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and she opened Curious Belongings, which she still owns to this day.

Nelson loves where she lives.

"It's just the lakes," she said. "The pine trees, lakes, loons... but most of all the people. I just automatically want to let everyone know how great the community is."

Cindy Myogeto, Crosslake Chamber of Commerce director, said this is one of the reasons the committee chose Nelson to be the grand marshal for the St. Patrick's Day celebration.

"Teddy is a great example of a business owner and cheerleader for Crosslake," she said. "She will represent the 45th parade as a real advocate for all things Crosslake."

A committee of 10 people deliberated over the grand marshal position, but choosing Nelson was an easy decision.

"We choose them based on their contributions to the community both professionally and personally," said Myogeto. "When her name popped up, it was a unanimous 'yes.'"

Nelson's personality draws her toward others. She said she couldn't ever live without people in her life. Between ownership of Curious Belongings, membership with the Crosslakers and a strong desire to get out and meet people, her impact on the community is far-reaching.

"It's more than friendship, it's a love," she said. "It's born in me. If you have the ability to walk and talk, you should be doing things for other people."

Even though Nelson is in her 80s, she has no plans to retire or slow down. She has six grown children and a total of 31 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and said she wants to do what she can to maintain a future for them.

The loving community spirit of Crosslake is unique, she said, and it's something she cherishes.

"(In larger cities), your block might feel like that, but there isn't the same outpour from the whole town," she said.

Myogeto said everyone knows Nelson, and if you go to her shop, you can't help but be drawn to her.

"There are a few things you want to do when you come to Crosslake, and one is going to Curious Belongings," she said.

Curious Belongings is a shop on County Highway 66 where Nelson collects and sells antiques. Her aunts and mother were into antiquing, so Nelson was introduced to the business early.

While antiques are her business, Nelson said they can also be considered her hobby.

"Although, my community is really my hobby now," she said.

Nelson said loyalty, in a word, is very important to her. That mentality has driven her to be a champion for Crosslake. Though she acknowledges that she is very heavily involved throughout the city, she said she was surprised to learn she had been chosen as the grand marshal for the St. Patrick's Day parade. She couldn't imagine why they picked her.

"I never expected this in the whole world," she said. "It was totally out of the blue."

Nelson was delighted to hear that she gets to wear a special sash with a green velvet cape in the parade, which she will lead at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16, through downtown Crosslake.

"It'll be exciting," she said. "I'll have to practice my wave."