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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Professor was at home in the air, classroom and community

Flight — and much more — was no fancy for V.R. Nelson

V.R. Nelson (lower right), a professor of physics, mathematics and aeronautics at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D., served as faculty adviser to the Augustana Flying Club, shown here in 1948.

V.R. Nelson (lower right), a professor of physics, mathematics and aeronautics at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D., served as faculty adviser to the Augustana Flying Club, shown here in 1948. By the 1960s, thanks in large part to Nelson, Augustana had the largest aviation ground school in the Upper Midwest. In 1974, the college was selected as the test center for all aviation ratings.

Nelson served in the Navy Air Corps from 1944 to 1946. He began teaching at Augustana, his alma mater, in 1946, and spent several years as a federal aviation examiner and certified FAA ground school instructor.

When Nelson wasn't teaching students on the airfield or in the classroom, he designed and built helpful inventions for the community — often using his ingenuity to find inexpensive materials. While building South Dakota's first heart defibrillator machine, he saved money by using metal kitchen spatulas to make the chest electrodes. He also built the college's first computer; transmitting equipment for its radio station, KAUR-FM; a device to help music students control their tone and pitch; and gas controls for furnaces and water heaters.

Today there is still a community joke that Nelson's electronic system for a feed mill was what kept it from falling apart until its planned demolition in 2005, said Ralph Wagoner, former Augustana president and professor emeritus of education.

But people tended not to hear about any of this from Nelson himself, said Milt Hanson, Augustana professor emeritus of chemistry, who was a student when he first met the teacher. "A lot of the things he did, we didn't know much about until after they were complete," Hanson told Augustana's alumni magazine. "For example, the [feed mill apparatus] — I was unaware of it until long after it was done. Same was true of the defibrillator. He was an inventor ... a teacher of physics but he wasn't a researcher. His interest was more in education than in research." 

Staff at an unidentified hospital thank V.R. Nelson (1921-2012), a professor emeritus of physics and mathematics at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D.
Staff at an unnamed hospital thank V.R. Nelson (1921-2012), a professor emeritus of physics and mathematics at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D.



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