Dr. Richard C. "Big Cat" Nelson
March 31, 1932 - December 22, 2020
State College, Pennsylvania - Dr. Richard C. "Big Cat" Nelson, 88, of State College passed away at the Mount Nittany Medical Center on Tuesday, December 22, 2020 of complications arising from COVID-19.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 60 years, Inez in 2016.
He is survived by their three children, David (Kathryn) of State College, Holly Stanek (Lee) of Hastings and Tom (Nancy Danca) of Mount Bethel; five grandchildren (Tom, Chris, Shelby, Bryon, Abby) and eight great-grandchildren (Ava, Ari, Lainey, Raegan, Dylan, Knox, Tatum, Leila) that he just adored.
Richard was born in Albert Lea, MN on March 31, 1932 and grew up during the depression. He was very fortunate to get a chance to attend college and made the most of it. He graduated from St. Olaf College (BS), joined the Air Force attaining the rank of First Lieutenant, then on to the University of Houston (MS), and finally to Michigan State University where he earned a PhD in Exercise and Sports Science. He accepted a position as an associate professor at Penn State in 1964 and established the Biomechanics Laboratory in 1967.
His successful professional career markedly impacted the field of human movement science beginning with his development of the Biomechanics program at Penn State; it quickly gained international prominence. Students from around the world graduated from this unique interdisciplinary program. As a result of Richard's efforts, the International Society of Biomechanics (ISB) was founded at Penn State in 1973. He served as President of the ISB from 1975-1980.
Richard loved the Olympics and had the opportunity to attend many Olympic Games as a researcher and member of the Sub-Commission on Biomechanics and Physiology, IOC Medical Commission. Their research involved a variety of winter and summer sporting events. The information gained from these efforts was then shared with coaches and trainers to improve the performance of their athletes through publications in international journals, such as the International Journal of Sports Biomechanics, a journal started by Richard in 1985. As an added bonus, Richard made it possible for Inez and each of his children and their spouse to attend at least one Olympic Games to share in the experience.
As the reputation of the Biomechanics Lab grew it created many opportunities for collaboration. One of the more exciting opportunities came when the NHL asked if the Biomechanics lab could create a system to measure the hardest shot at the All-Star game skills competition. Richard, along with colleague Joe Johnstonbaugh, created the system and took it to the All-Star games for a number of years allowing them to rub shoulders with NHL stars. Richard admitted to being very nervous when the first shot was taken in the packed arena and said they were just hoping a number would pop up on the scoreboard. Thankfully it worked!
After retiring from Penn State in 1994, Richard joined the field of forensic biomechanics and put his knowledge-base in human movement biomechanics to work as an expert witness reviewing, for example, personal injury cases. He was involved in more than 550 court cases helping victims of avoidable home, industrial and sports accidents receive compensation for injuries that were sometimes catastrophic.
Sports were a big part of Richard's life from a young age and he tried just about every sport imaginable. His favorite, and probably best sport, was handball. It was popular back in the day and he and a tight-knit group of fellow players organized the Penn State Handball Club and enjoyed playing in Rec Hall and hosting and traveling to tournaments for many years.
One of the top handball players in the early years was PSU icon, Elmer Gross, a tremendous athlete who coached the PSU men's basketball team to their only Final Four appearance in 1954. Elmer was the original "Big Cat" and a mentor and great friend to Richard. When Elmer retired and left the area in 1978, he bestowed the title of "Big Cat" onto Richard who proudly embraced the nickname. Richard was known as the "Big Cat" to many friends and colleagues for decades.
He also had a lifelong love of golf, played for many years at Toftrees, and was skilled enough to have made three holes-in-ones. He was a bit of an unconventional player and used a custom made, illegal croquet-style putter. When he played alone his preferred format was the "One Man Scramble", which basically meant whenever he hit a poor shot, he just hit it again. No wonder he loved golf so much! Richard and Inez were wonderful, loving parents and grandparents. The entire family has benefited greatly from the life lessons they taught and the example they set. Perhaps most importantly, they were generous with their time. They spent a great deal of time with each of their grandchildren who will always treasure their memories of the individual attention they received. They logged hundreds of hours in their lawn chairs watching their children and grandchildren's sporting events. And lastly, Richard organized many successful and memorable fishing trips for pike and walleye in northern Canada with his sons and grandsons.
Unfortunately, Richard developed dementia and it restricted his activities and independence for the last dozen years of his life. This second phase of his life was difficult at times but still very rewarding. He was a resident of Elmcroft Senior Living for nine of those years and through it all he never lost his sense of humor, positive attitude, and appreciation for the people who were assisting him. He became the undisputed champion of the Elmcroft pool table and retained his love of music, singing along with any song, whether he knew the words or not. He also enjoyed many outings to the family farm pond to fish. Nothing made him happier than a visit from his grandchildren, or better yet, great grandchildren.
The family would like to thank the staff at Elmcroft who did an amazing job of caring for both Richard and Inez and say a special thank you to Regina Dukes who was with them every step of the way. Richard's life was also enriched by the friendships he enjoyed with Home Instead Senior Care caregivers John Raiser and Lance Galloway. We are also extremely grateful to the doctors, nurses and staff at Mount Nittany Medical Center for the excellent and compassionate care they provided Richard as he faced his end of life challenge and also during the last couple years as his declining health landed him in the ER on multiple occasions.
As per Richard's wishes, a Celebration of Life will be held at the family farm at the convenience of the family. Donations may be made in his memory to the Alzheimer's Association
, P.O. Box 96011, Washington DC, 20090-6011, or the "Richard Nelson Endowment" at PSU. When donating please state Nelson Endowment in the provided box. https://secure.ddar.psu.edu/s/1218/2014/index.aspx?sid=1218&gid=1&pgid=658&cid=2321&dids=21.742&bledit=1&appealcode=AD7AH
Arrangements have been entrusted to Heintzelman Funeral Home. An online guestbook may be signed and condolences sent to the family at www.heintzelmanfuneralhome.com
Published by Centre Daily Times on Dec. 31, 2020.