Linda Jean Nelson

February 3, 1929January 1, 2021
Obituary of Linda Jean Nelson
Dr. Linda Jean Nelson, a retired professor at Michigan State University and former international civil servant in Latin America, died in East Lansing 27 minutes into the New Year. She was 91 years old. Dr. Nelson died of complications from a fall three days earlier in her apartment. She was born February 3, 1929, in Chicago, the child of Harry Lloyd Nelson and Gertrude Zaun Nelson. She was brought home from the hospital the day after the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, which occurred several blocks from the family apartment. That night, her parents were awakened by two thieves. One pointed a pistol at her father; the other clutched Linda and pointed his pistol at her head. They took the cash her father had been seen getting at a bank for new baby expenses. The incident did not seem to faze Linda, who retained a well-honed sense of humor and even a love for Chicago throughout her life. Her parents, however, left Chicago soon after she was born for the safer environment of Pittsburgh. She was educated in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and decided to go to college at the University of Pennsylvania, the alma mater of her grandfather, father and uncle. Her father sent the admissions office a letter saying, “My daughter will be attending Penn starting in the fall semester. Please send the required forms for admission.” That was another era. She became the first in the family to pursue a master’s, from Iowa State, and a doctorate, from Michigan State. While her field was officially anthropology, she found gender limitations essentially pushed her into what was then called home economics, although her personal approach to cooking was to heat up something and, when it came to sewing, she called her mother. Linda did research for both of her theses in villages in Costa Rica, where she studied the household practices of rural homemakers. This led to a career developing programs to improve nutrition, sanitation and the quality of life in villages all across Latin America. First, she worked for the Organization of American States (OAS) out of Turrialba, Costa Rica, and then for the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) out of Santiago, Chile. She was fluent in Spanish. When she lived in Chile, the economy was growing worse day-by-day. She flew all over the continent for her job and would take two suitcases—one for her clothes and one empty. Before she flew back to Santiago, she would fill the empty suitcase with things like pampers and toilet paper that were difficult to obtain by her friends in Santiago. While in Costa Rica, she taught graduate students who went all over Latin America handling programs to improve rural life. With one of her former students, she wrote a book in Spanish on how to teach healthier and safer lifestyles in rural communities. After two decades in Latin America, she returned to the States and joined the faculty at Michigan State University in East Lansing, where she remained until her retirement in 1994. While Dr. Nelson was at MSU, home economics evolved into human ecology and she became chairperson of the Department of Family Ecology. Dr. Nelson was respected for administrative ability and a creative approach to teaching qualitative research methods and assisting international students as they adjusted to their studies at MSU. She was instrumental in helping to establish the MSU Community Services Master’s Degree Program on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. She taught several courses in the program. After her retirement, she returned to teach additional courses there. In 2005, MSU presented Dr. Nelson with the Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of her professional achievements. She was long active in Kappa Omicron Nu, the National Honor Society in Human Sciences, Family and Consumer Sciences, Athletic Training and Kinesiology. She often edited faculty manuscripts, where she was infamous for striking all references that included “etc.” She was active in developing the education wing of the new Broad Art Museum, for which she was a major contributor, and spent her retirement years becoming quite skilled at water color painting and teaching Monet at the Children’s Carden at MSU. Dr. Nelson never married and is survived by her two younger siblings, Joan Swan of Haverford, Pennsylvania, and Warren Nelson of Arlington, Virginia. A memorial service is planned in East Lansing after the coronavirus epidemic has abated. To honor the memory of Dr. Nelson, gift may be made to one of the following funds at Michigan State University: • College of Social Science, Human Ecology Legacy Fund, AN2146 • College of Music, Cello Plus, lAE06680 • Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum Education Fund, AE011797 • Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education’s Freshman Study Abroad Scholarship Fund, AB831010 Make a Gift by Mail: University Advancement Spartan Way 535 Chestnut Road, Room 300 East Lansing, MI 48824 Make check payable to Michigan State University and write the included allocation code on the note line.

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