1925 - 2023
Donald Nelson, age 97 of Northfield, passed away Friday evening, January 13, 2023, at the Care Center of the Northfield Retirement Community.
Donald Henry Nelson was born September 27, 1925 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Henry & Agnes (Suphammer) Nelson. He grew up in south Minneapolis, swimming in Lake Nokomis. Don graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1943, then served in the European Campaign of the U.S. Army until discharged in April 1946. That fall, he enrolled at St. Olaf College, his mother’s alma mater. In 1948, Don transferred to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry and received his DDS in 1952, followed by his master’s degree in Orthodontics and Physiology in 1957.
For the next three years, Don established a private practice in Minneapolis. In 1960, he moved to Rochester to take a position at the Mayo Clinic, from which he retired in 1986. He was a member of the Zumbro Valley Dental Society for many years. He was on the Board of Directors of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry from 1965-1970, serving as the board president in 1970.
During his childhood, Don enjoyed regular visits to a farm near Nerstrand that had been in the family since 1880, run by descendants of Hans and Randi Rinde and Anders and Helena (Rinde) Engeseth. Soon after his move to Rochester, he spent many evenings exploring the countryside, rekindling his attraction to farming. He soon purchased a farm on the east side of Rochester, where he lived for many years, and later bought a second farm near Rock Dell, southwest of Rochester. In 1982, Don and his brother, Dick, bought the Engeseth farm in Nerstrand when no other family members could keep it going.
Don devoted his retirement to his passions for conservation, his farms, and his trees. He planted thousands of seedlings and was particularly fond of walnuts. By the time he reached his 80s, Don felt strongly that he wanted his farms to be used for conservation, public enjoyment, and environmental education – forever. He worked with the Trust for Public Lands, Minnesota Land Trust, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to convert his farms to three Wildlife Management Areas that total 860 acres, now enjoyed by wildlife and people alike. Don donated proceeds from the sale of the farms to St. Olaf College, Luther College, and Northfield Shares to create endowments that will support land-based stewardship, research, and education programs long into the future.
Don devoted the last decade of his life to philanthropy, making substantial gifts to colleges and organizations that share his values. The far-reaching impact of his generosity will be felt for generations.
Don is survived by his sister Joann Bell, of Northfield, MN; brother Richard (Barbara) Nelson, of Bloomington, MN; seven nieces and nephews; and other relatives and friends.
A celebration of Don’s life will be held at Bethel Lutheran Church in Northfield at 11am on Saturday, February 11, 2023. Visitation will be held one hour prior to the service and a reception will follow. Interment will take place at Valley Grove Cemetery in May.
You may watch the celebration live stream at www.bethelnorthfield.org
In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to the Northfield Retirement Community Foundation. The family thanks their skilled and patient staff for a decade of exceptional care.
Arrangements are with the Benson & Lange-hough Funeral Home. www.northfieldfuneral