The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

In tribute: Nelly! - We loved you as the donut lady


October 14, 2018

Courtesy photo

Turner, left, with cake decorator Charlotte Shaw in 2004.

CLOVIS — Many knew her as the "donut lady." And if not by that appellation, many others knew her as the friendly, talkative lady at front in a perpetual, impeccable bee-hive hairdo at old Sutton's Bakery.

For almost 35 years, she was a fixture at a fixture of Clovis' Main Street. She was Nell Turner, and she passed just last month at age 91.

"Everybody in this town knew her," said her daughter, Kathy Turner. "She went to work when she was 50 and I was 16. She worked there for 34 and 1/2 years and she never missed a day of work."

Those days of work at Sutton's started early; Nell would rise about 3:30 a.m. to get to work by 5 a.m. and stayed there at the front until about noon, six days a week and only ceasing when the business shuttered in 2012.

That's enough time to make a lasting impression.

"She was the cashier, the front person that helped; she would carry the big pans of donuts back and forth, she would ice the donuts and things. She knew everybody's orders by heart," said her daughter. "Basically, what the customers said is that's what kept them coming back."

That, and the donuts and cookies, she added.

But that's not to downplay Nell Turner's role in the operation: for a small, popular community spot, customer service goes a long way.

"She was a very friendly lady. She loved to visit with the customers; she was very sweet and outgoing, and everybody pretty much, just — she kind of made their day when they would walk in in the morning," said the bakery's bookkeeper of 38 years, Danna Smock.

"She greeted everybody by name, asked how so and so was doing. I don't know how to say much else - she was just a person that liked people."

Don Reid was a regular, stopping in once a week to pick up a couple dozen mixed donuts for his employees.

"She knew what I was going to pick up every Friday morning and had it ready for me before I got there," he said. "I never saw her in a bad mood, I never saw her complain, she was always just a happy person."

The kindly personality up front might have been a good complement to a "persnickety" master of operations at back - the owner Frank Simmons, as recalled by Kathy Turner.

"It was kind of funny, Mr. Simmons would always yell at her, 'Nelly!' from the back," she said.

Simmons, the bakery's second owner, learned first hand from its namesake the techniques of old-school baking, making everything from scratch using an oven that would be eyeballed in more recent years by the Smithsonian for its antiquarian value. Yet Simmons for his part was entirely dedicated to his work, and the proof was in the pudding (so to speak).

"He was 92 and he was in pretty bad health," Kathy Turner said of the bakery's final years. "Let's just say instead of going to a rest home and putting his money there, he was taking all of his money and putting it back into the bakery, because the bakery was his whole life. He worked there 365 days a year. They were even open on Sunday morning."

Simmons died in March 2012 at age 92, just a month after the bakery had to close its doors.

Competition for the baked goods market in Clovis had been mounting for a few years by then, but Kathy Turner maintains there was "no comparison," among the products they purveyed, and her mother seemed to feel the same way.

"My mother, after Sutton's closed down, I would bring donuts from different places and she wouldn't eat them," said her daughter. "There just really was no comparison to his chocolate cinnamon rolls."

Nick Dominguez had joined the operation in its last decade or so before closing, and recalled Nell Turner fondly for her old-fashioned charm and style.

"She always had her hair in a bun, and it was just real noticeable - from the past, a lot of people don't see that," he said. "She always wore a scarf when she went outside. She was like a good old fashioned country lady. She had her Texas accent and she told me stories about growing up in Gainesville. ... She would always have just a big smile, and she would always tell me at the beginning of her stories, she would say, 'You know what?'"

One of the few times, perhaps, that Nell Turner allowed herself to be sighted in an unfinished coiffure was on a momentous day in 1977, Dominguez recalled as he thought back on her stories. It was in the year after her husband had passed that she heard there was a position available at Sutton's, and she wasted no time seizing that opportunity.

"Oh yeah," he said. "She told me she got that job, she was still in her curlers - heard they had an opening, went off and got hired that day."

Thus began for her a new era.

"Being the daughter of the donut lady," reflected Kathy Turner, "it was nice having everybody know your mom. She would bring home so many donuts I would get sick of them."

Soon enough, Nell Turner got into the custom of bringing leftover donuts around town. It's less wasteful, and it engenders good will.

"Yeah, definitely. A baker's dozen is 13, not 12, stuff like that," said her daughter-in-law.

Patty Turner joined the bakery staff in about 1984 and started up front in sales; Nell trained her for about a year and then introduced her to her son; the young couple were newlyweds soon after.

"She was very generous, just super generous. She was good as gold," said Patty Turner. "She was always fun to work with and a very devout Christian. Oh my goodness, she was at church when the doors opened at 16th and Pile Church of Christ."

It was a dramatic change for Nell Turner when the bakery closed, needless to say.

"I wanted her to retire years ago, but you know, after a while I realized, she wasn't ever going to retire," said her daughter.

Yet in the bakery's final days, as word came out of its imminent closure, "everybody and their dogs started coming out of the woodworks."

"People even ordered birthday cakes and stuff to freeze," continued Patty Turner. "Everybody was so sad that it was closing down, and I thought, 'Well, where have you been the past three or four years?'"

Nell Turner, the last of nine siblings, is survived by numerous children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"She loved everyone that walked into Sutton's bakery," Rebecca Martinez Holt said in a message. "Nell was best friends with my mother-in-law Guyn Holt and two of her best friends, sisters Lynn Cleveland and Lucy Loudermilk. They were known as the coffee ladies at Kripple Creek. ... I know all of them are rejoicing each other's company in heaven. Enjoying a cup of coffee."

Maybe with one or more of those chocolate cinnamon rolls, too.


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