The Rev. Canon Nelson B. Skinner, SSC, SKCM
Twenty years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting this friendly, outgoing personable man at the annual Clay Tree Lighting and Children’s Christmas Party at Moyers Corners Fire Department. He said his name was Nelson. When I asked later who he was, I was told, “Why he’s the Priest of the Anglican Church on Morgan Road, the old Methodist-Episcopal Church founded by Abraham Morgan in 1839. Also, he is Chaplain of our Fire Department.” He was so down-to-earth and genuinely interested in everything in the town of Clay.
Fr. Skinner was born February 17, 1927 in Waterloo, New York. His family moved to Baldwinsville when he was very young and he graduated from Baldwinsville Academy at age 17. Immediately he enlisted in the Army in 1944 and served in Germany. Later in Korea, he was wounded by a sniper November 26, 1950 and received a Purple Heart. After spending seven months in a military hospital, he was able to travel and give talks to soldiers promoting the Army. Fully recuperated, he resigned from active service and used the G. I. Bill to attend Hobart College, graduating in 1959. From there, Fr. Skinner went to Nashotah Episcopal Seminary near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, graduating in 1962.
As an Episcopal priest, he was assigned to Holy Apostles Church in Oneida, Wisconsin where he met Beverly, his future wife, and married her in 1964. This city was named after the Oneidas who broke with the New York Oneidas when they were promised land by the government in 1821. Beverly’s mother was Oneida and her father Lutheran German. It was then he went back on active duty as an Army Chaplain assigned to Ft. Belvoir, Virginia; then on to Frankfurt, Germany where their first daughter was born in 1965. They returned to America in 1966 when Fr. Skinner became Assistant Priest at St. John’s Church in Ogdensburg.
In 1968, he went west to teach at Tuller College on the Navajo Indian Reservation. But then back to New York in 1970 to train as a Veterans Benefit Counselor for the Veterans Administration (VA) to work with Viet Nam era veterans and become a counselor at Canton College in Potsdam assisting them using the G. I. Bill. In 1981, Fr. Skinner transferred to The Syracuse VA Hospital and worked there until 1989. All these years, he was always active as a supply priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Albany and Syracuse.
Those closest to him, believe that Fr. Skinner’s biggest accomplishment was founding the Anglican Church of St. Mary the Virgin currently a member parish of the Diocese of the Holy Cross. He stated that, “The mission of this parish is to serve the community and spread the Holy Gospel as we have received it from the Ancient Church.” In 1994, they purchased the old Morgan Church on the corner of Morgan and Wetzel Roads; their first service was on Palm Sunday. In 2012, he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination as an Episcopal priest.
As long as he was able, Fr. Skinner remained active in various veteran’s organizations and activities. Anyone who knew him, knew that he always had a story to tell and was interested in everyone. In the last part of his life, we talked history, especially of the Morgan Church. He wanted everything I had and I wanted what was in the back room of the Morgan Church building. The building is one of Clay’s oldest landmarks.
He passed away at his home on December 9, 2014 with his wife, Beverly; their children: Theresa, Catherine and Michael; and grandson, Anthony by his side. He was under the care of the Veterans Administration’s Home Based Team. Anyone who had the pleasure of meeting him will forever remember The Rev. Canon Nelson B. Skinner, SSC, SKCM.
Dorothy Heller, Historian