Chapter Eternal: Dr. Lawrence J. Nelson, North Alabama ’03

Jan 24, 2014

CHAPTER ETERNAL (North Alabama)—Lawrence “Larry” John Nelson, 69, a beloved father, husband, professor, mentor, author, and friend “left the planet” on Jan. 14, 2014, after an eight month battle with glioblastoma brain cancer. Born on Oct. 20, 1944, to Lawrence and Hannah Nelson in Joliet, Ill. Nelson also resided in Garden City, N. Y., Pasadena, Calif., Springfield and Columbia, Mo., Picayune, Miss., and Mobile, Ala., before making Florence, Ala. his home 30 years ago.

It was on March 7, 1965, that Nelson met the love of his life, Miss Verlie Vipond, of British Columbia, Canada. They were later wed on May 31, 1969. The couple became parents on Sept. 4, 1970, to a son, Larry Peter. However, tragically, their first born would succumb to a brain tumor one month shy of his fourth birthday on Aug. 4, 1974. Soon after, they became parents again to son, Peter John, and daughter, Julia Suzanne.

A two-time graduate of the University of Missouri, Nelson received his Ph.D. in American History in 1972. Upon graduation from his beloved Mizzou, Nelson continued his studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. while teaching at Southern California College in Costa Mesa. He would later teach at Evangel College in Springfield, Mo. and The University of South Alabama in Mobile. Nelson would also spend time as a scholar-in-residence at the library in Picayune, Miss. before settling at The University of North Alabama in Florence.

A loyal and well-loved member of the Shoals community, Nelson served his calling as a public speaker, preacher, and American History Professor at UNA. His tenure was marked and celebrated with numerous awards for research, service, and Teacher of the Year. His contributions to scholarship in the field of history were vast including peer reviews, published articles, and two books: “King Cotton’s Advocate; Oscar G. Johnston and the New Deal” and “Rumors of Indiscretion; The University of Missouri ‘Sex Questionnaire’ Scandal in the Jazz Age.” Along with his historical publications, Nelson also penned Christian articles and letters. With a servant’s heart, he pointed those around him to the blessed hope of Jesus. It was often said, “Nelson never met a stranger” as was evident in his famous “edifying gatherings”, all-inclusive parties, where “Chek-Cola” and “Verlie-cake” were served abundantly to hundreds of students. These gatherings quickly became a staple in the University experience. His commitment to the students and his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, were infused even further as he would lead Bible studies on and off campus. He also taught Sunday School at Faith Church and served as a guest preacher for churches around the community.

Devoted to the students and faculty of the University of North Alabama, Nelson often lent his time and voice to various communities within the campus through hosting, judging, announcing the names at graduation, and emceeing several school functions. His presence was unmistakable and unforgettable as was his skill in public speaking and teaching. A natural storyteller, Nelson captivated his audiences with a passionate account of history. He was often credited with “making history fun” and “come alive.” Visibly and famously written everyday on the board behind him was “Ghiih”or “good history is intellectual history”, implying the “whys” of history are the motivation for historical fact and perceptions are more worthy than simple dates and times. Nelson was also affectionately admired for his outgoing and optimistic demeanor. Everyday, without fail, his classes were famously greeted with cheer, “Hello and welcome! It’s another beautiful day here at the University of North Alabama.” He was widely known as not only the school’s greatest cheerleader, but also the students’ greatest cheerleader, often playfully warning his classes to beware of “bling-bling” and encouraging them to “watch the high number channels.” It was said, by his students, that Dr. Nelson cared more about their lives than he did their grades. His impecable reputation and popularity were unparalleled, and his wit, generosity, and general love of life was contagious. He will be sorely missed, but his positive impact will be felt for years to come.

Dr. Lawrence J. Nelson is an honor initiate of the Alabama Theta Eta chapter of Alpha Tau Omega at the University of North Alabama.

*Original article credited to the Florence Times Daily:


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