Dr. Laura L. Nelson
Laura Lyn Nelson, 68, La Crosse passed away Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, at her home. Laura was born in Terre Haute, Ind., Oct. 12, 1952. She graduated from Mattoon High School in 1970, and then earned a BA in rhetoric from the University of Illinois. She continued her education with a master's in English Literature from the University of Southern Illinois-Carbondale, followed by a PhD in rhetorical criticism in 1987, also from SIUC. Her scholarly work included studying discourses around the 1918 Spanish Flu Outbreak, the work of Hugh Blair, and communication pedagogy.
Laura came to La Crosse in 1983, to join the Speech Communication and Theater Arts Department at UW-La Crosse. While at UWL, she taught courses in rhetoric, public speaking, argumentation, and debate. She was an assistant coach for the UWL forensics team until the program ended in 1988. When the Speech Communication and Theater Arts department split in 1996, Laura was instrumental in forming the new Communication Studies department, which included a merger with the Mass Communication department. Her tireless work ensured that the new television and radio studio space in Wing Hall, met the current needs of faculty and students studying broadcast media. Laura served as chair of the Communication Studies department for nine years, during which time the department grew exponentially to become one of the largest majors in the College of Liberal Sciences. Her leadership led to many faculty hires, the development of a research program for undergraduate students, and expansion of course offerings in many areas of study within the discipline. Faculty she hired found her to be a leader and mentor who listened and celebrated the successes of all her co-workers.
During her career, Laura also led on the UWL Faculty Senate, by being one of very few women to hold all four executive positions, including Faculty Senate president. Before beginning her role as chair of the Senate Executive Committee, she took it upon herself to read all past files from the committee so that she would know the history of the committee's work. In 1989, Laura won the Eugene W. Murphy Library Special Recognition Award, for her work with librarians to integrate library resources into classroom assignments. She retired from the university in 2016, after 33 years.
Laura dearly loved her pets, enjoyed reading historical fiction, watching PBS Masterpiece, and appreciating dinners at local fine dining restaurants. In her retirements, she treasured sharing stories about her family and professional history with friends over a nice steak.
Laura is survived by her sister, Susan Nelson (husband, Rick Fiddyment); brother, Chris Nelson (wife, Deborah Lane); nieces, Emily Nelson and Molly Nelson; her aunt, Martha Taylor; cousins, and many friends and colleagues from UWL and La Crosse.
Laura was preceded in death by her parents, Ted Ragle Nelson and Virginia Ruth Combs Nelson.
A private memorial service will be held with her family at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Ill.