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Edor Nelson, founder of Augsburg College wrestling program, dies at 100

Edor Nelson with his 1958 Augsburg wrestlers... and at his 100th birthday celebration at Augsburg Aug. 18
Edor Nelson with his 1958 Augsburg wrestlers... and at his 100th birthday celebration at Augsburg Aug. 18
Left photo from the 1958 Augburgian yearbook, right photo from the Augsburg College website, both used with permission.

Edor Nelson, multi-sport athlete and coach at Augsburg College who launched the school’s now-famous wrestling program, died Wednesday, just nine days after celebrating his 100th birthday, the Minneapolis-based school announced Thursday.

Born August 18, 1914 in Dawson, Minn., Nelson played baseball, football and basketball for the Auggies, earning all-conference honors in baseball and basketball. After graduating from Augsburg in 1938, Nelson moved to Lamberton, Minn., where he was an instructor as well as baseball and basketball coach.

World War II prisoner of war

Nelson was drafted into the US Army in 1940, arriving in Europe a couple of days after D-Day in 1944 as a member of the 43rd Reconnaissance Cavalry. He was assigned to Gen. George Patton’s Third Army. He was captured by the Germans in October and spent several months in prisoner-of-war camps in Germany and Poland before an escape and eventual liberation.

“We spent a lot of time in boxcars and stowed away on boats,” Nelson told the “Minneapolis Star-Tribune” in a 2008 interview. “By then, we were trying to avoid the Russians more than the Germans. We wound up at Port Said in Egypt, then across the sea to a military camp in Naples.”

Augsburg coach for all seasons

After serving in World War II, Nelson earned a master’s degree at University of Minnesota in 1947, then returned to Augsburg, where he was an instructor and coach for a number of sports. He started the Auggie wrestling team in 1949, coaching the program that later became an NCAA Division III powerhouse, until 1963. His team won Augsburg's first MIAC wrestling title in 1961. In addition, Nelson coached Augsburg’s baseball team from 1946 to 1979, leading the Auggies to seven MIAC titles. He was named head coach of Augsburg’s football team in 1947, serving in that role until 1969. If that weren’t enough, Nelson helped restart the Augsburg men’s hockey program, coaching in the 1956-57 season.

Nelson’s connection to Augsburg spanned nearly 80 years, as a student, coach, instructor, and fan. He was an associate instructor in the school’s health and physical education department for 32 years, retiring in 1978. In 2001, Augsburg honored Nelson by renaming their athletic field in his honor. Less than two weeks ago – on his 100th birthday -- hundreds of Augsburg alumni, friends and student-athletes attended a ceremony for Nelson on that field to dedicate a new video scoreboard.

Fondly remembered by the Augsburg community

"Last week we celebrated Edor's 100th birthday in the company of more than 200 of his former students and friends, said Augsburg College President Dr. Paul Pribbenow in a tribute posted at the Augsburg website. “I'm personally grateful that we were able to recognize his legacy by dedicating our new scoreboard in his honor on the Edor Nelson Field."

"Few people in Augsburg's history could claim as long and lasting an impact on this college as Edor Nelson," Pribbenow said. "He touched the lives of many here at Augsburg through his years as football coach, his years as baseball coach and his support in building the wrestling and men's hockey programs at Augsburg. We hold in our thoughts and prayers Edor's sons, Auggies Bruce '71 and Bob '68, his immediate family, and all who loved him as part of Augsburg's extended family."

Jeff Swenson, Augsburg Athletic Director and former Auggie wrestler and coach, said, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the whole Edor Nelson family, especially his sons Bob and Bruce, who are also Augsburg alumni. As we mourn the loss of Edor, we also celebrate an exceptional 100 years of life. I'm so grateful that we had a chance to honor Edor on his 100th birthday last Monday. It's an event that all of us in the Augsburg community will remember forever."\

Nelson on Nelson

Nelson was subject of a full-page profile in the 2004 book “Grappling Glory: Celebrating a Century of Minnesota Wrestling and Rassling” by Ross Bernstein. When asked about his coacing style, Nelson responded, “I believed that the kids came first and I based all my coaching on that philosophy… I also believed that education came first and sports were secondary. We liked to win, of course, but we had our priorities straight.”

The profile ended with the question, “How would you like to be remembered as a coach?” Nelson said, “I would be like to be remembered as someone who had his players’ best interests at heart. I wanted my kids to go on and become successful in life. I also did something to help make this a better country and a better community, and that is how I would like to be thought of.”

Nelson was preceded in death in 2011 by his wife Dorathy, who he married in 1941. The couple had two sons, Bob and Bruce.

A memorial service for Nelson will be held on Friday, Sept. 5 at Nokomis Heights Lutheran Church, 5300 10th Ave., S., Minneapolis. Visitation will be from noon to 1 p.m. Central, with the memorial service following at 1 p.m.