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Earl W. Nelson

1921 - 2014 Obituary Condolences
Earl W. Nelson Obituary
Nelson, Earl W.

Earl W. Nelson, 92, died on Friday, August 22, 2014 at Stoney River Assisted Living in Marshfield, in the loving company of family and friends.

He was a man who, by his values, intelligence and hard work, was able to change things for the better within his community, his church and his business. Earl brought wit, wisdom and compassion to his interactions with people. As a result, he had many friends and admirers who will sorely miss him and the example he set.

Funeral services will be held at 11 am, Friday, August 29, at the First Presbyterian Church with Rev. Colin Webster officiating. Burial will be at Hillside Cemetery with the grandchildren serving as pallbearers.

Visitation will take place 4 pm to 8 pm on Thursday, August 28 at Rembs Funeral Home and Friday from 10 am until service time at the church.

Earl was born in Kiel, WI, September 5, 1921 to Theodore (Ted) Carl Nelson and Margaret Miller Nelson. After graduating from Kiel High School as valedictorian, he enrolled at UW-Madison in the fall of 1939.

As with many of his generation, World War II transformed his life and disrupted his education. He sought to enlist in the Air Force after the Pearl Harbor attack, but was rejected because he wore glasses. In 1942, Earl began work on his MBA at the Harvard Business School. One year later, the Navy took over the business school for wartime training.

Earl returned to Wisconsin to marry Carol Burnson, whom he had met at UW, on May 27, 1943. They lived in Connecticut for a year, while Earl worked as a production analyst at United Aircraft, helping produce F4U-1 Corsair fighters. A year later, Earl was drafted into the Army. By January 1945, he was on the front lines with the 3rd Infantry in northern France. After the war ended in May, Earl remained overseas for the reconstruction of Germany and a semester at Shrivenham University in England. Honorably discharged as staff sergeant, Earl returned to finish his MBA at Harvard in 1946-47.

In August 1947, he founded Nelson-Jameson with his father and two other partners. The fledgling dairy equipment and supply firm began in Toluca, IL. Slim revenues eventually forced Earl and another partner to find work elsewhere. From 1949-51 he managed the Windstorm Division of Farmers Mutual (now American Family) Insurance in Madison, WI.

At his father's request in 1951, however, Earl moved to Marshfield, where the business had relocated. Mr. Jameson had left the business, and Earl was needed. The firm grew to prominence as a nation-wide supplier under Earl's leadership from 1951 until his official retirement in 1993. He remained Chairman until 1998.

Earl was also a founding partner of frozen pizza-maker, Avanti Foods in Walnut, IL, holding ownership and management roles from 1964-77.

Earl often said that if he wrote his autobiography it would be called, "Diary of a Sunday School Boy." Following the example of his beloved father T.C., Earl actively served in leadership and teaching roles in his church, First Presbyterian, for over 50 years. He is credited for persuading the congregation to build its new church and obtaining a beautiful site for it.

Whether in public leadership roles or working behind-the-scenes, Earl practiced the Golden Rule. Determined to make the world a better place, he and Carol traveled to Haiti several times, supporting programs for medical care and providing wells. They supported children in a number of foreign countries and reached out within Marshfield to help many individuals and struggling families who needed help.

Earl was the last living founder of the UW-Marshfield/Wood County. The campus was established in 1964 during his tenure on the UW Center Commission from 1962-72. Other civic roles included: ten years on Wood County Board; Norwood Health facility building committee; UW Center System Board of Visitors; Wisconsin Arts Board; president of the United Way; and numerous other boards. In 2010 he received the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association Distinguished Service Award.

Earl is survived by his four children: John (Susan) Nelson and Mark (Bridget O'Brien) Nelson of Marshfield; Helene (Jim Arts) Nelson of Madison; and Paul Nelson of Arlington, TX. His grandchildren are Amanda (Scott) Sasse, Chicago; Ann-Marie Nelson (Richard) Brine, Henley-on-Thames, England; Adam (Betsy) Nelson, Mosinee; Peter Nelson, San Francisco; and Katy Nelson, Portland, OR; and Benjamin and Daniel Nelson, Arlington, TX. His great-grandchildren are Finn and Henley Nelson, Arthur Brine and Elin Sasse. He is also survived by his two AFS student daughters, Loni (Fernando) Cabral of Brazil and Chieko (Shinzo) Inouye of Japan. Other survivors include his sister, Myrtle Kent of Peoria, IL and many beloved nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his wife.

The family would like to express its sincere appreciation to Earl's caregiver Judy Herman and the wonderful staff members of Aseracare Hospice, Stoney River Assisted Living and the Aster Retirement Community.

Memorials may be directed to University Foundation of UW-Marshfield/Wood; Chestnut Avenue Center for the Arts; or First Presbyterian Church of Marshfield.

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Published in the Marshfield News Herald on Aug. 26, 2014
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