Novie Nelson, who had family roots in Alabama, came to Myrtle Beach by way of California. A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Nelson also attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and the College of the Pacific in Stockton, Calf.
Along with her husband, Jack, she built the first luxury motel on the Grand Strand in 1946. The El Rancho was featured in several nationally-circulated magazines in the 1950s. In 1954, Look magazine named El Rancho one of the 10 best motels in the United States. In 1960, the Nelsons opened the first campground in Myrtle Beach, Lake Arrowhead Campground, on 144 acres.
Nelson is a member of the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority; a member of the Guild of Organists; a member of the Christian Science Church of Myrtle Beach, where she had served as an organist; a past director of the Coastal Educational Foundation; a past member of the Wheelwright Council for the Arts; a member of the Kimbel Distinguished Lecture Series Committee, a member of the Dunes Club and Ladies Golf Association of the Dunes Club; and a member of the Waccamaw Arts and Crafts Guild. Her hobbies were dancing, music and painting.
Nelson was named honorary founder of Coastal Carolina University in 1990.