One year before Coca-Cola was invented and the Statue of Liberty was unveiled by President Grover Cleveland, James Nielsen was born into this world in San Francisco. In 1894, he moved across the bay with his family to Oakland. From 1909 to 1917, he worked for a shingle contractor and from 1917 to 1920 as a supervisor for the W.H. Parker Superior Dry Cleaners in Oakland. It was during this time Nielsen began to study life insurance.
In 1920, at the age of 34, Nielsen came to Fresno as the District Manager for Woodman of the World Fraternal Life Insurance Company of Omaha, Nebraska. WOW as it was known, started out as fraternal insurance company in 1890, but adopted a policy of forming lodges or "camps" in various towns to promote community service, especially in times of need. In 1922, Nielsen became the Secretary of the WOW Manzanita Camp #160.
He was a member of Las Palmas Masonic Lodge No. 355 and its twenty-eighth Master in 1932 at age 46.
At the end of his year as Master, Nielsen's attention was distracted by an unfortunate event. The Woodman of the World Hall (building) at Tuolumne and Van Ness Avenue was destroyed by fire on December 29, 1932. The building had not only been home to WOW, but the central meeting place of Sun Garden Lodge F.A.&M. No. 465, the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM), Fresno Parlor No. 25 of the Sons of the Golden West, and Triple X Fraternity. Several businesses on the bottom floor were also damaged and had to relocate.
During 1933 and 1934, Nielsen would be busy supervising the re-construction of the WOW building.
During WW II, Nielsen helped to re-organize the Men's Air Raid Warden Service group in Fresno. The group was organized as part of the Civil Defense Department to respond to possible gas attacks in the US, to aid with decontamination. Nielsen was Fresno’s senior warden.