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Northwest Missouri State University


Alumni Spotlight

Jim Nelson, pictured while visiting the Northwest campus last September, is honoring his parents and assisting pre-med or pre-dentistry students at the University through his contributions to the Fred C. and Grace E. Nelson Scholarship. (Photo by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

Jim Nelson, pictured while visiting the Northwest campus last September, is honoring his parents and assisting pre-med or pre-dentistry students at the University through his contributions to the Fred C. and Grace E. Nelson Scholarship. (Photo by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

Jan. 18, 2018

Nelson giving back to honor parents, support future dentists

Jim Nelson has, for decades now, contributed to the Fred C. and Grace E. Nelson Scholarship at Northwest Missouri State University to honor his parents’ legacy and assist students with fulfilling their dreams of earning a college degree.

Nelson, a 1968 graduate of Northwest, and his brothers set up the scholarship in 1989 to honor their parents, Fred, a 1925 graduate, and Grace, a 1926 graduate, and Northwest awarded the first scholarship for the 1990-91 academic year. In addition to giving annually to supplement the scholarship award, Nelson recently added a bequest to his will to help build the scholarship endowment.

“They had the greatest influence on our lives,” Nelson, the youngest of seven children – six boys and one girl – born to Fred and Grace, said. “They were educated people, and they taught us to be respectful of others, to apply ourselves and live by the golden rule. They were faithful people. We have a lot to thank them for because they came from conservative roots. They told us to save our money and make informed decisions.”

The scholarship, which is awarded annually to a junior or senior biology major with an emphasis in pre-med or pre-dentistry who carries a minimum of a 3.00 grade-point average, also is a tribute to Jim. He enjoyed a 28-year career as an endodontist built on a foundation laid by his parents and the education he received at Northwest.

“Dentistry has been good to me so I would like to encourage other people to go into dentistry or medicine,” he said. “We weren’t rich by any means, and money is sometimes a problem when it comes to school, so I’d like to help out and lessen the financial burden.”

Nelson’s education on the Northwest campus began while he was a child attending Horace Mann Laboratory School. He enjoyed a variety of activities other kids like him didn’t have at their rural schools, including swimming lessons at the Martindale Hall pool and Spanish lessons.

“It was a great, great education because we lived out in the country when you still had one-room schoolhouses,” Nelson said. “My mother wanted us to get an education with all the other extracurriculars that you can have, not only the sports aspect.”

It was an eighth-grade project at Horace Mann that helped Nelson decide he wanted to become a dentist. Nelson and his classmates were tasked with researching vocations that appealed to them, interviewing someone in the profession and then writing a report about what they learned. Nelson considered a conservation agent, doctor and dentist for his project.

“Everybody in the class had to do that and then you reported to everybody, so you got to hear the variety of occupations,” Nelson said. “There are so many people these days that get out of high school and they don’t know what they want to do. So I really am thankful for that opportunity at Horace Mann.”

That spring, Horace Mann High School closed and Nelson attended Maryville High School rather than graduating from high school on the Northwest campus as his four oldest brothers had done.

When the time came for him to attend college, Nelson chose Northwest because it was inexpensive, and the location afforded him the convenience of living at home. At that time, science courses were still in the Administration Building, and a semester of tuition was a mere $250 with the benefit of Northwest’s long-standing textbook rental program. Living at home and attending Northwest became even more convenient for Nelson when, after his sophomore year at Northwest, his family moved from their farm outside Maryville to a house across from the campus on Fourth Street.

Knowing he wanted to become a dentist and several more years of schooling were ahead of him, Nelson pursued a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

Nelson says the rigor of his Northwest education prepared him well for dental school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 1972. The skills he developed at Northwest also allowed him the opportunity to work at the University of Kansas Medical Center while he pursued his dental degree.

“I learned how to study and how to budget my time,” he said. “Going to any college, it gives you more confidence and self-esteem. When I had a really tough schedule in dental school, I could apply myself in those harder courses. I made good grades in dental school, but it took some of the stress off by going to Northwest, having a good education background there.”

Nelson entered the U.S. Air Force and spent the next eight years fulfilling a commitment that took him to air force bases in California, Alaska, Texas and Illinois. He gained additional experience practicing general dentistry and found his niche as a root canal specialist. Having attained the rank of major, Nelson eventually completed his education by earning a master’s degree in endodontics at the University of Texas in 1978.

In 1980, Nelson and his family settled in Waterloo, Iowa. Nelson, who retired in 2008, was one of just five endodontists in the state when he began practicing and the first in northeast Iowa.

“My education and experiences at Northwest gave me an excellent background and confidence to further pursue my career goals and personal life endeavors,” he said. “I want to give back to Northwest so others can have a similar experience and realize that anything is attainable if you apply yourself and keep a steady course going ahead.”

Now 71, Nelson has taken up farming, tending about 750 acres of land in Melrose, Iowa, that features a mix of prairie grass, wildflowers, soybeans and corn. Nelson also is an avid hunter and an active member of his church. He and his wife, Joyce, whom he met while working a summer research internship at Iowa State University between his junior and senior years at Northwest, raised four sons.

For more information or to make a gift to support the Fred C. and Grace E. Nelson Scholarship or Northwest, contact the Office of University Advancement at 660.562.1248 or visit www.nwmissouri.edu/GiveOnline.


For more information, please contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468