Wednesday, July 12, 2023 6:14 am
Glenn Nelson died peacefully on July 3, 2023, at Bartell OES Home in Decorah, ending a long and bruising struggle with dementia.
A celebration of Glenn’s life will take place at 11 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 26, at Good Shepherd Church, Decorah, where he worshipped and served for many years. Friends can greet the family, have a sip and a bite, and reminisce on Monday, Sept. 25, 2-5 p.m., at Glenn’s home, 100 Crescent Ave., Decorah.
Those wishing to make a memorial gift can direct their contributions to the Glenn Nelson Scholarship Fund at Luther College, Good Shepherd Church, Bartell OES Home, Decorah, or to their favorite charities.
Son of Oline (Kaste) and Otto Nelson, Glenn was born May 26, 1933, on a farm in Westbrook, Minn., near the place where his Danish grandfather had homesteaded. He was baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church in Westbrook. Glenn’s dad, five uncles and three aunts farmed their own acreages around the homestead, and they helped each other. Glenn learned how to wake up early (before Uncle Carl stopped by), how to work hard, how to fix and make things, and how to be of service. He played with cousins and made life-long friends. In the barn on little Christmas Eve, he listened with his cousins for the animals to talk, and he learned to love lutefisk. He absorbed the rhythms of sowing and reaping. Glenn did not receive the music-making gene; that one went to brother Allan. But he did play the tuba in his high school’s marching band. Living this life of plenty, he assumed his family was rich, until many years later, when he read the financial figures for the ‘30s and ‘40s.
Glenn left the farm in 1951 to attend St. Olaf College. There he studied, made the swim team, and was sworn into the Air Force ROTC. ROTC led to active duty from May 1956 to Dec. 1958. Glenn was honorably discharged from the Air Force with the rank of Captain, after serving in the Reserve until Oct. 1970. He trained as both fixed wing and helicopter pilot, and spent a year stationed in Labrador, serving and honing his flight skills.
While in the AF Reserve Glenn continued his academic life. He received a master’s degree and doctorate in Sociology from the University of Minnesota. As he was studying, he taught a full course load at Augsburg College. Upon completion of his doctorate, he accepted a position to teach at Luther College, rose to the rank of professor, and filled several administrative posts, including director of Upward Bound, Vice President for Student Affairs, and Vice President and Dean of the College. For the 1967-68 academic year he was a Fulbright Scholar in Tampere, Finland. He served the American Lutheran Church, in its last years, as director of the Division of College and University Services. For his service in that role he received an honorary doctorate from Grand View College.
Farmer and professor. A wood-carved self-portrait features head covered half by mortar board, half by seed corn cap. But most of all, Glenn was Husband, Dad, Grandpa, Papa, Great Grandpa, Big G. Saint Olaf introduced Glenn to Solveig Lee. It was love at first dance. They married in 1955, and together they traveled and raised four children: Leif Allan (born in Enid OK), Karina Lee (born in Aberdeen SD), Karla Solveig (born in Minneapolis MN), and Knute Glenn (born in Decorah IA). Beginning in 1964 they devoted themselves to serving Luther College and the Decorah community. And when there were leisure hours, the family played together. They flew to California, Glenn as pilot; they skied at Copper Mountain; they snorkeled in the Caribbean; they played tennis and golf; they hunted pheasant and fished for walleye. Solveig died too young in 1987.
Glenn married Jane Borelli in 1990. They organized their life together around travel to family in Colorado and Connecticut, checking off state capitals and odd tourist attractions as they drove. They traveled to Greece and Italy, for study and fun, and took a one-month bucket list trip to New Zealand and Australia. In time Glenn came to enjoy Connecticut, his boisterous in-laws, and spaghetti alle acciughe on Christmas Eve. For several years he and Jane lived part-time in their own cottage, near the best sandy beach on Long Island Sound.
Family always came first. Glenn showed up for grandkids’ sporting events from Colorado to Florida, and for musical events in St. Peter and Decorah. He invented and made things: folding tables personalized for each grandkid; stepping stones for a pizza maker, a rug braider, and even a telecommunication specialist; whirligigs–little helicopters—shaped and moving like a swimmer, a basketball player, a skater. He did hundreds of jigsaw puzzles with his kids and grandkids, and he never minded much when Ernie-Cat “helped” by swishing pieces to the floor with his wavey tail.
Now Glenn is welcomed into the heavenly throng by Solveig, Oline and Otto, brother Allan, son Knute, grandson Nathan John; son-in-law Marvin VanCamp, brothers-in-law Karl Lee and George Utech, niece Jenny Utech, and mother- and father-in-law Mary and Harry Borelli.
Left to remember and celebrate his life are his wife Jane, son Leif (Ann) Nelson; daughter Karina VanCamp; daughter Karla (John) Balk; daughter-in-law Kristie Nelson; sisters-in-law Imogene Nelson, Krestie Utech, and Linda (Jim) Morgan; brother-in-law Harry Borelli; nine grandchildren and their families: Eric (Angie) Thompson: Ingrid and Anneliese; Maren (David) Rivers: Nathan and Jacob; Britta (Allen) Born: Astrid, Bjorn and Aksel; Sonja (Nick) Milner: Anders; Kelsey (Jordan) Grimm: Odin, Torben and twin boys in utero; Erika (Nate) Kaney: Nikolai; Solveig Nelson (Kyle Kusmik); John Karl Balk; and Hana Nelson; and many cousins, nieces and nephews. All are richer in spirit for having traveled with him.