Patrick Reusse: Augsburg honors its 100-year-old coaching legend

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 27, 2014 - 9:13 PM

Edor Nelson indeed lasted a century, and on his birthday Augsburg honored a living legend

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Edor Nelson and his family entered the ballfield through a gantlet of Augsburg athletes at the dedication ceremony for the scoreboard installed in his honor.

Photo: Courtney Perry • Special to the Star Tribune,

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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.

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  • Edor Nelson heard plenty of praise as guest of honor Monday, including from athletic director Jeff Swenson.

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