Hattiesburg, Mississippi – On Friday, November 4, the City of Hattiesburg’s Veterans Committee and Mayor Toby Barker announced Sergeant 1st Class Nelson Haskin, Jr. as the 2022 Veteran of the Year.
“The City of Hattiesburg has been selecting and honoring an outstanding civic leader who served our nation honorably through the military for the past 28 years. After their military service, these veterans have returned home or relocated to Hattiesburg and continued to serve,” said Colonel (Ret) Sheila Varnado, chair of the Hattiesburg Veteran of the Year Selection Committee. “A true and time-tested servant leader, we are proud to introduce Sgt. 1st Class Nelson Haskin, Jr., as the 2022 Hattiesburg Veteran of the Year.”
Haskin served in the Army National Guard, part-time, from 1995 until 2001 and in the Army National Guard Active Reserve from 2008 until 2020. After 20 years of service, he was honorably discharged. A native of Gulfport and graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi, he has now lived in the City of Hattiesburg with his family for nearly 40 years and is an active community member, business owner and mentor to other veterans.
Haskin’s desire to serve didn’t end in 2020 with his military service. It only continued to grow. Today, he continues to work on behalf of local veterans by serving through the Disabled American Veterans Chapter #62 and specifically as a resource for recruitment with the Army National Guard.
“I’m thankful to my family who was a core sense of strength during our military service and to God who has given us the skills and abilities to wake up every day and do what we love to do,” said Haskin. “I looked at the past winners and it’s full of a lot of great people. I’m just really humbled to be a part of that group.”
Haskin, a visionary leader, can see what can be – and then moves forward to turning it into a reality. In 1996, he began working in the restaurant industry as a server at Chesterfields. He found a passion for the industry and worked his way to manager. Shortly after, he began thinking about what it would take to own his own restaurant. In 2017, he and his wife Felicia turned those thoughts into reality. They opened Blu Jazz Cafe, the first of what is now six local eateries.
As an entrepreneur, he owns and operates Front Street Eats Restaurant Group, comprised of Hattiesburgers and Blues, Blu Jazz Cafe, Nellie’s Chicken and Daquiris, Nellie’s Food Truck, Southbound Bagel and the soon-to-open Bourbon on Front Street. In addition to his busy entrepreneurial roles, he invests in the business community by serving as an advisor and mentor to many new businesses opening downtown.
Varnado added, “Today, you’ll find him humbly serving as the ‘King of Front Street!’ Not only does he work hard for himself and his family – but he unselfishly also makes time to provide valuable insight, business advice and mentorship to other entrepreneurs in Hattiesburg.”
Because of his giving spirit and business acumen, Haskin has been recognized for several awards, including the Mississippi Small Business Authority Minority Entrepreneur of the Year and the ADP Spirit Award. In 2017, the Downtown Hattiesburg Association recognized him as the Entrepreneur of the Year and recently, the Mississippi Main Street Association honored him for Best Entrepreneurial Endeavor.
In addition to his contributions to the veteran’s community and restaurant industry, he also serves in several capacities for multiple boards of directors – namely with the Downtown Hattiesburg Association, the ADP and the Southern Miss Alumni Association.
“The selection of Nelson for Veteran of the Year doesn’t come as a surprise. Few give the way Nelson gives – of his time, talents and resources. His willingness to serve our community is clearly an extension of what began with his military service,” said Barker. “Nelson and his family are an integral part of the renaissance happening in Downtown Hattiesburg. I’m proud to see him be recognized on such a distinguished list. The committee could not have selected a better honoree this year.”
Haskin was nominated by community members for this award during an open call for nominees. He was selected by the Hattiesburg Veteran of the Year Selection Committee comprised of all living previous awardees of this distinguished recognition who continue to reside in the Pine Belt area.
Haskin will be introduced and honored during the annual Hattiesburg Veterans Day Program at Veterans Memorial Park on Friday, November 11 at 11 a.m. The ceremony will follow the parade, which will begin at 10 a.m.
A list of all recipients since the program’s establishment in 1994 and the schedule of events for Veterans Day are listed at hattiesburgms.com/veteransday.