For many, Jean C. Goodwin Nelson '49 is synonymous with the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Through her drive, dedication and determination, she embedded herself in the essence of the University. She touched countless lives during her 23–year tenure as alumni director and through her continued involvement during her retirement.
Jean's legacy will live on through a bequest to the Philip and Jean C. Nelson Alumni Scholarship, which was established at the UW Oshkosh Foundation in 1991 for incoming UW Oshkosh freshmen whose parents or grandparents are graduates of the University. During the ensuing years, more than three dozen students have benefited from the scholarship fund.
In 1949, Jean earned a bachelor's degree from UW Oshkosh in English, with a secondary education major. As a student, she was a member of Kappa Delta Pi. She returned to campus in 1968 to serve as the University's alumni director.
During her tenure, the Alumni Association grew from a cramped, one-person office into the thriving organization it is today, based at the historic Pollock Alumni House. She oversaw the move to Pollock in 1971 and worked alongside Alumni Association board members to personally paint, wallpaper and refurbish the house for campus and alumni use.
Her contributions to the institution were immeasurable. During her tenure, Jean expanded alumni services and added programs, including a University Day for Women. She was famous for knowing the names and graduation years of alumni by heart.
In a 2008 Alumni News interview, Jean said, "I was fortunate to be able to work with people of all ages, from many decades. I was continually astonished and impressed with the range and value of the alumni I met."
Jean's commitment to UW Oshkosh was honored in 1985, with an Outstanding Service Award. In 1997, then Chancellor John E. Kerrigan presented Jean and her late husband, Philip Nelson, with the University's most prestigious award, the honorary doctorate. In 1996, the couple served as honorary co-chairs of UW Oshkosh's 125th-anniversary celebration.
After her retirement, Jean continued to stay active on campus through Homecoming; music, theatre and athletic events; and Learning in Retirement (LIR) offerings. She served as the leader and coordinator of two LIR classes: Reader's Choice and Currently Speaking. She was posthumously awarded the Robert L. Berner Teaching Excellence Award in 2011.
"It inspires me to never stop learning," Jean noted. "It is fun to continually discover, learn and share with the LIR members."
In the Oshkosh community, Jean served on the board of directors of the Winnebago County Historical Society, of which she was a founding member. She tirelessly advocated for the furnishing of the society's stately historic home base, the Morgan House. She also was involved with the Oshkosh Public Library, serving as president of the Friends of the Oshkosh Public Library. For many years, she also was active in the American Field Service.
In honor of Jean's exemplary service, the UW Oshkosh Alumni Association board of directors will match alumni contributions to the Nelson scholarship fund up to $5,000. Gifts should be directed to the UW Oshkosh Foundation, 842 Algoma Boulevard, Oshkosh, WI 54901.
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