August 17, 1930 – January 23, 2019
Don J. Nelson was born on a farm in Stanton County, Nebraska, where he learned the necessity of hard work to solve problems and the values of honesty and integrity. He received his elementary education in a one-room schoolhouse on the corner of his father's farm (District 50).
After high school, he attended the University of Nebraska, graduating with distinction. The Korean War started and he took advanced ROTC to finish his bachelor's degree. He graduated with distinction and was give the Distinguished Military Student Award. Although he had a military commitment, AT&T Bell Labs asked him to work as a member of their technical staff until he was called into service. In the Air Force, as a 1st Lieutenant, he taught Special Weapons Delivery.
After his military service, the University of Nebraska offered him a teaching position in Electrical Engineering where he earned a master's degree while teaching. During this period, he designed and built an analog computer for the university to aid in the educational process. After obtaining his master's degree, he received a scholarship award to attend Stanford University for a Ph.D. He returned to the university in 1961.
Two years later, he was asked to direct the University's Computing Center. Computer technology was in its infancy then and all departments were anxious to utilize the computer in their research. The Computing Center, under Nelson's leadership, developed a Law Information Retrieval System for the College of Law, which led to the development of a Bill Drafting System for the State Legislature. State and national industry leaders came to the center and asked for help.
In 1969, Nelson co-founded the Department of Computer Science. He served as director of Computing Center for 1963-1972. During this time, the Computing Center staff grew from the original five in 1963 to over 100. He recalls this interval as a high point in his career, working with outstanding employees and furthering the productivities of the University staff and supporting state and national industry.
In 1972, Nelson returned to electrical engineering. His research career was devoted to helping Nebraska industry. He developed a Load Projection System for Nebraska Public Power District, secured projects with the Army and JPL and locally developed computer programs for companies such as LT&T, Acton, Pfizer, Talent+ and others. In 1989, he served as co-director of the Center for Communication and Information Science, one of the research centers established with funds secured from the Legislature for Governor Orr's research initiative to promote Nebraska industry.
In 1992, Nelson formed and directed the Research Computing Group in the College of Engineering to sustain the working relationship between the University and industry. In 1997, this group spun off and became Interactive Information Research and Development (i2rd). Nelson retired from the University of Nebraska in 2005, after 50 years of teaching and research.
He is preceded in death by parents, Irvin and Agnes Nelson and cousin, Bob Nelson of Norfolk. He is survived by his wife, Chloe Nelson who he married in 1994; brother, Stuart (Ellen) Nelson of Athens, Ga.; niece, Jayna Nelson of Tillson, N.Y., and nephew, Rick Nelson of Austin, Texas.
Visitation will be from 4-8 pm Friday, January 25, and funeral service at 10 a.m. Saturday, January 26, with a visitation starting two hours prior at 8 am with all services at Lincoln Memorial Funeral Home, 6800 S. 14th Street, Lincoln, NE 68512. Memorials suggested to Eastridge Presbyterian Church, 1135 Eastridge Dr., Lincoln, NE 68510. Please visit https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/lincoln-ne/don-nelson-8137785