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Augustana Mourns Loss of Professor Emeritus Dr. V.R. Nelson

Dr. V. Ronald Nelson, class of 1944 and long-time professor of Physics and Aeronautics, passed away on Saturday, April 28. He was 91.

Funeral services will begin at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 2, at First Lutheran Church, 327 S. Dakota Ave., in Sioux Falls. Visitation will be one hour preceding the service at the church. Burial with Military Honors will be at Woodlawn Cemetery, Sioux Falls.

Nelson graduated from Waubay High School and attended the University of Iowa. He graduated from Augustana in 1944. He earned his Master and Doctorate degrees from the University of Colorado. He served in the U.S. Navy Air Corps from 1944 to 1946 during World War II. His post-doctoral study was at Michigan College of Engineering; University of Illinois; and University of North Carolina.

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In 1946, he was appointed instructor in physics and mathematics at Augustana. During a distinguished teaching career, he served as chair of the Physics and Math Department. Under his direction, Augustana operated the largest aviation ground school in the Upper Midwest in the 1960s and, in 1974, the College was selected as the test center for all aviation ratings.  

"We've lost one of the truly great professors in the College's history. V.R. was beloved by so many students and colleagues over all these years. His generosity with time, talent and treasure has left an indelible mark on Augustana," said Rob Oliver, president. "When we think of the giants who've helped build the Augustana of today, V.R. is at the top of the list."

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Nelson was the designer and builder of the first heart stimulator (defibrillator) used at (Avera) McKennan, Sioux Valley (Sanford), Mitchell and Parkston Hospitals. He was a key figure in the design and installation of the electronic system at Zip Feed Mill, billed as the “world’s most modern feed mill,” in Sioux Falls. He built the first transmitting equipment for Augustana’s radio station, KAUR-FM. He was active as a consultant in accident reconstruction as well as the design and manufacture of gas controls for furnaces and water heaters.  

He was a member of First Lutheran Church, Augustana Fellows, Augustana Booster Club, South Dakota Academy of Science, American Institute of Physics, American Association of Physics Teachers, National Science Teachers Association, Sigma Xi National Research Honorary, and Sigma Pi Sigma National Physics Honorary. He served for many years as Federal Aviation Examiner and was a Certified FAA Ground School Instructor of Private, Commercial and Instrument Pilots. He was active in many local community agencies, including Good Samaritan Society and the United Day Care.

Nelson was the recipient of several honors and awards which included Augustana Founders Day Award, Alumni Achievement, Friend of Augustana Award, Good Samaritan Society Service Award and the FAA “Spirit of Flight." In 2008, he was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

Survivors include his wife Dr. Joyce Nelson of Sioux Falls; one daughter Cindy (Robert) Ellsworth of Madison; two grandsons, Adam Ellsworth of Sioux Falls and Dr. Andrew (Laura) Ellsworth of Boise, Idaho; one great-grandson Eli Ronald Ellsworth; and one sister, Dr. Elaine McIntosh of Green Bay, Wis.; and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and his first wife Margaret (Meester) Nelson.