USF Graduate Remembers His Father

“He was my dad, my brother and my best friend,” said Mark Lombardi-Nelson as he remembered his father who died last November.

Lombardi-Nelson’s father, Mark Nelson, had been injured in a work-related accident seven years ago. A simple injury would turn into tragedy as a step on a rusty nail led to MRSA, osteoporosis, COPD and a loss of income for Nelson’s young children.

Almost a year ago, for his 21st birthday, Lombardi-Nelson put together a plan to raise funds to support his family. He started an Indiegogo campaign.

The online campaign was not his first effort to assist his father and siblings. He worked multiple jobs, sold his car and provided support in any way possible. He accomplished all these feats while still completing his undergraduate degree and becoming the student body president at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Although Nelson lost his life to his illnesses, he was able to live long enough to see his family’s struggle eased by the generous donations of friends and strangers. With the initial thought of raising $1,000, the family was shocked by the community response-contributions totaled at $4,274.

“He only got to see the first half of it, and we were so taken aback by everyone,” Lombardi-Nelson said. “Dad felt OK to go, because we were OK.”

What Lombardi-Nelson had described as a snowball of unfortunate events seemed to turn around in the months that followed his online campaign and his father’s death.

He graduated with a degree in entrepreneurship in May 2014, won a free car from ABC Action News and Precision Mazda in June, spoke at TEDxTampaRiverwalk and has plans to start his own business.  However, the closer the months draw to November, the harder things get.

“I can’t describe how difficult it was to lose him,” Lombardi-Nelson said. “For my younger siblings, not having a dad is really hard.”

Lombardi-Nelson has no plans to stop being there for his siblings, and says that his role really hasn’t changed. He still provides what he can for them and has stepped in as a father figure.

Despite the hardships and heartbreaks, he has kept his positive attitude and belief that everyone deserves love and help. He is excited to report that his younger siblings are all getting great grades and doing well, despite the loss of their father.

“You look at them all and they’re just kids, but they grew up fast,” he said. “I’m so lucky to be with them. I’m so happy and I can’t wait to make their lives better.”