Emogene Nelson was a pioneer in physical education and competitive sports for women. She was named UW-River Falls Distinguished Teacher in 1976, received the Distinguished Alumna Award in 1982 and became the first woman named to the Athletic Hall of Fame in 1983.
She was born in 1925 and grew up on a farm in Pierce County. She earned the rural education degree in 1944 on the River Falls campus where she was an “R” winner in the Women’s Recreation Association. She received the B.S. degree from La Crosse State Teachers College. She taught in elementary and high schools in Cornell, Durand and at Spooner, Wis., received the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Minnesota and taught at Florida Southern University and Mankato State University before joining the faculty at River Falls in 1959.
When the first Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference was created in 1978, Dr. Nelson took a leave of absence from her River Falls responsibilities to serve as its executive secretary and led the colleges and universities into the field of women’s competitive sports. She was head of the physical education department from 1970-73 and was assistant to the vice chancellor for academic affairs after 1973.
There was scarcely a statewide committee in the UW System or the public schools on which Nelson did not serve. She was president of the Wisconsin Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, on the search committee for the president of the University of Wisconsin System and on a number of local and state task forces and committees on faculty development, women in administration, physical education and women’s athletics. She served area public schools as a health education and curriculum consultant and served on the Board of Education of the River Falls Public Schools from 1975-78. During her years on the faculty she coached women’s basketball, track and softball and was adviser to the Women’s Recreation Association and Delta Psi Kappa. She served a five-year term on the Faculty Senate.
Hoping to see many of her former students, she conceived the idea of a 20th anniversary celebration of the UW-River Falls physical education major and planned a Homecoming for physical education alumni on Oct. 13, 1984. Her hopes were never realized, for she died Aug. 15, 1984. She had been on medical leave from her campus duties for more than two years.
“Emogene Nelson was a talented and caring teacher, a skilled administrator and an active force among our alumni and in the community. She will be missed by all of us,” said Chancellor George Field at the time of her death.
The traits most frequently mentioned by alumni and students who named her “Distinguished Teacher” were “sincerity, sensitivity and a sense of humor.”
A wing of May Hall was named The Nelson Center as a memorial to her at a dedication ceremony Nov. 15, 1986. The University Wrestling Team facility is on the first floor and the Human Performance Laboratory is on the lower level. The latter contains facilities for performing cardiovascular testing and high speed cinematographic recording and analysis. Physical rehabilitation and training for athletes and other students is also available. The lab is used extensively by students enrolled in the Exercise Physiology, Kinesiology, Tests and Measurement, Beginning Lab Research and Techniques of Biomedical Analysis courses.