Betty Rikansrud Nelson

Monday, March 9, 2015 12:20 pm

Betty Rikansrud Nelson, 80, of Decorah, died Sunday, March 8, 2015, at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse, Wis. Memorial services are at 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 17, at First Lutheran Church in Decorah, with Rev. Chad Huebner officiating. Inurnment is in Lutheran Cemetery in Decorah. Visitation is from 4-7 p.m. Monday, March 16, at Fjelstul Funeral Home in Decorah. Online condolences may be made at

Betty Jane Rikansrud Nelson loved her family, her friends, the theatre, the Iditarod and life itself. She was born Feb. 14, 1935, in Decorah, the daughter of Arthur Roland (“Doc”) and Grace Helen (Nelson) Rikansrud. She attended Decorah Schools, graduating in 1953. Betty attended Luther College, majoring in business administration with math and bible minors; she received her B.A. in 1957. While at Luther, Betty played the alto saxophone in concert band, was on Woman’s Senate, a counselor at Larsen Hall for two years, active in campus theatre, secretary-treasurer of the senior class, and an active member of the Executive Council of Alpha Beta Psi. Betty was united in marriage to David Torrison Nelson April 20, 1957, at First Lutheran Church in Decorah. They met while dancing the Butterfly and continued to dance all through their lives together; they could always be seen at FootNotes during Nordic Fest, waltzing the night away. True partners in life, as well as with the schottische, they were a daily Decorah fixture, always walking hand-in-hand. They were blessed with four children: Elise, Andrea, Kathryn and Stephen. During her time at Luther, one rarely saw Betty without a circular knitting needle transforming skeins of yarn into unique sweaters, her designs carefully (and mathematically) graphed out. Her loves of art and math carried over into weaving, one of her great passions in life. Always one to bring a touch of whimsy to all she did, she perhaps had the most fun creating her weavings that incorporated cats into traditional Scandinavian eight point stars.

Betty was a well-loved instructor at Luther College, teaching hundreds of students in Introduction to Accounting. Her accounting career started while she was in college, when she was hired as the first female accountant at what is now Hacker Nelson in Decorah, and where she continued on working during the early years of her marriage. Her hard-working nature continued after retirement as an involved member in many Decorah organizations, including Monday Club, the Oneota Weavers Guild, and dancing Zumba at the local Curves, as well as volunteering for the Decorah Public Schools. She especially loved volunteering at the Vesterheim museum, where you could find her on the upper floor of the museum, demonstrating on their floor loom. She also served as the weaving instructor for Vesterheim’s immersion program, patiently guiding well over one thousand schoolchildren into the world of complex weaving. Betty was awarded the Vesterheim Gold Medal in 2013. A lifelong resident of Decorah, Betty loved to travel. While Decorah was always her home, her love of travel never faded; her favorite memories include camping in the summer months to national parks, hiking the Grand Canyon, and trips to Norway, Alaska, and the Southwest United States. One of Betty and David’s great joys in life together was following the annual Iditarod race. Avid fans and lovers of adventure, they never missed following the race either from home or in person, making the trek to Alaska three times for the race. Later in Betty’s life, she enjoyed working with the Decorah Public Schools to give lessons on the Iditarod to students.

Known for supporting, sharing, and investing much of her life into other people, Betty was an enthusiastic supporter of and participant in the arts. She was involved in the New Minowa Players and Luther Campus Players, and was an avid supporter of the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, MN, even making it onstage for a walk-on role during their 2013 run of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure. Betty died on Sunday, March 8, 2015, one day after the start of the Iditarod. She is now with David, smiling and dancing and mushing.

Betty is survived by her four children: Elise Nelson of Decorah, Andrea Streufert of London, Ontario, Kathryn Rattenborg of Decorah, and Stephen (Beth) Nelson of Big Piney, Wyo.; her eight grandchildren: Kari (David) Teichrob, Erik Streufert, Brigitte, Heather, Alayna, and Derek Nelson, and Sarah and Rachel Rattenborg; one great-grandchild with whom she shared a birthday, Eva Teichrob; her brother Erling (Helen) Rikansrud of Dunedin, Fla. and her sister Alphea Iverson of Superior, Wis.; her brothers-in-law John (Arlene) Nelson of Decorah and Robert (Jeanne) Nelson of Honolulu, Hawaii; and many nieces and nephews and their families.

Betty was preceded in death by her husband, David, Dec. 27, 2009; her parents, Doc and Grace Rikansrud; her son-in-law, Steven Rattenborg; her brother-in-law Ivan Iverson, and her nephew Lawrence Rikansrud. 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions be given to Luther College, c/o Development Office, 700 College Drive, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, P.O. Box 379, 502 W. Water Street, Friends of the Decorah Public Library, 202 Winnebago Street, all of Decorah, IA 52101, or the charity of your choice.



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