Editor's note: Patrick Reusse wrote this column for the August 19, 2014 edition for the Star Tribune, eight days before Edor Nelson passed away.
Edor Nelson was visiting Augsburg for a football practice before the start of the 2013 season. He was complimenting athletic director Jeff Swenson on the new artificial turf that had been installed.
“Then Edor said, ‘We need a new scoreboard,’ ” Swenson said. “And he said it more than once.”
The scoreboard at Augsburg’s Edor Nelson Field had stood for two decades and offered only the basics in an electronic board.
You only replace high-budget items such as this through fund-raising at colleges such as Augsburg. It didn’t take long after this conversation with Edor for the light bulb to go on above Swenson’s cranium.
Edor’s 100th birthday would fall on Aug. 18, 2014. That was a year in the future. There would be time to raise $300,000 for a modern scoreboard, with video capabilities, from old Auggies and have it ready to present to Nelson as a birthday present.
The only complication would be the old coach making it to the occasion. Swenson smiled and said: “Edor told me he was going to make 100.”
Sure enough, a few minutes before Monday’s noon reception, there was Edor Nelson, accompanied by his son Bruce, headed down the sidewalk outside the Augsburg athletic center.
One problem: The battery went out on Edor’s trusted electric wheelchair.
You can find a symbol in everything. Seeing Edor facing this immovable object was remindful of what it must have been like during those 23 seasons as Augsburg’s football coach, when Edor was putting his Auggies up against MIAC coaching legends such as Lloyd Hollingsworth at Gustavus, Jake Christensen at Concordia and Jim Malosky at Minnesota Duluth.
“And don’t forget [John] Gagliardi,” Edor said Monday. “St. John’s was tough to beat.”
Yes the Johnnies were, especially when the Auggies spent a number of years conducting practices at Riverside, a nearby Minneapolis city park, and playing home games a few miles away at Parade Stadium.
The on-campus stadium that now sits on the plateau above Interstate Hwy. 94 opened in 1984, 15 years after Nelson had stepped down on as the head coach for football.
Many old Auggies who competed for Nelson, in football (1947-69) or baseball (1947-79), or even the wrestling program that he started or the hockey program that he reintroduced, showed up to honor Edor.
There was a birthday party, where letters from President Obama and Gov. Mark Dayton honoring Edor were read, and then the group went outside to christen the video board.
Edor could see all of this clearly. That’s because he is 100 and has never required glasses.
As folks would have said in Nelson’s hometown of Dawson, Minn., Edor comes from “good stock.” His father, Norman, did die at age 38 when an influenza outbreak swept through Minnesota. The family lost its farm, so Christina Nelson started working as a waitress in Dawson for a buck a week and raised three boys and a daughter.
A reporter mentioned to Edor that his mother had lived to be 103.
Edor shook his head and said, “No, 104.”
Edor’s wife, Dorathy, died a couple of years ago at age 96. The rest of his family was in attendance, although his 94-year-old brother, Stan, couldn’t make it because of a prior engagement.
“I talked to Stan for an hour yesterday,” Edor said. “He had a golf game today.”
You couldn’t turn around at Monday’s reception without facing an old Auggie who wanted to talk of the immense strength of Edor’s character. Remarkably, you also could sense Edor’s physical strength by shaking his right hand — gnarled after 10 decades, but a large mitt that engulfed a hand of lesser substance.
It was a hand that started to develop with farm work, and was strengthened through playing multiple sports at Dawson High and then Augsburg, made firm by showing young men how to block and tackle, and to hit and catch … and made more powerful still as an officer serving in World War II, and in a POW camp, and in an escape that led across southern Europe, to the Black Sea and finally to Port Said in Egypt.
By accounts heard Monday, it took a lot for a team or an athlete to get Nelson upset, but there was the time in the ’60s that the Auggies were getting whipped at halftime by Macalester, and Edor was so frustrated that he said:
“I sent men into combat, and you players won’t even block.”
Now right there, Edor, that’s a halftime speech with some kick to it.