A story of success for two hometown Marshall alumni

Photo courtesy the Herald Dispatch

If you’ve been to Huntington in the past three years, you may have noticed the buzz at The Market in the 800 block of Third Avenue. It’s Huntington’s newest hangout, always busy with people of all ages, with 13 small businesses working together in the shared space.

Bringing this great community space into downtown created a place for people to gather and brought new life to downtown, boosting the economy and the image of Huntington.

This development’s success is due to two of Huntington’s unsung heroes—Marshall Alumni Phil and Jill Nelson.

Phil and Jill attended school together their whole lives, starting from Meadows Elementary School all the way to Marshall.

“We knew of each other, we had a lot of mutual friends and just kind of clicked. We’ll be married 32 years in November, we dated about seven years before that, really almost 40 years and to me it’s just as wonderful today as it was the first time,” Phil said. “She’s truly my best friend and partner—we discuss situations every day whether it’s real estate, personal life or anything else.”

Phil graduated with his degree in finance and business law and Jill earned her accounting degree.

Phil grew up on Washington Boulevard in Huntington, and every so often would walk down to Baskin Robbins on 16th Street for an ice cream cone. A family friend worked in the building next door, Luigi “Gee Gee” Narcise.

“So I’d go in every once and awhile and listen to his days account and I was intrigued. Gee Gee was a forerunner in an analytical computer program that measured cash flow and cash analysis of investment deals, so I just pulled up a chair and listened to the master. I became very interested and knew then that I wanted to invest in real estate.” Phil said.

Adding to that was the memory of his college landlord, Madaline Justice, driving up in a beautiful Cadillac to collect his rent check. Phil reflected, “that was the life I wanted.”

Phil had caught the bug. He purchased his first property and then rang up his friend and fellow Marshall alumnus, Jim Weiler. Their first few ventures included apartments, for which they did all of the maintenance, showings and management themselves. They built up an impressive portfolio of over 100 apartment units in the Tri-State area.

In 2007, Capital Venture Corporation, Phil and Jim’s business partnership, made the switch to commercial real estate developing. It’s impressive the work that they’ve accomplished in the 13 years since—multiple downtown historic building renovations, commercial free standing properties, The Market and much more.

Jill began her career working for the city of Huntington in the finance office, eventually working her way to serving as the assistant finance director. Jill now works as a Realtor with RE/MAX Realty Consultants in Huntington. One of Jill’s most memorable classes at Marshall that helped with her career was the general education speech class that all undergraduate students are required to take.

“You’re doing speeches daily, when you’re meeting people, telling them about a home, trying to sell yourself as a good agent, you’ve got to know how to speak to people and Marshall is good about giving you a well-rounded education,” Jill said.

That well-rounded education is largely due to the involved professors at the university, the Nelsons said.

“At Marshall, the professors challenged you,” Phil said. “Dr. Alexander was the dean of the business school at the time, people like Joe Stone in Finance, Dennis Barry, and Dr. Kontos in economics, they made you not only think about the problem on the paper, they made you think in context of the broader issue. Relating it to what was going on in the world outside and their individual support, wanting you to succeed, was instrumental in helping pave the way.”

Their passion for Huntington runs deep—Phil’s father Robert “Bobby” Nelson served as Huntington’s 67th mayor, and served in the state House of Delegates and Senate for almost 25 years. Jill’s father was also heavily involved in state and local politics. Bob Burford, was a local attorney in the firm Beckett, Burford and James and forerunner of desktop computing in Huntington. “He learned the old fashioned way”, recalls Phil. “He was a voracious reader, so he actually learned how to write programs and at
some point, took his computer apart and rebuilt it, just to see how it worked.”

What does the future hold for these two? “We’re always looking for new projects and ideas for the future. One thing is a given, we love this area and we love the people here and working in real estate is fun and exciting. Huntington has so much to offer. We want to get the word out,” Phil said. “There are so many positive things happening on Marshall’s campus and in the city of Huntington, we feel like downtown has really turned around. I think the future is bright.”

The Nelsons’ successes haven’t stopped with them—they’ve given business opportunities to young professionals and continue to invest in the success of Marshall students.

“We feel our education has helped us in our careers. Marshall University has helped so many others and helped the community,” Jill noted, adding, “We’re proud to be associated with Marshall—academically and athletically, and plan to continue giving for a long time.”

The Nelsons established The Robert R. “Bobby” Nelson scholarship a few years ago, to help aspiring political science majors.

The Nelsons said they felt Marshall helps open doors for their graduates, which is literally what the Nelsons are now doing for others in their hometown. And while they had the opportunity to take what they learned at Marshall elsewhere, we’re grateful they chose to stay in Huntington and build the city that invested in them as students.

“The many arms of the Marshall family allow you to always feel at home on campus, as a student and as alumni. Once you’ve spent time in the Marshall community you are hooked. It’s a great value in education and you’ll make lifetime friends. We truly enjoy the annual Homecoming game, as it allows
us to reminisce with great friends. The university prepares you for so many of the issues that life throws your way. We are…” Phil said.